In March the kids and I went to Indiana to visit my family for 3 weeks. A week after we got there, we received a call to let us know that my Aunt Glaydell was in the hospital and wasn’t expected to survive the weekend. Since both of my parents come from large families, it is not an unusual occurrence to visit relatives in the hospital or to attend funerals. However, this one had a twist. I haven’t seen Glaydell in 21 years. Let me give you a little background….
Glaydell was married to my Uncle Warner. (I have a hard time using the title Uncle for him, but to simplify the explanation, I’ll call him my Uncle.) Warner did many horrific things to his family and to others. He was eventually convicted of several counts of child molestation and several counts of rape. He has been in a maximum security prison for the past 20 years or so. I was a witness to and a victim of some of these horrific acts as well as others.
So, when the call came, I had very mixed feelings about the news. Since my mother certainly didn’t want to go to the hospital, I decided to go with my Dad so that he wouldn’t have to go alone. I wasn’t sure how I would feel seeing Glaydell or her children who were sure to be there. I have some pretty bad memories of Glaydell and of a few of the other children. In fact, I only have 1 or 2 memories of anything pleasant regarding their family. I'm not sure that was always the case. I suspect that many of my negative feelings developed over the years as I distanced myself from their family. Anyway ...
As we walked into the room at the hospital, it was a very sad scene. Two of her daughters were sitting at her bedside holding her hands. Glaydell seemed to be completely unaware of things going on around her, or at least unable to react. One of her daughters stood up beside her and told her that my Dad and I were there to see her. The daughter invited us, “Come up. She likes to have her hand held.” My Dad went up to say Hi, but I could not bring myself to speak or to touch her.
As we sat in the ICU room and my Dad spoke to the daughters, my vision of these 3 women changed. I no longer saw the people who were involved in my most painful childhood memories. My eyes were opened to see them as children of God who were trying desperately to deal with their own struggles and traumas in their lives.
I left the hospital that night feeling blessed that Heavenly Father had helped me so much in my life.
The next day, my Dad had been asked to go to their home to help with the funeral arrangements. Again, not wanting my father to go alone, I offered to go with him. The thought of this visit made me even more uncomfortable. They still lived in the same house where all of the atrocities had occurred. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I experience a flood of memories? Would I feel like the little girl who was scared and hurt again? Would I want to run away?
As we walked up to the house, I recalled the trailer that sat in the driveway for years. And, I recalled the door with all the cigarette butts surrounding it. Both of these were gone, and in their place sat a porch swing and a flower bed.
When we entered the home, it was still very cluttered and messy, but it no longer had the same stench or wicked spirit about it. As we talked with the daughters of the funeral plans, in walked a man named Jim.
Jim was one of my Uncle’s older children. And, I had really lumped him in with his father as the scum of the earth. Again, I have not seen this person in 20+ years, but he immediately recognized me. I put out my hand to shake his hand, but he hugged me. I felt very awkward with the hug. But, very quickly the same feeling that had come over me at the hospital happened again with Jim.
For what I suspect was the first time, I saw Jim as a child of God. I became very aware that Heavenly Father knew him by name, was aware of all the things he had experienced in his life, and was aware of all that was in his heart. I became very aware that Heavenly Father wanted Jim to return to Him as much as He wants me to return to Him.
Then as we were leaving Jim and one of the daughters were walking us out to our car. We stood in the driveway talking for a few minutes of their father’s upcoming release from prison. In the course of the conversation, Jim’s eyes looked far away from us, as he said, “No one knows of the beatings I took trying to protect others.” My heart felt like it would burst. Did he take a beating to protect me? The comment certainly wasn’t made to me or said to make anyone feel anything. Yet in that moment, I felt a real debt of gratitude to him. And, then my mind went to the Atonement.
James Faust, a member of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints said, "The overwhelming message of the Atonement is the perfect love the Savior has for each and all of us. It is a love which is full of mercy, patience, grace, equity, long-suffering, and, above all, forgiving. Some injuries are so hurtful and deep that they cannot be healed without help from a higher power and hope for perfect justice and restitution in the next life. Since the Savior has suffered anything and everything that we could ever feel or experience, He can help the weak to become stronger. He has personally experienced all of it. He understands our pain and will walk with us even in our darkest hours."
I know that it is truly through the Atonement that we can be healed from our deepest hurts. I am overwhelmed and in awe of His love for me, and for Jim, and for Glaydell, and for each and every one of us. He truly loves us and will walk with us even in our darkest hours.