The news of my father’s passing came to me in a startling way...
My father and I had not spoken in 5 years.
It was a sensible finish to a relationship that had always been difficult.
I’d heard that he’d spent much of the last few years of his life crying.
I never knew how true those reports were, but it would be an odd thing
to make up.
Our final conversation had started like all the others.
We only spoke a couple of times a year…it was always the same routine.
He would begin the conversation with a hate-filled diatribe, belittling
every race, cursing the world.
Another day, another hate-filled monologue.
He’d always been this way. Combative, angry, dad-against-the-world.
There was never any reasoning with him.
As far as I could tell, there was no real justification for any of it.
He was just a pure racist.
There was a story from his childhood that eventually shed some light
on things... Dad had grown up in rural Wisconsin...the last child
in a family of 13. There were 6 boys followed by 6 girls.
He was the unexpected baby who arrived 7 years later than the others.
When dad was growing up, he was alternately coddled by his doting mother
and older sisters and bullied by his jealous older brothers.
The trail grows a bit cold there.
But not long afterward he emerged as a young boy given to cruelty.
He was involved in repeated beatings of his Amish schoolmates.
He was fiendishly bent on trying to provoke the young pacifists into fighting.
He took advantage of them every day, beating them up without fear of reprisal.
It was more than a passing boyhood prank. It became an obsession with him.
I don’t think he ever felt sorry for what he'd done.
His maliciousness was justified on its own merits as far as he was concerned.
And so an embittered and embattled man went through his portion of days.
Dad was as obsessed with sex and the attention of women as he was
with violence. I grew up in a climate heavy with sexual undertones.
Heavy with my parent’s sexual struggle as well.
My mother had entered the marriage as a voluptuous sweater girl…
a post World War II glam girl.
Within a few years she was transformed into a thin, harsh woman with a severe
haircut and an attitude of feminism that would make succeeding generations
of angry women proud.
What transpired between them will remain private, but their conflict was never-ending, confusing and ultimately exhausting to me.
As mother retreated more and more into her private world of depression
and sickness, I was elected to take charge of my younger sisters and the home.
Mother turned a conveniently blind eye to my dad’s growing obsession
with me. Eventually she wasn’t much use to him as a mother or a wife.
I was already the functioning mother.…he wondered if he could take the role
a little farther.
For most of my adult life I'd believed that the abuse had begun around age 15,
had intensified until I was 17 ½ and had finally culminated in an event
where he did something overt enough to force my mother’s attention.
At that point she finally confronted him and told him either to get help
or to move out. He opted to leave rather than to seek counseling.
She knew that would be his choice.
She was my savior...or so I thought.
In the days that followed his departure, we experienced our first days
of peace as a family.
That peace was a false and short-lived one, however...
I sensed a shift in my relationship with my mother.
She got strangely chummy with me at that point.
Our relationship suddenly went from parent-child to friend-confidante.
Within days, she was excitedly confiding in me about her boyfriend…
a married black man with whom she worked.
My strict Catholic mom was having an affair.
My shock and confusion was unbearable.
She couldn’t understand my dismay and lack of support for her new beau.
Suddenly it became clear that she had not ‘rescued’ me at all.
This affair had been going on behind the scenes and this was simply her time,
not to mention, excuse, to remove dad from the picture.
I was just a useful pawn once again.
He would cry ‘nigger-lover’ and she would scream ‘incest!’
She could send him away...far enough away to protect herself from his rage.
She performed her debriefing of me, corroborated with my sisters
who’d witnessed things for years and made her case secure.
I was not offered counseling.
In my dazed frame of mind, she had manipulated me to regard her as my savior.
At that juncture, the whole situation was so crazy-making and hypocritical
that something inside me just snapped and I moved out.
There was no way to have a sane existence in that atmosphere.
As time went on, her wound struck me as a deeper and more painful
betrayal than his.
I say this for the benefit of others who have had these experiences.
I reeled from the impacts of their actions.
Healing from dad's abuse was a long and painful process, but I eventually made it.
On the heels of that, however, I unexpectedly came face-to-face with mom's abandonment and betrayal.
It came as a profound shock and was far more crippling, a blow that is hard
to describe, impossible to justify.
It takes the wind out of you in a way that threatens life.
A 'mother-wound' is a terrible thing...no matter what form it takes.
It can scar a person deeply for life.
Look around. You will see many wounded ones...
A 'mother-wound' has a primal and irrational impact...
It takes expert care to recover from and heal.
Many years later, in my forties, I began to have a series of unbidden flashbacks
that caused me to challenge my beliefs about what had gone on at home.
The flashbacks and the information they brought forced me to see that the abuse
had started far earlier...the missing pieces of the puzzle.
It rocked my world when I began to recall the missing years and events.
In the intervening years, I had coped by focusing on other aspects of life…
work, career, personal interests.
I struggled with the mental and emotional aspects as best I could
and then looked away, putting things out of my mind.
There was considerable internal pressure that I quelled
with food and workaholic behavior for many years.
Then a fortunate thing happened to me as I turned 44...
It began with a premonition of being in a car accident.
I was rear-ended 3 weeks later.
The accident had the effect of sidelining me for about a year.
And in that uncomfortable span of time, those deeply buried tensions
began to make their way to the forefront of my consciousness.
This time I was in no position to outrun the pain .
The pressure of all the repressed history came rushing to the surface.
I felt like a damsel in distress, tied to the railroad tracks
with an oncoming locomotive bearing down on me.
I remember well the shattering moment of impact...
Precisely because I no longer had any choice in the matter,
I began to deal with the pain and anxiety inside.
Stripped of my natural and habitual defenses I began to feel...
and the feelings were god-awful. Raw, wild, unmanageable.
The locomotive ran over me, through me without regard for my safety or sanity.
And yet in the final tally, this experience marked the beginning of relief,
healing and sanity.
I sat alone, without friends, save for my own soul, with whom I was not
on good speaking terms.
I sat jobless, without the comfort of money, routine and distraction.
I sat because I had no car and no money with which to make my customary escape.
I sat because I was unable to walk for a time.
It had not been easy to maneuver me into this place of healing...
for that is what it was, though I would not see or appreciate that all of these intermingled aspects were meant for my healing at the outset.
I resisted like the frightened, wounded soul that I was, crying
“No more pain!”
Under the numbness…pain...confusion...fear. Then more pain...
Moments of soul-searing agony and often I couldn’t even tell you why.
Tears came in torrents, hidden beneath the spring rains that thundered
outside for hours and hours.
There would come a break, a short reprieve and then the next wave
would hit. I seemed to be engulfed in relentless misery.
This went on for three weeks before it showed any signs of abating.
At the end, I became still…or something closer to still, anyway.
I would sit resigned and reflect aimlessly as I waited.
And in those moments, more scenes from my early life began to emerge.
I was half-awake when the first one came to me.
I had drifted in my mind to a room in a house we’d lived in once...
and then to a chair in that room.
I felt terribly uncomfortable. I wanted to run…but from what?
As the scene became clear, I was trying to escape my father’s embrace.
He had pinned me in his lap.
With sudden clarity, I remembered that scene being repeated daily.
After school...after mom went to work... and at any other free moment
that could be found. The scenario had been repeated hundreds of times.
I came to with a start. I had seen it all.
But where was that room…that chair…that house?
It took a little time to trace it backwards in time.
What I realized rocked my world...
I was 10 years old...and his abuse was solidly entrenched by that time.
I had complained to my mother about dad’s so-called tickling and grabbing
so many times. She had made a couple of half-hearted requests to leave us alone,
but no one took it seriously. We all knew it after awhile.
She colluded with his story…his claims that he was ‘just playing’ and that
'I was being too sensitive.'
She knew better.
The clarity of a child came back to me in those hours of realization.
I had denied and buried what I knew to be true...bewildered by their response...
keeping the peace...outnumbered...made crazy for seeing.
In a moment, if I acted quickly, I could do it again…drop the lid on that memory…pretend like the others.
Tell myself that I was all wrong…tell myself that I should be punished for even thinking such terrible things about my parents, my family.
Surely they would agree with me that I was wrong...the consensual reality mind.
But it was a false and convenient peace that was no longer working.
My body and my true mind struggled with the competing claims of my ‘social’ mind. This time, I was not going to be disloyal to myself.
I registered it in my body.
I hated the reversal of everything I believed and had constructed my safe view
of life around.
I did not know what these revelations would do to my sense of self.
But I decided to let the truth in.
The molestation had gone on much longer than I had dared allow.
And the truth of the matter was that I might never know the full story.
I knew that I needed to stay on target and work with what I knew for sure.
The remaining details were not to be the focus.
If I needed more information, I felt confident now that my mind would allow more knowledge to surface.
How had I buried all these memories in plain sight, so to speak?!
Detail chased detail as the memories surfaced…
Waves of painful emotion followed.
Questions about the reasons for the abuse, my mother’s passive (?) involvement,
the horrible betrayals in so many directions.
His threats, the insinuations that I was crazy and that my mind and feelings
were not trustworthy.
My folks were obsessed with keeping us out of the clutches of anyone harboring
a sexual thought toward us, while their worst nightmare took place on a daily basis
at home for years...Years!
Who were these people?!
Their admonitions, their reasoning, their moral values suddenly meant nothing.
Or worse, they were a mockery and I was the fool.
I would have to begin again at the beginning and forge a worldview of my own.
And I would have to repair myself along the way.
On another level, however, the pattern of my life was falling into place.
I could understand myself and my character in the light of these facts.
Things were beginning to add up correctly now. I actually felt better.
I had to mourn for my childhood and for my family.
The lost years, the wrong beliefs, the toxic system that would encourage
and cement the false history.
In the end, the truth served me well and helped me heal.
While I mourned, I also could move beyond the events and begin to own
my own life in the present moment. I had, after all, survived.
I spent some time wondering whether or not I should discuss the memories
with the other family members.
I knew that my dad would run from the facts.
A part of me wanted to imprison him long enough to say all that I knew
and felt. How much he’d hurt me and how he destroyed so much of my childhood
and young adult years.
The weight of the damage and the years of suffering it was causing.
How it had contributed to the breakup of my marriage.
How it had damaged my self esteem.
I knew he wouldn’t care...and that hurt, too.
How could he? He took advantage of a child.
He used me selfishly, my love and obedience exploited.
He would not be brought to task. Too inconvenient. Too heinous.
So I tried mother.
I knew I could count on her to some degree. I thought she was more principled.
She would empathize. After all, she had been through an episode of molestation
as a teenager from one of her brothers.
When she sought her mother’s help, she was told it would be taken care of
and would not happen again.
That single event and how it was handled had caused her untold grief.
Her relationship with her brother never healed.
Surely she would care...
But, in the end, all she cared about was maintaining the wall of lies that painted her
as the rescuing angel who brought full force to bear the very moment she was made aware of the problem.
No more, no less. No further discussion.
Hopes dashed, I felt that strange confusion mixed with revulsion when women become each other’s intimate enemies.
It's like the situation that exists when mothers and grandmothers are the proponents and re-enactors of foot-binding, scarification or female genital mutilation, perpetuating the pain and upholding the same sick traditions that caused them such pain.
In the end, I realized I would have to tend to my healing without their help.
I would have to go it alone.
Many other things and people, books primarily, brought pieces of healing
along the way.
It took longer than I wanted it to take, as I went through all the various stages
of healing....anger, grieving, embarrassment, wounded self-esteem, depression
It was an uneven path to wholeness, but eventually I came to a peaceful resolution.
It was finally all distilled to one simple desire...
I wished that he would just say he was sorry...only that.
An acknowledgement of the wrongdoing...a little remorse.
But that would never happen. No matter how much I wanted or needed that.
He was not that sort of man...too proud, too adamant that he was in the right.
The one thing he would never do. I knew that.
It hurt, but it was reality.
It was time to get on with life.
I would make medicine, not poison, of my experience...
I put it behind me.
A few years later, in what was to be our last phone conversation, I had rehearsed
a reply to his opening rant. It was just too toxic to hear that hate-filled monologue.
I gently and politely said "Dad, it's great to hear from you, but could we just skip over this part of our talk? How are you? What have you been up to?"
There followed a moment of silence, pregnant with fury at my insolence.
Then he picked up the conversation with a chilly tone.
A few sentences later, he ended the call.
He voted with his feet. I never heard from him again...
5 years later...
On a sunny afternoon I was sitting quietly on my houseboat reading a book,
'The Eagle and the Rose' by Rosemary Altea, a noted Spiritualist.
It was the first time I had read anything like this...quite fascinating!
I was engrossed in her story when suddenly I felt the hair on my arms stand up.
Something...some ONE had floated into my room!
It was a shape...like an egg...the size of a pillow.
It was just out of reach near the ceiling.
I could not see it, but I perceived it clearly!
It was a person...my father!!
There was no mistaking the dark, angry eyes that so characterized him.
I instantly knew that he had died. The finality was unmistakable.
I perceived that he was standing in a terrible bright light...
He was fixed there, unable to escape its glare.
In that light, he was forced to see...forced to see all the things he refused to see
when in life.
There was no place to run and no place to hide...no escape possible.
He had to face what he had done in life...to me and to the family.
It was a kind of burning fire in itself.
After the initial phase, he was forced to see the ripple effect of his actions
on our lives. The beatings, the lies and abuse...everything.
He witnessed the future effect of his deeds on those he hurt.
The sheer knowledge, the pure vision of it all was an inescapable fire.
I felt his panic and shock...the horror of it all...a life so misspent.
No escaping it now. No pretending not to know.
It was incredible...real...justice.
An anguished father now cried out...
"Oh my GOD!! I am sooo SORRY!!!"
The very words he would never utter...
"Can you ever forgive me?" he pleaded.
Everything was happening so fast!
In some strange way, I understood that I had time and space and free will
in this experience.
In his seeing, I also saw and felt the whole series of events...
There was a brief re-living of all that had happened.
It was an accounting...dispassionate and factual.
It had full and proper impact. Terrible in the extreme.
In that space, I felt that justice had finally been done.
With that, I was able to answer him in all sincerity..."Yes, I forgive you."
A higher Authority had stepped in. It had been dealt with.
Then I felt a telepathic transmission of energy...an emotional "I love you."
It was probably the only time he had ever said those words to me.
I was able to return the love from my heart to his. "I love you, too, dad."
And then it was over...
The shape vanished, the room returned to its previous state.
I glanced at the clock. Twenty minutes had passed.
I realized that in those twenty minutes I had gone through the shock of his passing,
we had 'done business', we had exchanged love and I had mourned him.
And then there was peace...
Was this possible?! In such a short, compressed experience?
Over the next days, I pinched myself repeatedly.
"Are you REALLY ok? Do you really forgive him?! Are you really at peace?!"
Strangely, I was...and so I remained!
Three days later, I received an envelope in the mail.
It held a newspaper clipping... my father's obituary.
I called my sister.
"Yes...I know. Do you know what time he passed?"
It was the same hour as the visitation...
This was a first lesson...
What followed was beyond anything I could have imagined...
I encourage you to read on.
The rest of this story...
I was so shaken by this experience of another realm of life.
Shaken, yet comforted...
Those things we hope are true, such as justice and realization were real.
My deep needs had been recognized and met...
The exchange was profound. Life altering.
Over the next few weeks, I felt his soul around me.
My mind began to soften toward him.. I began to understand him...
his side of things, his motivations, the better aspects of him that had gotten buried under the abuse.
I still pinched myself to see if I really was at peace.
I was...without a doubt and without effort.
It could only be described as supernatural.
To have changed so much and for it to be so stable...
Then, as if in slow retreat, the sense of him ebbed away.
After a month or so, it was gone, except in memory.
Daily life regained its prominence and I hardly thought of it.
My brush with Spiritualism was just beginning...
The next year, I began to study and practice Reiki.
At a seminar, I made friends with a retired teacher from Canada.
She invited to spend a vacation week with her at her winter place in Florida...
a nudist camp.
Before I quite registered the details, I had said "Yes! I'd love to!"
She assured me that it was harmless, something her family had done for years.
I took a chance, sensing Spirit in it.
When I arrived, my friend took me on a tour of the place...an orientation.
It was a heady experience! Then she left me on my own for a few hours.
That afternoon, I met a young man at the pool. He shared his story with me
(see "Running off with the Preacher's wife...part two" for the full telling
of the story).
The man and I had something in common...something quite shocking.
He had lost his fiance after she was raped by a preacher's son while attending
Bible college. His fiance never recovered from her experience and she remained institutionalized as a result.
This man's life took a hard downward turn in the aftermath.
He lost his religion and headed down an opposite path.
I had helped a woman some 10 years later when she fought off the same rapist...
at the same Bible college! (Lester Sumrall's college in northern Indiana)
By the time I met him, he was the sort of person I would run from in every respect.
But I'd heard his story...
I sensed there was a good person under the hard exterior.
We became friends and stayed in touch. I eventually spent a season at the nudist camp and he became my chaperone for the experience. It was as unlikely a friendship as one could imagine, but there was something about it that worked.
I wondered day by day how we managed, but there was a 'peculiar grace' that made it possible. Over the course of a year or so, the good person emerged again.
He reconnected with his spirituality and was able to heal from his past.
It was delicate dealing along the way and not the kind of thing I was used to.
I often wondered how I managed to hold on and work with him.
I always somehow 'knew' what to say and when to say things. I 'knew' when to hold
my tongue, as well. It was the most curious thing.
My rules were somehow suspended. I was operating in a different mindset.
Never would I have done this in my ordinary frame of mind. But it was working...
After awhile, I just went with it and stopped trying to understand it.
One morning we were sitting in a restaurant having breakfast.
My vision suddenly blurred. I blinked a few times to clear it, but it didn't help.
In the next moment, I saw heavy burgundy velvet drapes behind my friend's head...
the kind you'd find in an old theater.
I watched as a finger parted the curtain and lifted it up to reveal a man's face.
He gave me a little knowing grin. And then he ducked out of sight.
It was my father's face!
Suddenly I understood!
In a flash, I realized that it was my dad helping me with this man's transformation.
They were incredibly alike in their negative aspects.
That's why my first instinct was to run...to avoid anyone like that.
That glimpse explained the 'peculiar grace' that accompanied me the entire way.
The 'knowing', the incredible patience along that strange way.
My father had been helping me the entire time.
That's why it had been so strangely easy...
As before, it took me a little time to wrap my mind around this new reality.
That glimpse explained it all.
When I finally could put words to the experience, I thought to myself that Dad
was doing community service work from the 'other side'.
In order for him to progress, perhaps as a natural consequence of his progression,
he was helping me help him...someone so like himself.
I became a part of that journey...
I had lived the subtle interaction between a parent and child...a familiarity
that allowed us to work hand-in-glove without my being aware.
This experience taught me that life goes on...in a positive direction.
I felt the reach of Divine Love over time and distance and experienced the patient working of Spirit in lives that I thought were ruined.
I remembered thinking that I had put my hand in the fire for this one...it was true.
Love, it seems, never gives up...