Six years ago today, my beloved father was murdered in a terrorist attack. Shot and killed in front of my mother at a restaurant in Tel Aviv.
I was backpacking in Sichuan when I got the call. Next came a scene I truly believed only existed in movies.
My father was the very essence of my being. He was my moral compass and intellectual guide. He was the smartest and funniest person in any room. Most of all, he was the kindest man.
Losing him in such a cruel, violent way was soul-crushing. Going through it with politicians, the press, and the entire country left a permanent scar. Our grief was disenfranchised, politicized, used to sell papers. Videos of his murder were displayed in prime time and shared on social media. By the time I returned to Shanghai, all I wanted was to disappear into the crowd. Be a nobody again.
Trauma survivors often debate whether not telling is the same as hiding. For me it was the first for a long time – until it wasn’t. What started as a search for normalcy turned into a genuine effort not to let it ‘slip out.’ Anxiety washed over me every time I thought someone might be ‘getting close’ to the truth. As I was holding my secret close to my chest to maintain my peace of mind, it was slowly escaping me.
When I did share my ‘secret,’ I would get a lot of “you’re so strong,” “I could never tell.” Society continued to reward me for my unprocessed trauma, while unintentionally condemning others as ‘weak.’ So I kept going.
If you haven’t experienced major trauma in your life – and I truly hope you haven’t – you probably think the hardest thing is to keep going as if nothing happened. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Our brains are wired to lock away the nasty bits of life and power through. No, the hardest thing to do is dive into the experience, to process it. To let it out. It’s the scariest and the bravest thing in the world.
And now, six years later, I’m finally finding the strength.
I would have loved to say that I woke up one day and decided to confront my demons. The truth is, I simply ran out of options. A year ago, as fighting in Israel escalated, I felt triggered for the first time. Everything came back, as vivid and real as if it had happened weeks ago. As with many trauma survivors, the demons forced me into this fight, not the other way around.
I’m not telling you all of this because you need to know. You don’t. This is also not a call for help. I’m writing this because I need to own my story. By holding on to it, I’m reducing my father’s legacy into this one unimaginable act of violence. I let others continue to suffer in silence, contributing to the silos of grief. I need to let it go and free some room for what’s to come. Otherwise, I will forever be imprisoned by the trauma that was forced upon me.