What does Tara Westover's family say about education? It's complicated (2023)

What does Tara Westover's family say about education? It's complicated (1)

Michelle Budge/Alex Cochran, Deseret News

Editor's Note: The following article addresses allegations of child abuse. Those seeking resources or help regarding child abuse or neglect can contact the Department of Children and Family Services, including through an intake hotline at 1-855-323-3237.

TThe first time the Westover family saw the book that would destroy their lives was a copy of the manuscript left anonymously in the seat of a family van one night.

The Westovers had heard enough to fear what was written about them: horrifying accounts of abuse, sibling violence, primitive homeopathic remedies for life-threatening accidents, scathing tirades from a father at the end of his days, a doormat mother who he couldn't protect her. children.

A few months after its release in 2018, the fame of the book is "educated' would span the globe: eight million copies sold, in 45 languages, and a place on every major 'best of' list. Barack Obama and Bill Gates declared it their favorite this year. Soon there would hardly be a neighborhood literary circle or book club that did not talk about the first author.Tara Westover.

She was the girl who survived abuse and neglect in the remote mountains of southern Idaho, who fought her way from a nonexistent "homeschooling" to BYU, Cambridge, Harvard, and a Ph.D. from The New York Times. She lists over two years of emotional interviews with Oprah and Ellen.

And then there are the rest of the extended Westover family, many of whom do not recognize themselves in the pages of the anonymously submitted manuscript. The family agreed to let me visit their home in Clifton, Idaho, to tell the stories that will lead to a home that is still divided nearly five years to the day the book was published. Family histories are complicated, of course, and they are also heartbreaking when it comes to trauma or allegations of abuse.

Such circumstances often lead to long-term alienation. And nearly one in four American adults today say they don't talk to a family member or have a family member who refuses to talk to them.according to a recent Deseret News/Harris-X poll. Other data indicates that 40% of people will experience some type of family separation throughout their lives. I went to Clifton, Idaho, to document the kind of tragedy that precedes estrangement, but also wanted to understand if reconciliation is still possible.

Tara's story is cleverly told and relentlessly cruel. The youngest of the family, Tara, says she was beaten and terrorized by her older brother (identified in the book as Shawn), who pulled her hair, strangled her, twisted her limbs and verbally assaulted her while her parents they turned it back one-eyed. She worked at the family business, a dangerous junkyard where children dodged metal and dangled dangerously from beams and forklifts. Her father, Val, repeatedly put the family in danger. Serious injuries were the order of the day. Mother LaRee treated her frequent burns, fractures and cuts with oils, tinctures and ointments.

Val nursed the boys up with terrifying stories about the federal attack on Ruby Ridge and packed them up for the promised day when armed SWAT teams would come after them too. The family avoided birth certificates, driver's licenses, insurance and anything else that might leave a paper trail for the government. They lived off the grid in a remote area below Buck's Peak near Clifton, 12 miles from the nearest small town of Preston.

Val rarely allowed Tara to study books other than religious texts. Tara applied to college against her father's wishes, though he put on a good face for her when she was admitted: "That proves at least one thing," she said, according to the book. "Our home school is as good as any public education."

Shy and confused, she humiliated herself in class because she didn't know what the Holocaust was. She didn't understand fractions either, let alone algebra, and she didn't know what "biology" meant until she signed up for a class. And yet, her teachers saw potential in her. Someone remembers her "her tenacity and intellectual drive" and her openness to "new perspectives." She was convinced to do a semester at BYU England at Cambridge University. where Tara was ashamed of her tattered clothes. She buried herself in her studies and excelled. After graduating, she won a Gates Foundation scholarship to return to Cambridge for graduate studies, and then went on to Harvard. She eventually returned to Cambridge to do a PhD in intellectual history. Every time Tara returns to Idaho for school vacations, she describes how she is thrown back into the dark world of sibling violence and she works on the dangerous scrap heap.

But that's not the story her parents, Val and LaRee, tell me during about eight hours of interviews and additional correspondence. As LaRee points the way to the family home, she sarcastically adds, "You don't need four-wheel drive." Come and discover that their home in the country they have lived in for over 40 years is not too remote or up on a mountain. It is on the main road through Clifton. A large sign points the way to Butterfly Express, her essential oils store, which is in the same building as her childhood home.

What does Tara Westover's family say about education? It's complicated (2)

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There, LaRee teaches foot therapy and "holistic healing methods." Val runs the store's retail business with a stash of essential oils and herbs scattered throughout a labyrinthine underground warehouse. So important is his business in the small town that the Postal Service, a branch of the federal government that Val seems to accept, begins its rounds at the company's loading dock each day.

There are few remains of the junkyard or isolationist artifacts from Tara's youth. Yes, Val and LaRee still distrust the government. The Westovers stock groceries for rainy days, but their warehouse has a 12-inch reinforced concrete ceiling. They also say they pay taxes and employ accountants and lawyers who helped them break up their businesses into multiple LLCs to meet Food and Drug Administration requirements.

The Westover home's living room is a cavernous space with windows and vaulted ceilings, sacred art, and enough sofas and armchairs to regularly wrap dozens of grandchildren. They could hold the Idaho record for Christmas stockings hanging from a single house. Val rarely sits down. She talks about her daughter's book, but only in gushes, hesitating between interviews like a busy man with his ticking clock. He answers questions but prefers to leave the conversation to "the boss", his wife LaRee.

Too often throughout the day to count, Val steps off the snowy driveway around the big house, sheds her muddy coat and boots at the door and runs in her stockings. He receives visitors and takes care of the business of the company. At noon he stops to put a casserole in the oven for those present. He makes the casserole himself with a bucket-sized pumpkin that he picked up in the garden.

But in "Educated," this skinny man, about 5 feet 9 inches tall, is the imposing shadow.,who is called a "slut" by teenager Tara when she rolls up her sleeves on a hot day or wears a ball gown that shows too much leg. By Tara's account, this is the same man who teaches his children about the ills of higher education, even though he attended Utah State University. Institutions were run by "Illuminati spies" on "the devil's payroll," a place where people become "too stupid to learn it the first time."

What does Tara Westover's family say about education? It's complicated (4)

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Apparently, this Val is not the person her employees know today. "The nicest man in the world," says Jenn Cox, who has worked for Butterfly Express for about eight years. "He would do anything for anyone."

Traci Boyce is in her second round of work for the Westovers. Val first fired her when she was late almost every day for four years. "I've had a lot of problems with my addiction," Traci says. Fresh out of rehab, she's returned to Clifton to get her life back on track. She met Val at church; he inquired about her and then, to her surprise, offered her another job.

Traci knew Tara as a child and says that Tara came to her house several years ago and inexplicably asked her questions about life in Clifton and homeschooling. Traci didn't know then that Tara was writing a book. She hasn't read "Courteous", but she knows the basics. And she knows trauma well. She also knows what it's like to be homeless and in prison, coming from a dysfunctional family (some of her family members are also recovering addicts).

"I would just tell (Tara) that I love her family," he says.

Then, looking around the great room where the Westover clan has gathered, he bursts with emotion and makes a startling confession. "I envy her how she's grown."

"Gebildet" is part of a long series of so-called confessional autobiographies. The memoirs of Marys Karr "The Liars Club" he is often credited as a pioneer of the genre. And in 2015, Karr also published The Art of Memoir, a writing guide of sorts. A relative familiar with Tara Westover's writing process claims that Tara followed Karr's suggestion as an example of how to tell a child abuse story. Westover would not be alone. Karr's work is recorded in James McBride's The Color of Water; "A Boy Named 'It'" by Dave Pelzer; "Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt; Kathryn Harrison's "The Kiss"; "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls; "Savage" by Cheryl Strayed; "Cocktail Elegy" by JD Vance and more.

These captivating, shocking and chilling stories often become book club staples, read predominantly by women and tapping into growing concerns about children's rights and welfare. Some fall into the class of celebrity memoirs laced with voyeuristic family drama, the most recent entry in that category being Prince Harry's Spare.

the stories areTRUEstories. They are not fiction.

And that's what makes them so tempting to read. But not a few were also controversially discussed or published as downright false reports. "A million piecesa treatise on addiction by James Frey, met an awkward end on Oprah. Frey admitted that he originally published his book as a novel and later sold it as a memoir. And then there's "Love and Consequences" by Margaret B. Jones, about an adopted Indian boy who grew up with Los Angeles gang members. "Jones" turns out to be Margaret Seltzer, who grew up a privileged white girl in Sherman Oaks. Or: "Go ask Alicethe first in a series involving Beatrice Sparks, a therapist from Logan, Utah, who allegedly wrote memoirs of her case files or discovered journals written by troubled teens.

There is an important line between a false memory and a true one. But true memories are sometimes dark. An author's memories collide with experiences of family drama and abuse. Memoir is not about objectivity, it is a person's subjective experience. But Tara Westover, Prince Harry in a way, stands out in the memoir genre for blaming family members who are still alive. And the Westover family stands out because Tara's mother, LaRee, has decided to write her own memoir of hers, openly titled "teaching with the aim of telling his side of things.

San Francisco psychiatrist Joshua Coleman, author of several books and studies on adult parenting and family separation, told me that today's abused children have more opportunities to discover their stories than previous generations: different ways children look back. of their childhood and, rightly or wrongly, blame their parents for abuse or harm, neglect or trauma. And not just through therapists, but also through self-help books, online forums, and TikTok influencers, as well as Instagram posts and the like. The adult child's ability to exercise a kind of social authority that he did not have before is far greater today than ever before."

Westover's extended family is large and the local community small. And almost everyone has a version of events. There are relatives who claim their own memories. There are friends who admit that they do not know everything, but express doubts about what has been described. And then there's Tara's mom. The titles of Tara and LaRee's memoirs touch on the theme of homeschooling: Tara is her journey from what she describes as late homeschooling to a Ph.D. Three kids with doctorates.

Did these kids get their doctorates in spite of or because of their parents? Was the Westover home a nurturing environment in which seven children thrived intellectually, or was it a house of horrors?

It is an area where the concepts of truth and memory coexist without ever completely merging.

Today, LaRee is clearly "The Boss" in this family, rarely letting Val finish a sentence, quick to interject maternal pride in her seven children, praising the merits of the passions expounded in her book: natural medicine, midwifery, homeschooling, and affirming his version of events. Ultimately, all memory is reduced to a version of the facts.

In the story of Val and LaRee Westover, their lives revolved around family, education, hard work, and faith while raising seven children. The children had part-time jobs and lively social lives, taking part in community theater productions (one source recalls that as a child he admired Tara, who starred in a local production of "Annie"). As teenagers, Tara and her brother Richard formed a folksinging duo in their valley. Tara took singing and dancing lessons and won local awards for her singing. LaRee says she scoured thrift stores to create costumes for Tara's performances. LaRee also claims that she, not Val, requested the modest outfit so that Tara's entire dance company would meet family standards.

But has Val ever called Tara a "slut" because of these fantasies? LaRee chimes in to answer the question with an emphatic "no." Val is more careful. "I can't remember, but I'm not perfect. And I made mistakes and my memory isn't perfect," she admits. She describes a stormy relationship with her own mother when she was a teenager. "When I had kids of my own, I realized some of the mistakes I'd made and felt sorry for them and, you know, tried to fix the fences and apologize." daughter speaks. “Well, I still apologize and I still regret it because at 70 I'm still learning. I appreciate and continue to be grateful. And the things that bothered me and bothered me were random things that didn't matter."

Tara was the youngest of seven children and according to her mother the prettiest. She loved women's clothes, makeup and new shoes. She was not academically inclined and she preferred music to studies. She was open with her older siblings and usually got what she wanted, according to her sister Valaree of hers.

Tara spent a summer working for Blake Atkin, the family lawyer. She trained as a paralegal and presented her ideas in the office. Atkin described her as intelligent, eloquent, and strong-willed. "If anyone had a good, solid foundation growing up, it's him," says Akin.

In education", Tara describes a time when she failed BYU and ran out of money. She called home and took her concerns out on Val. "She's going to be fine, honey," she replied unexpectedly. "Maybe I can help with the money. We'll figure something out. Just be happy, okay?" It was a sweet father-daughter moment that quickly rubbed off on Tara.

"I knew it wouldn't last, that the next time we talked everything would be different," Tara wrote. Later, when she was studying brain chemistry in a psychology class, she began to suspect that her father was bipolar. Laree admits that her husband had health problems, but she questions Tara's diagnosis.

What does Tara Westover's family say about education? It's complicated (5)

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The Westovers' homeopathic remedies go way beyond a bottle of lavender oil in the medicine cabinet. When Val and her son Luke were severely burned in separate gasoline fires at the junkyard, LaRee and the family spent days and weeks dousing them with oils and tinctures day and night, claiming to have even healed Val's burned lungs. None of them went to a hospital. They show little visible evidence of scarring, though Luke rolls up his pant leg to show me the small remaining scar.

A table in the living room is covered with religious books, a Bible, and lengthy commentaries on the Old Testament, while Val and LaRee teach an adult Sunday school class together. They differ in their religious studies, but perhaps only in degree. There are more intense discussions around the table, with slightly more apocalyptic interpretations of Scripture.

Family has long been a fixture at their local church, though they admit to taking a more extreme line than other congregants. When Tara's book hit the newsstands, LaRee noticed that some people in her pews might turn away on Sundays. But after five years, that attention has waned, she says.

Angry calls to the family business also decreased. Today, they see far fewer strangers walking on their property, peering in windows, or knocking on the door to visit the "polite" scene. (Employee Jenn Cox said she often gave in and gave curious tours of the company when she was asked.) Butterfly Express also recovered from the initial hit to the bottom line. On Facebook there is also less hostilities about the company and arguments at trade shows these days. Students at nearby BYU-Idaho no longer have "Educated" on their English syllabus, or at least LaRee doesn't hear much about homework involving family from her.

Says family friend Theron Jensen: "In general, everyone seems to appreciate the Westovers for what they do and who they are." Jensen is friends with Tara's brother, Shawn, the alleged perpetrator of the most horrifying violence on Educated. Both Tara and Shawn turned down multiple interview requests.

"I've read the book, so I understand the claims," ​​says Jensen. Could your friend have a dark side? "Sure. I mean we all have a dark side, I guess, in a way. But the Shawn she knows is patient, even when it comes to kids. When there's anger or impatience, he's like, 'I didn't see it.'

When I ask, Val and LaRee avoid directly answering questions about Shawn's history. LaRee resents accusations from others that she is protecting her son at her daughter's expense. They struggle to tell stories about the young Shawn who stood up for the boy and the adult Shawn who helps his neighbors. This is the Shawn who told his mother after the publication of Tara's book: "There was a time when I would have given my life for Tara. I can't do it now. I have a wife, children and commitments. But if you need something for her , you can talk with me.

But what about the Shawn who supposedly terrorized his little sister? Tara speculates that Shawn's two serious head injuries, the first from a fall while working with his father and the second from a motorcycle accident, reinforced what she says reinforced his erratic personality. LaRee prefers to believe that the brain damage has softened and softened her son. When Tara learned after her first accident that Shawn was calling her about her delirium at the hospital, she was reluctant to visit her. She wrote that she was "afraid to be happy if he died". But she soon quit her job to sit by her brother's bedside day and night while she recuperated. After the motorcycle injury, Tara was the one who took Shawn to the hospital, despite her father wanting him brought home for LaRee's natural remedies.

Tara's shocking low point in "Educated" comes one night while visiting Cambridge. She writes that Shawn picks her up in her truck, stops her in a parking lot, and grimly accuses her, "You talk to Audrey too much" (Tara's pen name in "Smooth" for her older sister, Valaree). suspect that Valaree had also been abused by Shawn. "She'd put a bullet in his head," Shawn continues, "but I don't want to waste a good bullet."

What followed is told in three different versions, by Tara, her parents, and her lawyer, Blake Atkin. According to Tara, when she got home that night, she told her parents that Shawn had threatened Valaree. Her parents called Shawn at the house to report. Tara was speechless with fear as Shawn arrived, strode across the room to her, thrust a small bloody knife into her hand, and said, "If you're smart…you'll use this on yourself. Because what I better do to you if dont do it.

Val and LaRee remember differently: that Tara was speechless. Shawn was brought in to clear the air. Shawn was devastated and Tara claimed she had no memory of Shawn's violent treatment over the years until a therapist suggested she hold something back. "I couldn't get him to give me details," Val recalls. "Maybe I could have handled it another way, better. It wasn't an easy experience."

Believing that her parents would not help her, Tara ran away from home as fast as she could. As she walked away from her, she passed the trailer where Shawn lived and saw the bloody body of her German shepherd lying in the snow. "After dad called, Shawn came out and stabbed the dog," she wrote in Raised..“According to the book, other family members claimed the dog had to be put down because it was killing chickens.

What Tara didn't know, and what her parents didn't share, was that they quickly called her lawyer after these events. When Atkin got home that night, Val and LaRee asked if they should call the police. After hearing his version of the encounter, she said no. "The facts don't support that," she said. Tara was already gone, so Atkin did not hear her version of the story from her, and what he read later in his book was more illuminating.

Tara's sister, Valaree, recalls what she says "when [Tara] first told me what she began to think and believe." The two sisters spent a day snowboarding near Salt Lake City, and Tara broached the subject in the car on the way home. After that conversation, Valaree set boundaries, refusing to speak face to face with Tara without witnesses, limiting herself to exchanging emails so that her words would not be misinterpreted. "She told me that she would treat her as if she were dangerous," says Valaree. "And years later, looking back on that night, I was like, I wish I had some idea how dangerous you were." Valaree sees the "danger" as an attempt to divide and destroy the family.

For a time, Valaree's relationship with her brother Shawn was inexplicably "distant". She later found out that Shawn thought he had joined Tara's camp in the family division. The sisters have not spoken to each other for several years. Valaree says, "If she showed up at my house, my response would be, 'Go home.' You can't fix your relationship with your siblings until you fix your relationship with your parents."

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In every conversation with Westover family and friends, they acknowledge that the memory is personal and sometimes soft. For example, Tara's sister, Valaree, is generous in evaluating her memory. “We store memories differently. I don't care how many versions of the story you have, you will never know the whole truth." But there is no doubt that there are family traumas and deeply broken relationships. And almost everyone I've talked to leaves room for the possibility that the Westovers they know today weren't the family of Tara's youth.

In his textbook The Art of MemoryMary Karr says that every memoirist looks through their own lens of memory. When typing “Liars ClubHe made his family virtual collaborators in the process, benefiting from the fact that they willingly took over the mess that had been his home. She has sent her manuscript to friends and family for review because she writes, "I often find it hard to believe myself because I'm suspicious of my own perceptions."

In a lecture at Utah Valley University in 2020, Tara recognized a place for her family memories: "My version doesn't have to be the only version and I'm very comfortable with the idea that there are other perspectives on it. But I think part of respecting yourself and your ability to have your own ideas is to respect the right of other people to do the same.”

In Memories of Abuse, Truth and Memory are twins from different mothers. "Debates about truth and lies are inherently intractable," writes Kate Douglas in her book Contesting Childhood, a scholarly account of the genre. In particular, in "Educated", Tara is careful to point out some instances where her memory differs from that of others, sometimes recounting multiple versions of a traumatic event. Douglas's book examines many childhood memories, examining questions like whether authors have the right to expose their families and what graphic stories should be like.

Are critics compounding the victim's trauma by questioning the story? Is the reader a voyeur or a sensitive travel companion? Is it a fair fight between a mentally ill, alcoholic or addicted parent and an eloquent adult author? Is it for profit? It's a fashion? According to Douglas, some writers are motivated to seek justice when the system has failed them. Or they want to break the code of silence that was imposed on them as children. Or they want to increase community awareness of child abuse. Or they want to show how a victim can triumph over tragedy.

Tara Westover did not respond to a list of emailed questions, including about her motivation for writing. From the title and the interviews published later, this motivation seems to be partly related to the current educational level, in particular the role of the family and the child. The book was a springboard for Tara to speak out in academic circles, but it's the graphic child abuse that most often sticks with the average "educated" reader.

Books in this genre make best-seller lists but are rarely heralded as enduring literary classics. In a 2015 interview with NPR, Mary Karr openly called the genre "trash," "primitive," and "outsider art." But if sales are any indication, they fill a genuine reader need: "I think that as fiction has become more hyperintellectual, more dystopian, more unreal, I think that people who are hungry for the real, for the lived experience real, they are forced to wander into memories," Karr said.

The front lines in the great Westover family are not always clear. Four of the seven children work in the family business; three numbers The other two doctors in the family are Tyler, a senior scientist and engineer at the Idaho National Laboratory, and Richard, an engineer at Intel Corp. in Portland. They both stayed close to their parents and Tara.

When Educated was first published, both brothers championed Tara's story to varying degrees in online book reviews.Tyler wrotethat Tara may have "misunderstood" some things, but there was truth to her memories. "Our parents are extremists, and they and other members of our family did terrible things that hurt Tara. There is no question that there has been abuse, neglect and other horrible choices." But she adds: "I was separated from my family when most of these events occurred, and most of the time they're not entirely clear to me."

Tyler's wife, Stephanie, responded to the story in an email: "As a therapist and a member of the Westover family, I am disappointed that LaRee is still taking steps to discredit her daughter. ... It is not easy for a family to deal with the past and choose healing, but it's possible. Val and LaRee had many opportunities to protect their daughter. Instead, they chose to discredit him and protect themselves. They still choose to do so."

In an online rating forum for "Educated"Richard wrotethat the family relationship is "more complicated" than the book describes. "Tara is doing the best she can and I congratulate her on that as well." She concluded: "For you it is a book and it is cheap to complain about it. For me it is my life and I continue to live it."

Calling this family history "complicated" is an understatement. Some of the brothers read “Cortés.“Some still have contact with Tara. Everyone keeps in touch with their parents to some degree, including Tara, but through email, not in person.

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For Val and LaRee, a reconciliation would mean that Tara would "come home," not to stay but to be part of the family again. Lawyer Atkin advised them to sue Tara for defamation if she is 'polite' was published, but they refused. He says he was told, "If we do that, we'll probably lose our daughter forever." He adds: “And they were probably right about that. There's been a couple of times that reporters have called me, and my address to [Val and LaRee] has always been, 'Don't say anything bad about Tara. Don't do anything that might make it hard for her to come home one day.'”

Can this family recover from the damage? "I think we're all fine except Tara," Valaree says. "And I don't think she wants to go home. So she's not really relevant at this point. She doesn't want family ties."

There are nieces and nephews Tara doesn't know, birthdays and vacations she misses. Grandparents who died without a last goodbye. In early January, Tara turned up unexpectedly at her paternal grandfather's funeral in Preston. She stood at the back of the church and talked to some family members, but not her parents. She had told them that she would not come. LaRee says, "[We] realized that she didn't want us to know, and we were okay with that." Hers other children of hers "they decided not to overwhelm us because they knew that she was very close and we to her." viewed."

Reconciliation largely depends on what the victim wants, says Caroline Fenkel, a clinical social worker familiar with Educated. "I think a lot of people go home for the Christmas holidays and they've been abused by family members and they never talk about it and they never plan to talk about it," she told me. “And there are other victims who would never want to set foot in this house where they were abused. And they don't want to be in a relationship until it's talked about, discussed and acknowledged."

Says Joshua Coleman of reconciliation: “The burden falls on the parents. They must take responsibility 'without limits.'” Coleman adds, “The narrative isn't really about the experiences of the parents trying to reconcile. It really means empathizing with the child's experiences and understanding why she feels that way." The adult son who blamed and cut off the parents holds all the cards. he would make amends… For parents, all this has a downside. Everything is loss. It's all a shame. It's all guilt, regret. everything is regret. Everything is fear. So parents have to take the initiative.”

Valaree hints that her family is up for it. She says that the family business of holistic healing helps the Westover clan understand Tara. “We try to help people where they are,” Valaree explains. “Part of that is understanding that what they remember may or may not be correct, and it doesn't matter. It's how they feel about it that matters.” Specifically, Valaree says of Tara: “What mattered was how she felt and helping her get through it. But I don't think she wanted to get over it.

In a 2018 interview with the Deseret NewsTara said before typing "Polite". He followed the stories in the media about alienation and family loyalty: “I felt like we had stories about family loyalty; I didn't feel like we had stories about what to do when you feel like loyalty to your family is at odds with loyalty to yourself. I felt like we had stories about forgiveness, and most of those stories associate reconciliation with forgiveness. They made it seem like reconciliation was the highest form of forgiveness and I just didn't know if I would ever reconcile with my family, so I wanted to tell a story about forgiveness, but not necessarily about reconciliation."

Speaking on a common theme at her appearance at UVU 2020, Tara said: "(F) For me, distancing has been a good and healthy thing. You were my family. They were all I knew and somehow I made the decision to walk away from them.

At the end of my day in Clifton, dinner at Westover's is a great family affair. Visiting children and grandchildren fill long tables. The little ones run around the adults while Val serves the soup. There are moments of conversation, and eventually the family separates after eating together. Val sits alone in an easy chair in the huge living room that Tara calls "the chapel," seemingly exhausted by the painful questions and careful answers about the missing child in the photo.

In Val's will, I learned, he chose to leave his personal papers to only one daughter: Tara. He believes that "of all my children, she knows me the least."

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