MPW.70 / 2018 Being Brenda by Barbara Gracner
Photographer
Barbara Gracner Bellevue, Wash.
Team Cliff & Vi

Story Summary

Brenda Smith is a child of Missouri. A survivor. Born into a family of alcohol and violence, separated from her eight siblings, she was raised by 10 different foster families. Sexually abused while young, Brenda was set for a hard start and a life of constant wondering where she belonged and what family means.

In her 20s, she finished her GED, found a job and she saved for her first car. But her haunting past, a self-identity crisis, and the burden of raising two kids alone pushed her to the verge of a nervous breakdown. She was hospitalized, her children were put in foster homes, and were never released back to her by the court. People she grew close to left her—expanding the void, and her craving for any family.

Now 57, Brenda rents a house with one of her sons and his family. With no car and no phone, she is cut off from finding regular work and socializing beyond her home. She supports the household with disability checks and works seasonal jobs planting and harvesting strawberries. She has a fragile hold on her place in the world. Through playful moments with her grandson and quiet conversations with God, she elevates her spirit and finds strength to keep on going.