I sat down with the two teenagers chosen for my counseling intervention. Unsure of me and one another, they fumbled awkwardly through their belongings. In an attempt to ease the tension and anxiety in our midst, I pulled out my question dice- always an easy icebreaker activity. We took turns rolling and answering questions, until the awkwardness returned with a hard question that landed face-up. “My dad is the best because…”. When we land on this question, I typically tell students not to feel obligated to answer, because not everyone has a dad who is present physically and/or emotionally, self included. One student joyfully shared an answer about her dad’s humor. Through clinched teeth and with her head down, the other student shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t really have a dad.” “It’s kind of the same for me”, I answered quickly, as to reassure her that she was not alone. Little did she know, I knew her background – knew she was adopted from another country and that she resides only with the sweet mother who decided that she would be the perfect fit for their family, long ago. Our situations were different, but I emphasized what we had in common: an absent father.
Later in the evening, my husband and I sat in the living room with tired eyes, watching a football game and struggling to make it to 10 pm without falling asleep. My phone began a heavy vibrating sound from the corner where it was charging, signaling a phone call. Phone calls at this time of night always lead me to think of either a worst case scenario emergency or an annoying beckoning from student loan harassers at an ungodly hour. I dragged myself up to answer the call and recognized the number as my uncle’s.
My uncle helps to care for my daddy- has been for the past few years that daddy has been confined to a nursing home for life. Because he is in close proximity to my daddy, this sweet uncle often calls with updates and information we might want to know. Although daddy is not too far away, I don’t make it down as often as I’d like to for a visit. In addition to a chaotic schedule, it is hard to go there and process his steady decline- a man in his early 60’s, surrounded by people much older, but equal in severity of ailment.
We sit and stare at one another, during visits- mustering up conversations about whatever comes to mind, in hopes that daddy can at least exchange a few words or an occassional head nod. We bring pictures and news of weddings, growing grand babies, funerals and try to catch him up on the progression of life that is moving quickly, outside of the lonely walls of his nursing home.
It’s hard to watch him unable to speak in a coherent sentence, when I remember how he would use his voice so boldly before. He would use it for good things like defending clients and advocating, in his days as an attorney. He would also use it for bad things like belligerent screaming at mama or us, especially when he was under the influence of substances. Either way, the stroke changed his ability to speak forever. It is hard to watch him unable to move, when I have memories of his able bodied self-always moving swiftly and demanding the attention of the room in social settings. It was hardest for me the last time we visited, when I had to spoon-feed him. In my mind, I reminisced about his excitement towards food, back when we were growing up. We’d frequent S&S Cafeteria on Sundays, and he’d complain to the workers when his food wasn’t just right. When any food happened to satisfy his palette, he’d smack loudly and often say “That’s fresh!”.
The voice of my uncle was genuine and kind over the phone, as he shared the usual mix of good and bad weekly news about daddy. Before he hung up, he expressed an apology for never knowing what we had to go through and what was really going on when my daddy lived with us, prior to the divorce. I reassured him not to be sorry, because number one- we can only see what people are willing to show us, number two- we all want to believe the best about our family members, and number three- daddy, like all of us, experienced brokenness that requires grace (even if it requires a little more grace than some of our situations).
Years ago, when daddy’s addiction lead to the stroke in rehab, I decided to recognize the situation for what it was. The pain that he brought our family was a direct result of the pain he inflicted on himself by feeding his addictions. All humans are walking stories. Even when life is “good” overall, our stories are still filled with various kinds of trauma, drama, addictions, brokenness, pains, losses, rejections and disappointments. How we deal with these broken pieces can and will directly impact our loved ones for generations. Daddy happened to make the wrong choices, leading to a once large ego spiraling down into humility and the dependence on help from others in order to survive. Even in the midst of it all, I see glimpses of goodness and grace- a chance to re-establish a relationship with his loved ones in a way that we would have never anticipated. Even greater- the inability to continue a cycle of addiction and live a lie that would continue to cause further destruction to himself and others.
My uncle and I ended our conversation in agreement that we hope my daddy asked for forgiveness and grace, while he was still able to think coherently and reflect on the past. But if not, we will continue to extend grace to him.
Today, I am considering the way that trauma has impacted my life and the lives of people I love. I am inviting you to do the same. Remember to be slow to judge the decisions of others, without being ready to extend the grace to them that we also need ourselves. Every behavior stems from something. Acknowledge what that something is, and make a conscious decision to not allow that something to lead to your hurt spilling over and hurting others. I am not always the best at this, but I am learning. Would you join me in wanting to learn and grow, too?
I’m realizing my need for grace and recognizing the need to pay it forward in order to build a healthy cycle of understanding and letting go, in attempt to break generational curses.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see
My chains are gone,
I’ve been set free
My God, My Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood, His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace
My prayer is that this will more consistently be the posture of my heart- growing in empathy, better understanding my own pain and the pain of those who have hurt me and others. My prayer is that folks that I have hurt will also have this posture. (Let’s be honest, we all hurt people sometimes and will inevitably hurt people, as long as we are living). If you are a human being, you are in need of grace. Grace is like money: We are happy to receive it, slow to give it freely, and hesitant to believe it’s worth it when we don’t see a return on our investment. Growth has happened when you can have peace about giving grace freely, in the absence of tangible evidence of reciprocity.
Remain hopeful. Stay anchored. Refuse to sink.