Cottonwood Heights >> She was mentally abused by her father. She watched her brother exert the same control and manipulation over her sister in-law. And she lives with terrible images conjured from police reports about her brother killing himself and his two sons.
Yet it was building healthy relationships through appropriate boundaries and forgiveness that Jennifer Graves talked about on Saturday at an all-girls empowerment workshop.
"You have to let go of the pain, but remember the experience in order to learn from it," she told a roomful of teenage girls.
Graves became estranged from her brother, Josh Powell, while publicly calling upon him to be more forthcoming with information in the case of his missing wife, Susan Powell. Graves acknowledged she's still working on forgiving her brother.
"There are so many layers. For so long, growing up, I'd stuff my emotions away," she said. "This situation, as hard as it is, brings those emotions back. But rather than stuffing them away, I'm trying to learn from them."
Susan Powell has been missing since Dec. 6, 2009. Josh Powell was the only person of interest in the disappearance.
Graves said the event was her way of celebrating Susan Powell's 31st birthday, which arrives Tuesday. Her talk ended with a live rendition of "Susan's Song, 'A Dream Away' " written by a friend weeks after the boys were killed in a house fire in Graham, Wash.
The song, and accompanying slide show featuring photos of Susan and the two boys, was a somber way to end an otherwise light-hearted self-improvement workshop sponsored by the Ivy Girl Academy.
But the academy's director, Jessie Funk, told attendees, "If you learn one thing from coming here, I hope that it's you're valuable, you're worth protecting."
It's lesson that Graves says she wishes Susan Powell had learned before it was too late.
"Our most basic need in life is relationships," she said. "So we have learn how to have healthy relationships. And the very basis of that is having healthy boundaries."
Just like the locked doors on homes, personal boundaries are there to keep the good in and the bad out, she said. Boundaries can be set with space, time, our body language, our words and the choices we make.
"It's about taking responsibility for your actions and realizing you can't control someone else's actions," she said.
"It's about setting limits with regard to other people and ourselves," Graves said. "We can't control others but we can limit our exposure to toxic relationships."
In setting boundaries in dating, Graves told girls, "Always be who you are. If you have to change who you are, that's a big red flag."
Graves told the girls when they first meet a guy, take time to get to know him in many contexts, at school, with friends and his family.
"Spend time apart to ponder on your relationship," she said. "And continue to have connections with your friends. You'll need them for support."
And if your boyfriend does something that makes you uncomfortable or angry, tell him, she said.
"He should express empathy, apologize and promise not to do it again, and then follow through with it."
Fighting domestic violence
"Susan's Song, 'A Dream Away' " will be available for sale on iTunes on Monday. Profits from the sales will go toward two memorials that Susan's friends and family hope to build in West Valley City Puyallup, Wash. For more information: www.susanpowellfoundation.net