Delores stands next to a pink rosebush planted by counseling center staff to honor her courage and bravery.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you

                                                                                           ~ Maya Angelou

As a trauma therapist, I had the honor of working with Delores in her courageous journey toward healing. Delores came to me with one request—to help her die without fear. All her brothers who had sexually abused her as a child were deceased. She was afraid they would harm her in the afterlife.

Delores had endured her abuse alone. It took her 79 years to release the shame she had felt since age 4. Delores trusted my staff and me to walk bedside her on her healing journey. Receiving her trust was humbling. Delores worked hard in therapy, embracing various therapeutic modalities: individual, group, art, sand tray, and music.

I learned a lot from Delores. She asked me to share her story to educate and give hope to fellow survivors that healing is possible no matter how old you are. She wished someone had told her she was not alone. She wished she had received help when she was younger.

Delores was able to shed the shame she had carried for decades. She was able to place the shame where it belonged—on her abusers. My last conversation with Delores occurred shortly before her death at age 84. When I asked her if she felt afraid, she smiled and said, “No, I am at peace. I feel safe. I am not afraid.”


My Voice

by Delores


Imagine being a little girl

Imagine being 4 years old and playing

Imagine playing with your older brothers


Imagine the play changes

It does not feel right

Imagine not having the words to explain why playing with your older brothers

Is no longer feeling fun

No longer feeling safe

Imagine wanting to tell your mother

But imagine being afraid you will get into trouble

For something feels wrong

The fun you were having changed

You were told to be quiet

Not tell

You knew you might be disciplined too

But you were not sure why

Did you do something wrong?

Was it your fault?

It all feels confusing

You just want to be a little girl and play

All you know is you want it to stop

You are afraid

If you tell your mother

Will she believe you?

Will she tell your father?

You are already afraid of him

You saw him hit your mother and brothers

Will he hit you, too?

For playing

That somehow turned so, so wrong

So you choose silence

Not consciously

Just instinctively

All you have is your mind to protect you

You go within

You go quiet

Into the recesses of your mind

To survive the terror

The attacks on your body

The terror that started at age 4

And continues until age 15

Sometimes by one of your brothers

Sometimes all three at once

You never know when it will occur

You never feel safe


You go within

To survive

That is all you know to do

Go within

You sometimes hide

You are quiet

And you are good at hiding

Hiding sometimes saves you

You hide outside

Under the pink rosebush

You find safety in your rosebush

It is large and pretty

Yet it has thorns that hurt too

Symbolic of protection of the beauty and fragility of the flower

The same beauty and fragility you have as a child but just never know it

You hide under your rosebush

Your sanctuary of safety


Time moves on

You become an adult

You try to move on

You pack up the pain

Push it deep down inside

And you try to forget

But it nags at you

You have a hard time feeling positive

You have a hard time looking people in the eye

You have a hard time feeling safe

You always sit with your back to the wall and facing the door

People wonder why you seem angry all the time

You struggle with depression

You just want to be left alone

You just want to feel safe

But you do not know how to

All you know is how to do is go within

You “live” this way for over seven decades

Until you realize

The terror you felt as a child is still inside your soul

The little girl who is you is still afraid

And wanting to be free

You take the step

The courageous step

And tell your story

For the first time in over 75 years

You speak your truth


Many question you

Some even boldly ask you directly

Why now?

Why haven’t you moved on?


Why did it take you so long?

Their questions feel almost accusatory

Like you did something wrong by waiting

And that is confusing too

Too close to the confusion you felt as a child


You have to choose to quiet the voices in the outside world

To try to understand

Why you choose now to tell

Why it finally feels safe to speak your truth

You choose to step out of the darkness

You choose to release the shame that has cloaked your soul

You choose to step out from hiding under your symbolic rosebush

You choose to be seen

You choose now to stand tall beside your rosebush and embrace its beauty

As you learn for the first time ever to embrace your own beauty

To share your truth

But why?

Why did it take so long?




You feel safe

All of your abusers are dead

It is safe to come out of hiding and to be seen


You risk and allow your story to be shared

To educate

About what individuals do to remain safe

Within the recesses of their own souls

While being violated

To shed light into the thick darkness of ignorance of society

To ask each of us to step outside from where we hide

In order to protect ourselves from our own discomfort

To challenge each of us to examine why we may waiver on

Taking a stand against childhood sexual abuse

Why we might waiver on believing the child or, decades later, the adult

Why we might cast out ignorant comments like

Did that really happen? Come on it has been decades!

I can’t recall what I had yesterday for lunch

Yet alone what happened to me decades ago


I am the little girl who hid under the pink rosebush

My name is Delores

I step out and risk for only one goal

To educate

To advocate

To protect children

It is not strangers attacking our children

It is the people we know and trust

The people our children know and trust

It is happening

And it is up to each of us to decide what to do


I challenge each of you to look within

I challenge each of you to have the courage to be the voice for a child

Who cannot speak for herself or himself

I challenge each of you to confront the ignorance of individuals, families and institutions

Who condemn and question victims who, like me,

May wait for decades

To voice the truth of their childhood

To finally feel safe to share their story

I challenge you to do the right thing

Stand up and say no to child sexual abuse

Stand up and protect our children


Even if it means standing alone


Delores originally granted permission to share her story and poem at a Child Sexual Abuse Vigil.