It was raining lightly by the time I reached the cemetery where many of my forebears had been laid to rest. I walked through the gate and sought the shelter of a fir tree. I had brought my journal, for I had come to take care of some overdue business.
I sat cross-legged on the ground, staring at the grave I knew I had to visit. As I began writing, the rain picked up, and drops of moisture began to penetrate the thick canopy.
At some point I concluded that it was time to stand before the grave. I prayed God would give me the courage to face the name of the person who had injured me so deeply. I emerged from beneath the tree, going from damp to soaking wet in half a dozen steps.
When I reached the upright granite marker, I wondered how many other lives this "pillar of society" had devastated. But that wasn't why I had come. I was there to stand up to all the times and ways I had been defiled by a man whose role was to love me, to enrich my life, and to safeguard me from evil. But my maternal grandfather had not been that kind of man. With skill and cunning he preyed upon me to feed his depraved sexual desires.
As I spoke his offenses aloud, I acknowledged that there was no way I could offer him forgiveness on my own. Although I was a believing Christian, all I could present to Jesus was a heart that wanted to obey His command to forgive others as He forgave us. I prayed for Christ's forgiveness to flow through me so that I could forgive my grandfather, at the same time beseeching the Lord to heal me from the deep wounds I had carried since childhood.
While I walked away from that grave, I pondered on the journey that had brought me to this point in my life.
I had grown up in a typical 1960's nuclear family: Dad, Mom, one daughter, one son. My father was a machinist who established a successful business. My mother was the kind of homemaker who provided her family with meat-and-potato meals, homemade pies, and line-dried sheets.
Both sets of grandparents lived near us, as did almost all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins. We regularly got together with relatives, and I recall many happy memories spent with family from my father's side in particular.
When did I first realize that something was very, very wrong on my mother's side of the family? As an adult I have scrutinized my memories, searching for evidence of the malignancy that smothered the Meyer family before it entangled me in its grasp. My first certain memory is from 1969, when I was eight years old and my brother and I had been left in my grandparents' care.
He led me down the hall to the furthest bedroom. I noticed that he quietly locked the door and wondered why he did.
He then sexually molested me.
I still can recall the colors of the plaid bedspread, the stale smell of the seldom-used upstairs, the loud ticking of the travel clock at the bedside. When it was over, I was sent back downstairs to finish the game with my brother. And numbly, I did just that, not knowing what to make of the events that had just transpired. Though my brother wasn't aware of anything different about me, in the 10 minutes we had been apart I had been forever changed. Grandpa's imperative words--Don't tell anyone--rang in my head, and I clearly understood that I must keep what had happened upstairs a secret.
I didn't tell, nor did I even cry. Though I didn't understand what had happened to me, I knew it was bad. Dirty. Did Grandpa Meyer do those things to other little girls, or was I the only one? In the days and weeks, then months and years, to come I wondered, Why me?
As I look back, I have no doubt that my grandfather counted on my obedience. Most certainly he exploited it. The things he did were horrible, made even more horrible by their premeditation.
Adding to that was our family's unspoken standard: Don't ever talk about anything real. A smothering silence engulfed our home and the homes of my mother's relatives when it came to anything but superficial subjects. Underneath the surface, however, roiled unspoken emotions, and occurrences.
I suffered physically, mentally, and spiritually. I came to believe that my involvement in my grandfather's wicked designs made me as guilty as he.
I hungered as a child for things of faith, wishing our family could be regular churchgoers. I wanted to know more about God and His Son, Jesus, but religion was another prickly, uncomfortable subject in our home.
I think my devout Catholic paternal grandmother knew of my yearnings, and during my childhood she took me to Mass as often as she dared. Catholic had always been worse than a swear word in our home, and my mother took every opportunity to malign the Church and its practices. To my father, one word summed up the Catholic Church of his youth: superstition.
And although as a teen I acted out in rebellion, behind my tough-girl façade I was confused and lonely.
I was eighteen and my Grandpa was dying of cancer when I finally told my mother about the abuse. Her reaction was one of shock, horror, and deep pain. Yet the pain seemed to be more for herself than for me.
A few days before my grandfather died, he asked to see me. Emaciated, he was propped up in bed, laboring for every breath.
"I'm sorry," he rasped, taking my hand and squeezing it with surprising strength. "I'm real sorry about things."
Sorry for what? Robbing my innocence? For the filthy notes you used to slip into my pockets? The explicit phone calls you made to me while my mother stood nearby, cooking something on the stove? The Polaroids you've hidden only God knows where?
Mumbling something absurd like, "That's okay," I fled the room. I had learned how to turn off my feelings.
After high school graduation I sprinted through a two-year registered nursing program at our local community college, passed the state boards, and began working as a graduate nurse at age nineteen.
On a spiritual level, one thing I had done after graduating from high school was to enroll in the Catholic Church's rite of initiation for people who wish to become Catholic (RCIA). While it had thrilled my Catholic grandmother, it had devastated my mother. Another act of rebellion on my part, perhaps? After completing the RCIA program, I entered the Church and received the sacraments of baptism, reconciliation, Communion, and confirmation. However, I soon opted for the pleasures of the world rather than pursuing the sweet sacramental life to which I had been briefly exposed.
By this time I met a handsome young Catholic man. Jeff and I dated and, just before my twenty-first birthday, we married. Not long afterward we bought our first house, and within a few years we were the parents of two daughters. I continued working, finding self-worth in the fast-paced, high-risk obstetrical unit where I practiced.
After becoming a mother I had begun going to Mass again, but it seemed to me that people were just going through the motions. I was just going through the motions. Is this all there is? I wondered many times. An Evangelical Christian girlfriend came to mind as these thoughts continued dogging me. She was forever talking about Jesus, so I asked if we could get together. She spent a whole day illuminating the gospel message in a way I had never heard. I realized I wanted to have a personal relationship with Jesus.
During this time, Jeff and I found ourselves expecting another baby. In February of 1994, our youngest daughter joined the family. For a short time everything was rosy, but then came a period of personal tribulation I never could have imagined. With breathtaking swiftness a postpartum depression descended upon me. I withdrew from my husband and others into a world of bleakness and despair. I cared for my children and my household, but nothing brought me joy. Though I did not actively contemplate suicide, I wished I could be dead.
Not once did I consider that the abuse of my childhood could have anything to do with the present. I stubbornly and proudly believed my constitution was too strong to allow the past to take me down.
One day when I lashed out at Jeff in rage, he expressed concern that something was very wrong with me. The next morning I called the office of a well-known Christian psychologist whose name had been mentioned some time before by a friend. To my astonishment, there was an opening that afternoon.
And so began a new chapter of my life that was infinitely painful yet, in the end, contributed enormously to my formation as a Christian.
A poster in the doctor's office greeted me: "THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE, BUT FIRST IT WILL MAKE YOU MISERABLE." What's that supposed to mean? I wondered. I quickly found out just how accurate the statement was. Through Dr. William Backus, author of such titles as Telling Yourself the Truth and The Hidden Rift With God, I began to learn about identifying and rooting out wrong thinking, replacing my misbeliefs with truth.
An overarching truth became apparent to me during my weeks of therapy. God was using this experience of depression to teach me something about trust. It took a situation that I couldn't control, no matter how hard I tried, to learn what it means to be dependent on Him.
Instead of begging to be returned to normal as quickly as possible, I told God that I trusted Him to supply me with the necessary graces to carry me through my present journey.
Deal with it?
I recalled every rotten thing Grandpa had done to me and, despite it all, had managed to become a responsible adult.
I sought Dr. Backus' opinion, and he said he'd be happy to help me, if that's what I wanted. His next words, however, struck terror in my heart.
"It's going to be a walk through a painful and very dark valley," he warned. "In fact, it most likely will be so bad that you'll think you're not going to make it." After pausing, he went on gently, "But you will make it, Peggy, and much good will come of such a journey. Pray about it. Ask God if He would have you do this thing right now."
The journey was every bit as awful as Dr. Truth-Seeker had promised. As I began looking at what had been done to me, I alternated between fury and hopelessness. Not even God Almighty was exempt from my outbursts.
There were many days that I hung on to life--to the hope of healing--by the most slender of threads. I barely functioned as a wife and mother. Many days I simply could not function as a nurse. I called in sick, traded away shifts, avoided my hospital friends. For days on end I experienced a physical, agonizing ache in my chest, and I cried so much that my eyelids were always swollen.
It seemed so hideously unfair that much of my formation as a person had been strongly influenced by the perversion that invaded my early life. Even with my new life in Christ, I realized that the greater part of my soul lay in oppression, even deadness. More awful than that was acknowledging the fact that I was the one who had killed it, in order to spare myself the pain of being vulnerable or being wounded further.
I was at a great crossroads in my life's journey. The wide, well-traveled road led to such destinations as complacency, justification, bitterness and to living life as a permanent victim. The slender, less-traveled track threaded its way toward healing and wholeness by a route of sorrow, repentance, humility, and genuine love.
Owning up to all my sins, whether or not I would have committed them without Grandpa's influence on my character and morals, was pivotal if I wanted to continue in my Christian walk. I realized that my armored, self-protective mechanisms would also have to go.
Walking into an unknown future was frightening. But since knowing, loving, and serving the Lord had become my deepest desires, there was no other choice for me. Seventeen years after my first sacramental confession, I made my second.
The grace that God poured out in the confessional that day washed over me like a mountain stream. I felt renewed courage and a brand-new awareness of how dearly my heavenly Father loved me. From that point on I began to receive the Eucharist with an ever-increasing sense of gratitude and awe.
With a changed heart and a return to the sacraments, I trusted that God would somehow accomplish what until then I believed to be an impossible work of restoration in my life. From Dr. Backus I received the practical tools of knowing how to handle my thoughts, feelings, and expectations.
Though I wished the abuse had never happened, I began to think in terms of how my experiences might one day be used to help men and women who had been similarly wounded. The purpose of my visit to Grandpa Meyer's grave was twofold: to acknowledge that I could not forgive such things on my own, and to submit to the Lord any and all vestiges of unforgiveness still inside me.
If my story is in some way your story, the first place I urge you to go is to your knees. Be assured that in Christ there is hope, there is healing, even if you can see no light at the end of the tunnel. There is a path of Life for you; be confident of that.