Michele DeMarco

From the Author

How This Project Came to Be

“Of what one cannot speak, one must be silent.” The sentiment is that of 20th century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein when he considered the limits of language, but in another way, it sums up what many people with moral injury feel. Whether it is because of crushing shame or guilt, the fear of stigma, the numbing from scars, the sense that others “wouldn’t understand,” “couldn’t understand,” “don’t really care,” or would “judge them,” often those who experience moral injury never share their stories. As a result, they suffer in solitary, self-punishing, and self-severing silence.

I was one of these people, as is told in the narrative Bound. Life threw me into a life or death situation, which was neither of my choosing nor my doing. In the end, I was left with an impossible decision: in order for me to live, another couldn’t—only this other was not a stranger or enemy; it was my unborn child.

Story: Bound

Parents are meant to protect their children, full stop; that is a time-honored moral credo. “I’d throw down my life for yours without thinking,” I know well my own mother and father would say. Yet for reasons I explain, I could not do that. Like a soldier who has to shoot or be killed, I had to terminate or die.

I don’t regret the decision, only that I had to make it. But making it tore my soul to shreds. And reconciling that harsh reality was an arduous, soul-centered process. Fortunately, I had a tremendous support network, especially my parents, whose unwavering love and compassion was a much-needed light in my own black hours. What’s more, as a professionally trained therapist and clinical ethicist, I had some practical resources to draw upon. But not everyone does, as I know from years of working with people who also have had to face the “unthinkable” or “unspeakable.” More to the point, few have even heard the phrase “moral injury,” let alone know how to heal from it.

Table of Contents: Lost

In the Black Hours grew out a desire to give voice to the silence surrounding moral injury—both for those who are struggling with it and for the communities in which they are a part of and who support them.

To emerge from that solitary, self-punishing, and self-severing silence and share what is beyond difficult to say—what is otherwise seen as the “unthinkable” or the “unspeakable”—is nothing less than an act of courage, for it places a person in the nexus of vulnerability, at the same time showing a cavernous depth of character and a formidable strength of soul in the face of great pain, grief, or uncertainty.

Story: Wrenched

In the Black Hours chronicles such courageous stories, beginning with those in the black despair of night, moving through glimmers of hope in twilight, and finally into an emerging dawn, reminding us all that while peace can sometimes feel far off, it need never be lost entirely.

So often we think that right and wrong is simply black and white, but as the following narratives reveal, nothing is simple about moral injury; lines once thought to be easily defined can, in a moment, become obscured, and regaining them, as we see in the stories that follow, is an arduous psychospiritual endeavor.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” or so goes the saying. But what can also be said is that sometimes it takes more than words to capture the “felt sense” of something—and a felt sense is where compassion and positive action begins. Healing from moral injury requires a person to reconcile many difficult truths and to transform in difficult yet often unexpected ways. But it also requires communities and systems of shared values to support them. If we can feel what others are suffering—if we don’t simply judge people based on our own opinions or beliefs—then we, as a society, might be better positioned to provide support in the ways people very much need.

So, the stories In the Black Hours are accompanied by photos, as well as quotes from poetry and literature. Through long exposure, blurred motion, ethereal light, and high contrast, the photography creates a piercing visual landscape that captures the raw emotion and lost innocence which moral injury lays bare. The resulting collection is an intimate and visceral look at the experience of moral injury, and honors both the vulnerability and triumph of the human spirit.


To the men and women who were brave enough to share their stories with us, we thank you and honor your experience. To those who are still struggling to heal the wounds of moral injury, please know you are not alone.

About Moral Injury

Learn More

Story Vignettes

Read Here