It was as if Lawrie had only two children.
Two, instead of four.
The time was last April, and we were in Albany. My children, who are much better Christians than I, insisted that we attended the funeral of Lawrie Lierheimer, my late husband’s mother. She had led a long and fruitful life, passing away of age-related illnesses at 87. I had my doubts as to whether or not Chris’s remaining siblings would even notify me, relational pathology can have lifelong grip.
Those of you who have been with me for a while know that Chris’s father, Lawrie’s husband, was an imprisoned pedophile. He was ‘outed’ in 1986, and in those less enlightened times, spent a mere ninety days in jail as punishment for the hundreds of little boys lives that he wounded. (He spent it in solitary confinement, as even prisoners have a code, and child molesters are hated uniformly. It was feared he would lose his life at their hands.)
As the decades rolled by, both Chis and I lived lives reflecting the idea that hard times and poor choices aren’t minimized by hiding them. Chris was perpetrated on by his father, and the impact of this overshadowed his entire life. He struggled to live well, and made no bones about the fact that his father made that very difficult. Chris led groups of other male survivors of profound childhood sexual abuse, spoke to police academy trainings, and mentored other men in the same position. All of this did not sit well with the brother and the sister, who would have rathered he kept his experience secret, and have him join them in the same, shameful closet.
It was not to be, and I supported my husband wholeheartedly. I had earned the appellations ‘religious freak’ and ‘bad influence’ from them- which, in my better moments made me laugh. In my less generous ones, made me want to lacerate them verbally, over and over again.
But his family had notified me. The spirit of God can soften even a hardened heart like mine. After thirty years of backstabbing, ugly, relentless mistreatment from them I couldn’t find it in mine not to consent to join them in mourning their mother. Besides, Lawrie had been topically kind to my children, and on the whole, they had pleasant memories.
So, we went. The church was one of those cold, stained-glass, barely attended Episcopalian edifices, filled with grey heads and well-meaning East Coast intellectuals.
My children and I ghosted through the requisite ‘family’ obligations, genuinely happy to meet with a few of the more remote Lierheimer family branches. The immediate family met the usual hateful performance standards, with one befurred aunt making a nasty comment about one of my daughter’s brownie consumption. (She herself, known for a lifelong eating disorder).
We sat through the reception of local guests, the service in the drafty, cold church, and clattered down the uneven, stony steps. The basement of the church had been bedecked with artifacts of Lawrie’s life. Books, her diplomas, travel mementoes, all graced the tables for viewers to see. Everywhere one looked, there were pictures of Lawrie and two of her children. Two. The living ones. An older brother, his family, and Lawrie. The younger sister, her dogs, and Lawrie.
Not one photograph of her oldest child who died tragically of Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia at the age of seven. Even more telling, not one of her middle son Chris, my husband, who died of colon cancer at 44. No photos of his prolific career, none of Chris and his mother in significant childhood events, none of her holding Chris as a baby. None. I couldn’t believe it.
“Mom, it’s like they erased him.”
“Mom, where are the pictures of Dad?”
“It’s like he never existed.”
My children were are as stunned as I.
Visitors, it’s dismaying to me how the word ‘triggered’ has been co-opted. It’s really a very useful psychological concept. When a bullet is ‘triggered’, a hammer hits the explosive side of the metallic cartridge, and the resulting explosion sends a harmful metallic slug into the target, causing all sorts of damage, and perhaps, preventing more.
I was ‘triggered’.
I turned, wrathful, to one of my more peaceful daughters, who had tears in her eyes. Seeing that, I simply had to take a breath and unclench my jaw. I had a choice- make a scene, verbally berate these people in the presence of their scantily-attended service attendees, or swallow my wrath for the sake of my wounded children. These people so richly deserved it. They so abundantly deserved heaping helpings of my very articulate, cutting ire. It would be so satisfying. It would also add another wound to my children who had already been hurt by these people, yet again.
I elected instead, to speak to the brother privately. I pulled him aside- What gives? I inquired. Where’s Chris? Talk to the sister, he said.
So I did. I pulled the sister to a quiet corner. Where’s Chris? I asked.
The torrent of self-righteous, indignant nastiness shouldn’t have surprised me. I had been subjected to decades of this, after all. Who was I? What right did I have? How can I be so critical? And on the day of her mother’s funeral? Watching this woman’s face curl into a mask of defensive nastiness I felt nothing but disgust-for myself.
When would I learn? Good grief. Three decades of abuse, and here I was expecting them to be kind to me, even rational? We had taken the time and expense to travel from Denver to Albany, surely that merited consideration?
Nonsense. I sighed inwardly, weary. I was 54, first subjected to their nastiness at a mere 19. I was hopelessly slow. They would never change, I could never influence them, their best place was in the hands of a compassionate God, to which I confined them forever.
At the end of the day, we gathered our belongings and went to the train station to catch the 617 train out of Albany, arriving at Penn Station about two hours later. The Empire service is a beautiful route. It runs beside the Hudson river, passing picturesque, historical towns with names like Rhinecliff and Croton- Harmon. Chris and I had taken that route often, chatting about the historical paths of American explorers, and admiring the foliage and atmosphere of the small towns racing past. We had adventure after adventure, saving our hard-won cash for museum admissions and half price theater tickets to be found in kiosks in Times Square. There’s nothing like a trip to New York, it’s simply alive.
My adult children were asleep in the lounge cars, the emotional wear of the day had worn them out. So I sat, and as the miles clicked by, I felt an ebbing away of a lonely past. A past that had been filled with joy and adventure, and marked by a separation caused by crime and violation.
I had been loved by my husband, and mutually treasured by the four children we had produced. I would never, ever be accepted or loved by his family, and I needed to stop caring.
I watched the Hudson flow by, watched the familiar trees and scenery rush past my vision, and felt the past slipping, permanently, away. As I sat with this, I realized with a dawning sense of the grace of God, that it was OK.
Life, for now, was simply great. My children were healthy. They were making good choices. My mother was with her Redeemer, I got to spend every Sunday with my dad. I had good friends, enough food, a roof over my head, and endless possibilities.
They were just far, far west of the Hudson.
With much love,