A Conversation about Abandonment with LaWonna Goedhart

When Lawonna Goedhart’s little sister was killed unexpectedly, she watched her parents and extended family go through the emotional trauma of losing a child. But in the midst of all that trauma and sadness, four-year-old Lawonna felt ignored, abandoned, and forgotten. And I, as her mother, still feel the hurt and the pain of what she went through.

This week on Overcome, I’m talking with my oldest daughter, Lawonna, about her experience around my daughter’s death and her sister, Angie. She shares with me the feelings of abandonment she experienced, how she coped with those feelings, and how she eventually overcame them. It’s Lawonna’s first interview ever and what I believe to be a candid conversation between mother and daughter that I hope you find honest and refreshing.

Listen to the podcasts to hear our entire conversation, or keep reading below to catch some of the highlights.

The beginning of abandonment

If you’ve never heard me share the story of my daughter Angie’s death, please go listen to episode 2 of my podcast or read the blog post from that episode. It’ll help give some context around what Lawonna and I are talking about this week.

Angie was killed in a tragic farm accident, and Lawonna was right there with her when it happened. She walked with Angie to my mom’s house the morning Angie was run over by a tractor.

After Angie’s death, Lawonna remembers everyone around her being “devastated and so utterly broken and sad.” She says, “Everybody around us was literally drowning in this vortex of sadness,” and, “I just remember feeling like I wish that she [Angie] was still there.”

Lawonna says she didn’t have the vocabulary as a four-year-old to convey her feelings at the time but realizes today that it was abandonment. And it was with the death of Angie these feelings of abandonment began to arise. She not only felt abandoned by Angie but by everyone else too.

The spotlight during that time was on Jonas and me because we, as parents, were grieving the loss of our daughter. We felt traumatized, and friends and family spent their time comforting us. But that means no one ever really paid much attention to Lawonna. And admittedly, I never thought about her feeling abandoned. Today I wonder how I didn’t, but that’s what happened.

Even though I remember being with her and holding her, I don’t remember any conversations involving trying to comfort her. And unfortunately, she became like a fly on the wall, observing everyone else around her but feeling unnoticed and abandoned.

Lawonna carried this abandonment around with her, as well as the guilt that Angie’s death was her fault--that she should have pushed her out of the way of the tractor or should have been paying better attention. But she was only four years old at the time.

During those early days, she felt invisible and alone. “I don’t have a lot of real clear memories from my childhood. They’re just about all engulfed with this feeling of sadness.”

The result of abandonment

Lawonna says that everything looked fine from an outsider’s perspective as time went on. As a family, we were functioning. The house was clean, and the laundry was done. She and Lavale (our youngest daughter born after Angie’s death) were getting to school on time.

But she also says, “Everybody was broken, and I don’t know how you begin to fix broken a broken person can’t fix a broken person.” Lawonna remembers during those days that “there was so much crying and so much sadness and so much heaviness.” And much of what she remembers is hearing me cry.

Speaking of me, she says, “I didn’t trust your emotions because to me, as a child, they seemed big and chaotic and all over the place. And it was risky for me. I mean, I would never know how you would react. And again, I didn’t want to be the one to make you cry.”

So to combat all of that at a young age, she was determined just to be good. She didn’t want to do anything to add to the crying and the sadness, and being good was her way of making sure that didn’t happen.

The abandonment that she felt also made Lawonna feel like she was on her own. She remembers coming home from church one Sunday, and while I was cooking dinner, she had some sort of discharge in her underwear due to abuse. Just wanting to be seen, she took her underwear off and put them on the bathroom floor with the icky side up so someone would notice.

Her plan, as soon as Jonas or I did notice, was to share how she’d been feeling. She sat at the piano waiting for what seemed like an eternity, but no one ever said anything. Eventually, she went back to the bathroom and found that her underwear had been picked up and put in the laundry basket. Nobody took notice of what had happened like she was hoping.

It was at that moment that Lawonna remembers thinking, “Now I’m on my own.” She felt she needed to learn how to survive by herself and began relying on herself.

When she became a teenager, Lawonna’s feelings of abandonment and being invisible led to anger. “I was just kind of blown away by the fact that nobody bothered to ask me how it was for me when Angie died. And I, quite honestly, was pissed about that for many years.”

She wondered how no one ever acknowledged the role she played in it. And she wondered how no one ever told her that it wasn’t her fault. All of this ignited the anger she felt in her teens and into her twenties. And so, she went into survival mode and learned to detach herself emotionally to cope.

For several years, her life became about “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” She says, “I was all about doing the drugs to feel different I just didn’t want to feel whatever it was that I was feeling on the inside.”

Letting go of abandonment

From the age of four until well into her adult life, Lawonna continued to hold onto that feeling of abandonment. It wasn’t until she met and married her husband, Russ, that things began to change. Russ is the first man, aside from my husband, Jonas, that Lawonna ever felt safe with. “I felt like he would protect me, and he remains that to me.”

And then, when she and Russ began having kids, things continued to change. “As I started to have my own children, that feeling of abandonment as a child didn’t matter as much anymore ”
She says that her family are her people now. And she’s committed to doing things differently, so they don’t have to feel and experience what she went through.

“I created my own safety,” she says, “and my own security kind of within my own family and my children, and they saved my life. They did.”

Today, Lawonna is committed to paying attention to her kids. And it’s her advice to other parents as well. “Just pay attention it’s not optional.” She encourages every mother to get comfortable talking with their children and start from a young age. Learn to have uncomfortable conversations. And talk from the heart, because when you “talk from your heart, they’ll listen from their heart.” It’s been her mission for her kids to “feel empowered [and] educated.”

And now, as a mother, she understands better what Jonas and I were going through when Angie was killed. And I’m grateful for the graciousness she continues to extend to us as we look back and share those stories.

Lawonna believes there’s hope for anyone, no matter what the situation. She says we just have to learn to talk about it. “I feel like the fear of telling somebody what’s happening to you is way bigger than the actual outcome of telling them.” I’ll continue to say it, sharing our stories brings healing.

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