Drum Roll, Please

Now comes Secrets Revisited, my second nonfiction book. This came about because of surfacing memories while writing Before the Door Closes. I revisited and relived those memories one by one. As I did, my lifelong belief that God is omnipresent held fast. But something else came to light.

God is more personal than Someone who is simply there. He is also the God who always sees, always knows, and always understands—El Roi. I am never all alone. El Roi met me in my circumstances as the oldest child of an alcoholic.

I chose thirty-six of those memories to become vignettes in Secrets Revisited. Today I share with you Secret 33, “Healing Grief”:

My soul weeps because of grief;
Strengthen me according to Your word.
Psalm 119:28 (NASB)
 

Planning our trip, I had thought I would be glad when we stopped at Palo Duro Canyon State Park in the heart of the Texas Panhandle. I was looking forward to seeing Paul Green’s musical Texas. But waiting beside my husband in the amphitheater for the pageant’s start, I wished I were back home.

The three-week vacation would be over, my husband would be at work, and I would be alone in our house. Then I could resume what I had been doing for months since my mother’s death. Sink into the arms of sorrow and sob until, clutching my sore stomach, I’d scream, “When will I get over this?”

My mourning encompassed more than missing Mama. I grieved for her hard life because of my father’s alcoholism. Reliving the memories, I’d see one painful scene after another.

The times I periodically knocked on doors and handed neighborhood ladies her note. I was too young to know what felt squishy inside a paper bag I took back to Mama. Later I felt the shame! Mama had to beg for a sanitary napkin!

Again I would see myself sitting scared stiff on the couch with my brothers. Our drunken father was beating Mama behind the locked bathroom door. Why?

I saw the day I asked Mama about the charred footboard on her bed. “That happened when your father set the bed on fire while I was sleeping.”

As my eyes followed singing dancers blithely sweeping across the canyon stage, my heart cried to be at home where I could vent my pent-up pain. Before the finale, though, I heard something that helped.

Lying delirious in his dugout, the character Calvin asked his dead mother’s forgiveness for her hardships. When he spoke of his father, she replied: “I loved your father. I helped him—all I could. I helped him. I loved my children and wonderful and bright the future for them. This was my joy.”

When Calvin was puzzled that his mother had described it as joy, she responded, “All I could give, I gave. That was my happiness. Don’t grieve, my son. Don’t grieve.”

Those words soothed my sorrow. For a while. Four months later the healing came.

It was the Sunday I joined a small prayer circle whose mission was to pray for the ongoing church service. Much to my surprise, I shared my grief with this group of strangers. As I had when alone in my house the past year, I ended, “When will I get over this?”

One of God’s nameless saints had the answer. “You will never get over it; you will get through it.”

Then my heart’s open sore closed.

 

 

 

The Snowball Mystery

Aloud to no one in particular, my mother said, “I wonder if she’ll cry that much when I die.”

At dusk a neighbor had come to the backdoor, telling her she had seen our new puppy dead in the street. Momentarily stunned, Mama said, “But I just let him out.”

I erupted in tears as if there were no tomorrow. Gone forever was something that would love me without any strings attached. Finally, my parents removed the death’s sting and gave me hope when they promised I could choose and name the next dog.

Months later my brothers and I ran out the front door heading for a schoolmate’s house. She had free puppies. As we bounded off the porch, my father called behind us, “Make sure it’s a boy.”

Daddy was waiting at the door when we returned empty-handed. “What happened?”

My heavy heart answered, “Only girls are left.” When he then told me a girl would be okay, I ran all the way back by myself for the white one and named her Snowball.

I grieved for Snowball when my father took her to Virginia for the three-dollar operation. Not because she was “fixed” so that she could never have puppies but because of what happened to her two days later.

Her relentless barking and straining for freedom from the chain anchored in my grandparents’ farmyard caused the inevitable. Snowball burst her stitches. I could only watch and listen to Snowball’s piercing yelps as my father and grandfather held her while my grandmother closed the incision with her needle and thread.

Unfortunately, that was the first and only time Snowball was tied to anything except my heart. She loved all of us, but she showed me I was her favorite when we moved to the row house with my own bedroom. Every school day when I came home, she was waiting for me on the backdoor stoop.

Rarely did I pet her. I didn’t like the strong odor it left on my hands. That guilt chased me when I’d walk over Snowball, careful not to step on her thumping tail.

Her routine presence on the steel stoop gave me some stability in my teeter-totter world. Walking to my house from the school bus stop, I never knew if that would be a day I’d hear my father’s drunken rants bombarding my mother. The times I heard them I wouldn’t look to the right or to the left lest I’d see a neighbor’s face. My eyes focused straight ahead on the backdoor. There I could escape inside the house and disassociate myself from public shame.

When we had moved into our new house, the neighborhood did not know my father was an alcoholic. If the family kept the secret, no one would ever know. Of course, Daddy let it out.

One afternoon Snowball was not on the stoop. She was not there the next afternoon or the next. She was never there again.

As her absence continued, I expressed my puzzlement to Mama. “Sometimes dogs go away,” she said. But her glib answer did not sit right with me.

My heart believed Snowball loved me too much to just up and leave. And I didn’t fear she had been hit by a car. She was not a puppy.

Snowball surfaced four decades later from my father’s lips. “You remember that dog Snowball? She always ran after the mailman. He said he would not deliver the mail to our house anymore if she didn’t stop. We called the SPCA. We had to.”

Twenty years after my father revealed Snowball had been euthanized, I had a dream that I was in a serene place. Alone. That is, I didn’t see anyone, but I did feel I was not alone.

I was squatting as I do when greeting a grandchild face to face. Suddenly, a white dog appeared, running to me as fast as a speeding bullet. “Who is this?” my mind asked. An unseen voice replied, “This is Snowball.”
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