Category Archives: Looking through the Rear View Mirror

On being brave

A friend told me yesterday that when she looked at me, and thought about all I had been through—the word that came to her mind to describe me, is brave.  This was a surprise to me, because frankly, I feel anything but brave.  I am a survivor, it is true.  I have been thinking about my resilience lately—did it come about because of nature or nurture?  Did God deposit that trait in me at birth because He knew I would need it;  or was it borne after each affliction?  I haven’t told all my secrets as of yet and maybe never will—but looking back as far as I can remember there is almost never a time when I don’t feel as if there wasn’t some invisible target on my back.  But actually there was a time and unfortunately I have no memory of it.   There are pictures I post on Facebook of us being kids, my siblings and I.  And I can tell you by our ages whether it was pre-tragedy or post.   Anything up to my age of two or so—I am still innocent to the ways of evil.  It almost pains me to see pictures of us past that point, because I know, even though we are smiling—we are hiding our pain, from our parents, from each other and most of all—from ourselves.  Because the three of us went through something together, something that only one of us remembered and he took it to the grave with him.

It’s strange how you can sort of know something but you don’t have all the pieces.  In my case I was two, and while when you are two you remember all sorts of things,  time will eventually erase them.  I don’t even remember how my sister and I had come to speak of it finally, a couple of years after my brother passed away.   She had a remembrance of being yelled at by one of my father’s former parishioners;  not just yelled at for some minor infraction—but yelled at in an accusatory fashion—-the words in fragments, remembered for their shock and harshness more than anything else—“How could you accuse him of something like that?”   Or words to that effect, because while I was two, my sister was six and her memories probably no more concise than mine.  She had just been doing what she had been told, as countless children are told to do for as long as children have been told by parents to do certain things—to go to an trusted adult and let them know when someone is doing something wrong.   But while she remembered what this particular adult said to her, she never could remember what she had said to incite the reply.   I also had a strange memory of my own concerning this person—the lady who had yelled at my sister.  When I was around four years old, this lady came to my house.  People coming to my house was no big deal, as Dad was a preacher and our living room was his church.   This family was still in our lives and would be for a few years longer, but our memories were getting fuzzy by that point I would hazard a guess, and so whatever we had witnessed we had started to forget. However, something of what I had seen that day; whether it was my sister being yelled at or something more sinister I cannot tell you; still resided in my mind—and I was angry.  I don’t remember a whole lot from when I was four, but I remember this occasion as if it happened last year.  This woman came to our house and was sitting in a chair in our dining room close to my mother.  And I can still feel the hostility I felt towards her and the knowledge that I wanted her out of my house and away from my mom.  I don’t know where I got the idea to do what I did from—it’s not the natural behavior of a four year old.  I look back at it now, and I see hate of this woman but also, dangerously, hate of self.  Maybe I had felt powerless at two to stop whatever had happened to us and at four, I found a way to strike back.  In any event—I slipped into the bathroom unnoticed, stood on the closed lid of the toilet bowl and reached up to a high shelf (put there to keep little hands away) that held my father’s shaving tools. I picked up a razor and……ran it down my dry four year old face.   I was too short to see into the mirror, so I have no idea what I looked like when I exited the bathroom—but it must have been horrifying, because my mother jumped up and came to me immediately.  I do not remember anything past this point other than the lady left.   But I heard the story for years after that—the day I had inexplicably shaved my face.  I never told anyone why; because at that point I didn’t know why;  I had just remembered being angry at that woman and wanting her out of my house.

After our brother died of cancer, my sister and I grew closer despite the four year age difference and somehow we got to talking about this event that happened when I was two, she was six and our brother was either seven or eight.  What had brought us to these people’s house in the first place,  was that my mother had gotten pregnant one more time after she had me.  She was 41 years old and in the 1960’s, it was practically unheard of for someone that age to have a baby or to carry it to term.  She had almost died having me at 39.  She miscarried what would have been our baby brother at seven months.  Her mom was in Massachusetts and our Dad worked in the city Monday to Friday;  there was no one to look after us kids when mom had to suddenly go to the hospital when she lost our younger brother.  We had no idea how long we were subjected to stay with this family and what the particular circumstances were that lead my sister to being so harshly yelled at for speaking about it.  But my sister and I had the sneaking suspicion that the father of that house had abused my brother and we witnessed it;  or perhaps he abused us all—but we didn’t remember any of it, so we couldn’t prove it.  And by the time we talked about it, that family was long gone from our lives.

Fast forward to sometime in the beginning of 2010 and an off comment my dad had made one night as he and I sat on my couch in Virginia.  I had been telling him that I had made friends on Facebook with one of the children of this family (because whatever the sins of the father had been it had no bearing on his children in my mind).  And my dad, completely oblivious because we had never told him (and I still haven’t told him), said to me, “Well, you know that the father was a pedophile.”

All our suspicions were confirmed then.   There was no joy in being right all those years, yet the confirmation that what we knew to be true was in fact correct,  even though we couldn’t remember it, was sort of a relief in a way.  We weren’t crazy, we didn’t make this stuff up in our mind and I really did have a reason to dislike that woman (never enough to hurt myself in the process, but a four year old is powerless and a two year old even more so).

It’s scary to reveal all this now, I will be honest.  Not many people know this story, maybe a handful.  And I’m the only one left to tell it, everyone else has died.  The one who remembers it the least, left to fill in the missing pieces.  So yeah I’m a survivor.  But what good comes from surviving if I don’t share my story with others going through similar situations?  Whatever I have lost doesn’t have to be in vain if I can help someone else going through the same thing—but how will they know if I don’t tell them?

I was talking to someone the other day about survival.   And we were discussing how the mere act of survival was a form of rebellion—how life throws everything it has at you and yet you prevail —Survival says—I made it anyway.  Evil thought it was going to win but it didn’t—Survival won.  Not everyone survives, unfortunately.  You don’t have to die to not survive.  You can become hardened, and heartless.  You can become angry and sullen.  You can be unforgiving.   True rebellion against evil means you can still love and laugh and live. Of course, I am of the belief that I can do none of those things without God—it is through Christ that I am strengthened to go on and because of Him that I am even here to tell you about all this.  Because truthfully I could be (and maybe should be) dead.  I took some awful chances with my life, but for the grace of God and maybe some bigger plan that I am unaware of, I am still here.

We all have stories and some of us write them down and some of us sing them and some of us go about our lives quietly—but if we are still here, having survived to this point—then we are living testimonies to someone else who needs to know how we did it.

So no, brave is not something I would say about myself, because I know how flawed I can be, how much I mess up and how selfish I can get;  but then bravery isn’t about doing things without fear or without flaw—it’s about walking through life, determined to make it to the other side, knowing that you did before and you will again.   Knowing that you can because others have and them knowing they can because you did.  To me that is the true essence of the love God calls for us to have for one another.  Not some flowery words that have no substance behind them—but love that opens up about shameful secrets and pulls people out of the despair of thinking they are alone with whatever has happened to them.

Sometimes we may have to open our old wounds in order to help heal others…….if God asks that of you—will you be brave enough to say yes?


slivers of light in a dark place

I was mad at her for a long time.  I was mad that she chose to take herself out of my life. That she chose to let my dad lose yet another child.  That she, who had so much trouble throwing things out….tossed herself out of our lives, so easily.  I was mad because I was the last person to talk to her;  and she gave not so much of a hint of what she was about to do.  I was mad because she chose to do this three weeks before Thanksgiving, when she should have been making plans to visit us as she did every year.  I was mad that she did this a month before our birthdays in December—(I was born 3 years and 361 days after her)—we always celebrated our birthdays together, in our childhood home and later, on Black Friday when she would drive to Virginia to spend that weekend with us.  I was mad because I didn’t understand.  I wondered if she hated me, how could she do this to her little sister?

Before we found out what she had done to herself, we only knew that she was missing. She had “gone” missing once already, four months before as a matter of fact.  That time, she had told me that she’d over medicated herself with the medicine she took for her epilepsy–Dilantin.  Because she had taken that particular medicine since she was 12, I had some skepticism but not enough to probe deeper.  It did not help that she was in New York and 8 hours away.  She said, “don’t come, I’ll only be in the hospital a couple of days.”  When I couldn’t get in touch with her on the day of her discharge;  I grew worried.  Hours turned into days and even her boss emailed me, concerned that she would lose her job if she didn’t get in touch with her company.  I started to get frantic then.  Why couldn’t we reach her?  I cried out to God and finally, she managed to let her company know that she was still in the hospital.  It took a lot of digging to discover she was in the psych ward;  that they understood her to have attempted suicide with the extra Dilantin.  However, she denied that to me and I stuck my head back into the sand. I was so relieved to have found her that I let it go.

When Bob and I first moved to Virginia back in the summer of 1993;  my sister and I would talk on the phone every Friday night for at least an hour, sometimes on her dime, sometimes on mine.   We did that for a long time, years;  but as is the case with life, somehow we drifted away from it and stopped. But after this episode with the Dilantin, I told her we needed to do that again and we did. With renewed interest,  I looked forward to Fridays and talking with her about whatever was going on in our lives.

On Friday,  November 5, 2010, she called me, just as she had done countless other times. We discussed all manner of things, from the pain Bob was in with his back that wasn’t going away;  to a game on Facebook we both enjoyed called Treasure Isle.  I have replayed that conversation over in my head at least a dozen times and I can find no hint that she was entertaining the thoughts that would take her out of our lives.  The next day, a cold rain pelted Staten Island, there might have even been sleet mixed in.  I sent her a message on Facebook that she never responded to.  I took my nephew to a showing of a movie at a local church, that was ironically enough, about losing a friend to suicide.  I remember telling him on the way, that she was coming for Thanksgiving and he was happy about that.  The next day I had to do a rare project on a Sunday and still I had not gotten any response back from her from the day before.  It didn’t concern me as I figured she might have gone into work, as she had been known to do on other weekends.  But Monday afternoon, as I played on my laptop, and checked my email, I just happened to see something in my Junk folder. It was an email from my sister’s manager, explaining that she hadn’t shown up for work that day and had I heard from her?  I immediately tried to call her cell and got no answer; neither email or Facebook messenger garnered a response.  I started feeling that panic from four months before.  Was she in the psych ward again?  I knew they wouldn’t tell me if I called because of patient confidentiality.

Days went by.  I was numb, but I continued to get up and go to work.  It was on a drive to Woodstock, VA, on I81 that I cried out to God as to her whereabouts.  I felt an immediate sense of peace flood my spirit and a deep down knowledge that wherever she was, she was right with God and I didn’t have to worry.  Figuring she was in the mental ward at Staten Island Hospital, I wasn’t sure how she had managed to give her heart to the Lord there; but I believed it all the same.

But as the week wore on and after my dad got the NYPD to check her place (where they found neither her or her car),  dread started setting in.  Something in my gut told me she wasn’t in the hospital.  The cops told us they couldn’t put out a missing person report on her as she was an adult and might have just left for awhile.  But I knew she wouldn’t let us worry like that, either.  Finally on Sunday, November 14th, my dad got the call no parent ever wants to get.  The NYPD had a body at the morgue, which they believed to be my sister because her car was found nearby, and we were summoned to New York to identify her.  Next only to the time me and Bob had to drive to NY after my mom died;  this was the saddest visit to NY I have ever had.

At first the cops seemed to say they thought she’d been murdered, but then they turned it around to where they believed it was suicide.  Unbeknownst to us, she had called for an ambulance that time four months prior and told 911 that she’d tried to overdose on Dilantin, and they had heard that recording.  As it turned out, all that time we were trying to find her—she was at the morgue.  Seems the cops on her side of the Island didn’t have contact with the ones who had found her and the pieces didn’t get put together until they found her car.

There was an unfortunate picture in the Staten Island Advance of a sheet covered body found at Wolfe’s Pond Park.  My sister was a private person and she would not have liked knowing that her last picture would be of that.  But Wolfe’s Pond Park is where she chose to take her own life;  more than likely on that cold rainy Saturday the day after I talked to her. They found her on Sunday November 7th however and that is her official day of death.

I didn’t want to believe suicide.  I didn’t want to believe she knowingly chose to leave. There was however, a sliver of light in all of this.  The day after we had driven to New York, as me and Bob and my dad and step-mom all sat in the breakfast area of the hotel we were staying at;  my dad told me something interesting.  He said that after he had gotten off the phone with the police on Sunday;  he had felt a sudden fear but that peace had come over him just as suddenly and that he heard a still small voice say—“Don’t worry, she’s with me.”   I told him of the experience I also had, as I was driving to Woodstock a few days before.  I was glad that God had reassured us both as to her real whereabouts—it’s been one less thing to worry over.

But still I was mad and it took a long time for me to stop being mad at her.  Yes, I grieved too, I cried a lot over a long period of time.  I missed my sister and it took quite a while for me to stop thinking she was going to call every Friday night that rolled around.  But I was angry at her for leaving too.  I was angry because my dad had already buried his son, and his wife and now he had outlived another child.  I was angry because my husband was very sick and I could have used my sister to talk to about it, but she wasn’t there.  I felt she had been selfish and cowardly and I didn’t want to feel those things but I did.

After I lost Bob 20 months after losing her;  I started to understand a little better.  My hard and harsh feelings abated.  I knew what it felt like to have a crushing and somewhat hopeless outlook on the rest of my life and yes, there were times when I wanted out.  I wasn’t thinking of anyone and what kind of heartache they would experience from my desire to be free of the endless sorrow.  Unlike her, I knew I would never do it—take myself out of the game—I knew there were people who counted on me and I wouldn’t let them down.  But I stopped being angry at her and I accepted that she chose to do that not because of me or in spite of me—but because she didn’t see any other way.  Suicide is never the answer—-it devastates the ones left behind—sometimes people do it to stick it to people but those aren’t the people affected.  It’s the ones that love you—the ones you would never want to hurt in a million years—they will blame themselves—they will think they could have stopped it somehow.

So if that thought ever gets too intense, please call someone or call the hotline for Suicide prevention–1 (800) 273-8255.  There were and have been slivers of light in this dark place—but I wish she could have seen them for herself.  There is always Hope—God is but a prayer away.

On the outside looking in

It’s not easy being a preacher’s kid; of which I am one.  The people in the congregation expect the children of the pastor to be perfect little Christians.  They hold us up as examples to their own children and their own children try to pull us into their schemes.  And let me preface this with something that some of you might find exceedingly shocking–I did not become a Christian for myself until I was 31 years old!  It can be tough enough being a preacher’s kid in a regular church, but my dad had his services in our living room;  which again, might not have been so bad out in the country, but that wasn’t the case. We lived on a busy street on Staten Island, with a tavern straight across from us.  I kid about it now, but it was cringe-worthy to me as a child–to have my friends waiting for me on the front porch, knowing that they could hear every note sang and every word spoken by those inside.  On a Sunday night in the summer, you could literally stand in the middle of my street and hear bar songs on one side blasting from the jukebox and church hymns on the other coming from my house.  I knew having church in my living room wasn’t normal, none of my friends parent’s did this, and when you’re a kid, it’s all about fitting in and I felt like a square peg in a round hole.

There was another factor to my feeling of not belonging.  Dad had told us kids that everything we did in school or in the community reflected back on him; in other words, we were not to fight other kids or even defend ourselves should the need arise.  I’m sure he meant well; but I took it literally and never did defend myself if picked on.  I was a shy kid to begin with;  a momma’s girl who would have preferred to stay home than go to school;  I was a bully’s dream if there ever was one.  And then there was one more piece to the puzzle as to why I felt from a fairly young age as if I was on the outside looking in.  This is a story that only a handful of people know and it’s a little scary for me to open up about it now.  When I was eight years old, I was molested.  I’ll not go into the who, the when or the how long.  The person responsible passed away several years ago, and to my knowledge, I was the only one he victimized.  I’ve also forgiven him and I have it on fairly good authority that he gave his heart to the Lord before he passed;  so I hold no animosity towards him. But while I won’t besmirch his name now; and I won’t go into detail about any of it;  I will say that it was not a one-time occurrence and it did affect me greatly as far as self-esteem issues go.

Not to mention, it severely hurt my relationship with God.  As I said, I grew up a preacher’s kid;  heard about God all my life and most definitely believed in Him.  But I felt forgotten and forsaken that He would let this happen to me.  I thought surely I had done something horrible to deserve this, but I could never figure out what it was.  There was a neighborhood kid a couple of years older than me that got hit by a car and killed one night;  that death affected me for years.  I didn’t even really know him other than in passing;  but I was sure I was next;  that’s how guilty I felt from some imagined wrong I felt I must have committed. I never told anyone because my abuser said not to.  I’m sure my childhood friends never had a clue, because I hid it so well.  In fact no one knew until after he passed away, and then just a select trusted few.

But the point is—all of these things led me to feel outside the norm; invisible and on the outside looking in.  It felt like there was this great party going on;  I could look in the window, see all the smiling people, see them laughing and enjoying life, but I could not open the door and join them.  I felt “less than.”  And I felt that way for quite some time.

Teenage years brought with it rebellion; cutting out of school continuously (Dad had to meet with the dean quite a few times)—until I finally dropped out altogether.  It found me abusing alcohol and smoking pot on a regular basis.  In fact one night me and a friend walked into that tavern across from my house, and my dad walked in minutes later to drag me out.  I was, truth be told, just doing what most of my friends were doing anyway—but of course, as a preacher’s kid–the community expects more from you. The idea is your dad is a Christian so why are you so bad?  The truth was, I never asked to be born into a preacher’s family any more than any one asked to be born into theirs.   Once church stopped being held in my house I never went to any other service voluntarily for many, many years.

I talked to God alot, there is some question whether He hears the prayers of people who are not living for Him, but I won’t say He doesn’t—that’s entirely up to Him and He’s God, He can do whatever He wants. But I absolutely knew without a doubt, He existed.  I just didn’t think He cared very much for me.  One of my favorite sayings when I was a teenager was—“God only knows and He doesn’t care.”  I talked to Him, but I never heard back.  I knew if I died, I wasn’t going to heaven.  I knew not to take communion and I never did until after I got saved.  As much as I shunned church and wanted no part of what I saw as a great hypocrisy; I had one of my dad’s old hymn books from the living room church that went with me wherever I moved and stayed with me up to and beyond when I became a Christian for real.  I would take it out and sing the familiar songs occasionally.

Met and married Bob;  whose mom and sister went to my dad’s church when he finally got a building to have it in.  Bob was like me, he believed but he had no interest in living it.  Bob was my first official and only boyfriend;  we dated for almost five years and then got married in 1987.  He didn’t drink all that much or at least didn’t enjoy it to the extent that I did;  I was over indulging every weekend for quite a long time.  To say I wasn’t happy would be an understatement.  I just never felt like I belonged;  I never felt peaceful, or content.  I felt guilty and convicted and judged and small.  I went to years of therapy which did help some, but it seemed I could cry longer and harder than most people did.  Looking back, I’m pretty sure I was grieving now that I know what that is and what that feels like.  I just wanted to be like I imagined everyone else was—I thought they all had it together.

We moved to Virginia on July 4, 1993, and that threw me into what I believe was as near to a clinical depression that I ever hope to get.  Bob worked long hours, officially 3-11 p.m., but if his job required it (and it often did), he might not get home until 3 a.m.  I didn’t work, I didn’t drive and I was homesick for New York and my family.  Ironically, Bob worked for a beverage distributor and brought beer home all the time; but it no longer got me where I wanted to go.  My sorrow was such that alcohol, unless it was some massive amount (and I wasn’t going to go that far), was not going to drown it out.  I cried every day for practically six months.  And then Thanksgiving came and my parents and sister visited for those four days.  I both anticipated and dreaded that visit.  I had longed to see them in person; but I knew when they left it would kill me.  I cannot describe to you the despair I felt at having them leave me.  And when they did, as I knew they would, I sank even further into my depression.  I told Bob I wanted to go back to New York and he said that I could, but he wasn’t going.  I knew that if I went back there without him I wouldn’t be any happier than I had been living without my family.  Push came to shove, finally.  Before I had moved to Virginia (Bob had come down here 3 months before I did to secure a place to live), I had one of my usual talks with God and I told Him, if He worked it out, I’d go to church.  See, that’s why I think God does hear when people not serving Him pray.  Because He called that prayer to my remembrance.  And even though serving Him was something I had actively ran from for 31 years, by late November 1993, I was at the end of my rope.  There was nowhere else to go but to Him.  So I finally did. It just occurred to me, right now, as I wrote this—that I got saved in all places, in my living room, with some tv preacher leading me in the sinner’s prayer on December 2, 1993.  All those years going to church in my childhood living room, it came back full circle.  I had been in such a dark, sad place for so many months, that when it took—this salvation—I felt like a great weight had lifted off of me—it felt like some one had opened all the doors and windows and turned on all the lights!  When Bob had left that afternoon, he didn’t know if he’d come back home to me with my bags all packed ready to return to New York without him or what.  What he came back home to was a very peaceful me and even he knew something amazing had happened.

That has been quite awhile ago now.  I’ve lost Bob and my mom, my sister and others.  Mom lived long enough to witness my getting baptized of which I am so grateful.  She prayed for me for so many years and never gave up!

I have since learned too, that there are a lot of people who felt as I did, that they were on the outside looking in—that a lot of those that I perceived of having great lives were actually suffering from hidden things as well. I guess if I could have them take away anything from my life,  it’s that God does care—in fact He’s waiting with open arms to gather you to Him.  He can heal all the hurts of the past.  Yes, He did allow what happened to me to occur, because it is how they say—a fallen world and men are given free will to do what they will. There are victims in that scenario, and some people have a problem with it; but God makes a way for restoration, both to the afflicted and the ones that afflict.  God makes a way for forgiveness and a healing from all manner of abuse.  I am okay and others can look at my life and see that healing is possible.  I welcome being on the outside now—not looking in to a life that seems perfect—but among others outside as well, to be a help to them, to show them that they are not alone, not forgotten or forsaken.  Not by me and most certainly, not by God.




A tribute to my mom for Mother’s Day

My mother (Laura Randall Elstad) was born on June 2, 1923, she was the youngest of four children, the other older ones were all boys.  Because they would occasionally let her tag along with them, she was a bit of a tomboy and liked to go fishing;  grew up interested in understanding how things worked and even eventually got a job pumping gas.  She had somewhat of a tough childhood—her father locked himself in the garage one night and ran the car until the carbon monoxide killed him. I’m not sure how old she was when this occurred but I know it affected her.  A couple of years later, her mom remarried and mom’s step-dad was not nice to her on at least one occasion that she told me about.  Seems mom was eating a lemon and he didn’t like it, so he pushed her down the basement steps!  Not sure if the man was abusive or just ignorant, but I don’t like thinking of someone doing that to her and for so little a reason.

Growing up in the Depression, mom had to go to work to help out my Nana (who by the time Mom was a teenager, was a widow again).  But mom had girlfriends to spend time with too, so it wasn’t all hard work and no fun.  Somewhere along the line, my mother visited a church that my dad happened to go to.  Dad was, by his own admission, a jack of all trades around the church—chief bottle washer, janitor; sunday school teacher, etc;  whatever they needed him to be.  He headed up a young adults group and from the pictures I’ve seen of it, mom was there whenever they gathered.  But all was not smooth sailing for mom and dad.  At some point Dad broke up with her to go out with some other girl (!!);  but eventually he came back, proposed and they married.  Mom was 29 when she became a bride.  The doctors told her they didn’t think she could have children (although I don’t remember what the reason was).  But my parent’s were praying people and didn’t let that report bring them down.  In fact, mom would have three children and miscarry a fourth.

Growing up, my mother was very instrumental in educating us even though she made it seem more like a game.  Whereas I get my creativity from my father’s side of the family,  I get my curiosity about how things work and my ability to work through a challenge from my mom.  Mom encouraged my creativity in an active way—she wrote down some of my stories before I had the skills to do it myself.  She allowed me to have as many imaginary friends as I wanted and would scold my older siblings if they teased me about it.  It seems funny now to realize, that as a preacher’s kid, I never believed in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus, but I was allowed to believe that there were imaginary friends who lived in the wall of my living room.  And under the guise of playing a game, mom devised ways of having us learn the name of the states; their Capitals;  we played memory games such as I’m going on a vacation and I’m bringing—(usually Apples, bananas, etc until every letter of the alphabet was used and you had to recite 26 different things).  She introduced us to crossword puzzles, word searches and jigsaw puzzles.  Dad was all about getting on the floor with us to play Monopoly;  Mom would rather sit us down at the card table and teach us Scrabble.  And while my Dad had no interest in sports whatsoever, Mom was all about her favorite New York teams.  I get my die-hard love of the New York Yankees from her!

Mom was not afraid to get her hands dirty, whether it was looking under the hood of Dad’s car (she seemed to know more about what might be going on there, than he did), or fixing a broken lamp or radio. She was a stay at home mom for many years until around 1974 or so, when the economy wasn’t all that great, she had to find a job. At first she got work locally, but then a few years later, had to commute to Lower Manhattan and I believe, if I’m not mistaken, that she worked in one of the Twin Towers for awhile.  To be honest, I was a teenager then and didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to what she even did there;  I assume it was something along the lines of file clerk, because Mom could do alot of things, but typing was not one of them, so that ruled out Secretary.

In 1976, Mom (and Dad) faced the toughest situation that a parent can;  the death of one of their children.  As I already spoke of in another entry, my brother Kenneth got a very rare form of bone cancer, had his left leg amputated from the hip down and eventually lost the battle altogether and passed away when he was 19.  They had the assurance that he was resting with Jesus, but of course, that didn’t lessen their grief any.  But mom never really shared her sorrow with me or my sister that I can remember.  What I do recall, was her telling us, shortly after he died, that we were not to blame ourselves for his passing—-that even if we had gotten mad at him at some point and told him to drop dead—that we hadn’t made it happen with our words.  I can’t help but think that my nana must have said the same thing to her after her dad took his own life.

Life rolled on for mom and dad;  she continued to work for a good while and helped Dad out with his ministerial duties until finally, years later, he made her his assistant pastor. Eventually too, my sister and I moved out of the family home to live in New Jersey and our parents moved to the second floor apartment over where they held  their church services.

In 1982 I met my future husband, Bob and in 1987 I married him.  Mom walked me down the aisle and gave me away since Dad was officiating the ceremony.  We lived in the second story apartment in my in laws house and for most holidays, everyone would gather at our residence, Mom and dad included. There are many happy memories (and plenty of pictures) of times spent together whether it was on the Fourth of July or Christmas.  We were all one blended happy family—Bob’s and mine.

In 1993, Bob lost his job on Staten Island and saw it as the perfect chance to relocate to Virginia, a place he had visited many times as a child and already had a sister who lived there herself. It was like an adventure to be sure, but leaving mom to move here was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done.  I may look like my dad, but I was a mommy’s girl all the way!  We had always talked on the phone a lot; whereas mom’s calls to my sister made her feel like she was being interrogated; I welcomed chatting with my mother. And I was used to being able to see her in person at least once a week, things that added to a bad case of homesickness the first six months we were here.  I wanted to return to New York, but Bob didn’t and I felt like I was in between a rock and a hard place.  I knew I wouldn’t be happy up there without him, but I wasn’t happy here without my parents and sister. That’s what drove me to salvation—needing God to make it alright in my spirit to stay in Virginia. Mom was the first person I called to tell that I had gotten saved and she was overjoyed. She had been praying for that for me for many many years!   I’m glad that she also lived long enough to be here when I got baptized in the South River in 1994.

In the summer of 95, after taking a trip with my dad and sister;  Mom started going downhill fast.  She ended up in the hospital after losing consciousness one night;  there they found she had diabetes and a heart condition.  Bob and I made an impromptu trip up north just in time to see her get released from the hospital; but after we came home, mom had an appointment with her regular doctor. He took one look at her and sent her back in because he saw the yellowing of her skin which he knew to be jaundice.  Test results would show inoperable Liver Cancer. Mom had smoked in her youth, but never drank a drop of alcohol, so it wasn’t that.  Of course, dad had everyone who would do so, pray,  but we lost her on Sept. 8, 1995.

It took me a long time to stop crying for her.  Up to that point I had lost others, but there is something about losing your mom, especially if you were close to her and although I wasn’t close in actual miles;  I was so close to her in my heart.  We used to talk every Sunday afternoon and it seemed to take forever for me to get used to not doing that anymore.  A lot of time has passed now, I’ve lost many others since then, but I’ll never forget her and I can’t wait to see her again someday.  I know when I see her next, she won’t be as frail and as sick as she was at our last meeting.  What a glorious day that will be!

Helping the hurting

After my sister passed away in early November 2010;  and my husband was battling excruciating pain in his lower back, I was feeling quite devastated.  My husband had been my go-to person, second only to God;  but I didn’t feel comfortable laying more grief on what was already a bad situation.  He was grieving for her as well, they had bantered in a good-natured way all the years they’d known each other and I knew he was sympathetic to my pain of losing her.  Even with the great amount of pain he was enduring, he wouldn’t hear of not going with us when we made the trek up north to identify her.   He had driven all the way to Staten Island and he drove a lot while there.  He had intended to drive all the way home too, but his pain became so great that I took over in the last little bit of New Jersey.

A week or so after we returned home and were trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy, I returned to my daily routine and got back out among people.  It was there that I started to notice that others, while sympathetic, had no idea how to help me.

There is that one thing we all say, when we are faced with a situation involving a friend who is going through a crisis:  “If there is anything I can do for you, let me know.”

Can I be bold and say that I think that’s one of the most useless sentences in existence? Now before you get mad, I’ve said it a million times myself.   I even had one person say to me, “If you don’t tell us what you need, we can’t help you.” What I needed was for them not to put it that way.

At it’s best, it sounds really good and I’m sure the people who say it mean it at the time.

But it puts the responsibility of meeting my needs on me;  and I’m already overwhelmed.   At my core, I need to cry, I need to scream, I need to get angry, I need to breathe.  I need to call someone at 4 a.m. because I can’t sleep.

Most people going through a crisis still have a speck of pride and won’t ask for help for that reason. They’ve done it perfectly fine up until then and they don’t know that they can’t now.  And it might look like, from the outside, that they are capable, they are thriving.  But really it’s all going to fall on top of them at some point.

The third reason that sentence is useless is the majority of people won’t help you.  Oh, they think they will, but wait until the rubber meets the road.  You find out who your real friends are in a crisis.  Or rather you find out who your friends are by who stays by your side, before, during and after.  It was great to have a lot of people around me right after Bob died, but not too many of them came around a month or two later, when I really wanted to talk to someone.

So now that I’m a couple of years removed from all of this, I can see with better clarity what is needed in regards to helping the hurting and if you’re interested, maybe you can use these suggestions the next time someone you love is in crisis.

Number one is to make sure the person knows they are not alone, for most people this means going to see them.  I know that others have expressed a fear to me, of intruding in the persons life and it may happen;  but I would rather err on the side of intrusion than let some poor soul think that no one cares. And keep it up, don’t just visit once and think that’s good enough.  Be someone they look forward to seeing—go in smiling, make them laugh; give a sympathetic ear.

There are some people who would rather be left alone, but you can still send them letters and cards expressing your concern, and again, keep that correspondence coming.

Remember them on the special and perhaps, most difficult days; birthdays, anniversaries and holidays.  If you can invite them to your house to partake in celebrations, you should; they may not come, but it’s nice to be thought of.

Pray for them and by all means,  let them know they are in your thoughts.

Do small errands for them, offer to babysit their children so they can take care of things outside the home.  Bring them a meal.  Take them out for a bite to eat.  If they are care-givers, offer to give them a break to get away for an hour or so.  Sit with them and let them talk.

Do for them what you would need if you were in their situation.  And if you have been in their situation–you should be one of the first people to contact them, because you already know what they need.

The hurting will always be with us; and undoubtedly we will be the hurting ourselves, sometimes; it’s a fact of life and not to be shunned or feared.  And while only God can bring true recovery and restoration to those in crisis, He wants us to be His hands and Feet, bringing comfort to those in need.