Society talks about the damage to children when there is a divorce, and they discuss “who gets the friends.” But it’s rare than anyone talks about the damage to extended family – the allegiances that form with ex-wives or godparents. Over the last twelve years there has been significant loss in my family. My nephew and nieces are gone.
I remember my nephew Christopher as a kind, gentle boy who could sang “Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog” with gusto while strumming on his little guitar. He was generous with hugs and whenever he was hurt and cried it broke my heart. My niece Reba was just fun and even at a young age I knew she would grow to love the Lord. I would point to different family members and ask her who they were and she would say, “My brother and sister in Christ.” My niece Denise was headstrong, loud, outspoken, unafraid to say what was on her mind. I remember babysitting Christopher, Reba, and Denise one evening and they all had to have baths. Denise was suppose to wash her hair too. She was eight and let me know with great passion that she would not be washing her hair. She yelled and slammed doors and in the end she didn’t wash her hair. She and I always had good talks. As she got older we continued to have good talks. Confidences were shared. Confessions were made. She was my friend and not just my niece. And then there was Nickol. My niece Nickol was beautiful, ambitious, a poet, playful, and possessing a great sense of humor. You couldn’t help but adore her.
Now it’s as if none of it ever happened or it no longer mattered – to them – all the visits, the phone calls, the memories made together, the notes and photographs sent across an ocean at one time, the holiday gifts chosen and exchanged with such care, giggling while I curled the girls hair during a sleepover, or playing games with Christopher during a family gathering. It’s all gone. Subtracted.
My view of them is now filtered through the suffering of their father, my brother, Rick. The federal prison system refers to my brother as a “toe-tag” prisoner. Rick will only leave prison on a slab and just before he’s wheeled to the morgue the prison officials will make sure he is wearing a toe-tag so he can be identified.
The beating he took at the prison transfer station in Oklahoma City was brutal. The jackals my sweet brother was thrown in with sized up their prey quickly. They were on him in an instant, kicking and stomping. They jammed a rag into his mouth and secured it with a steel pipe, like a horse bit. The more Rick struggled the more they beat him. Then they bent him over a sink. His screams were muffled by the rag. I wish I could tell you that Rick fought the good fight and they let him be. I wish I could tell you that, but prison is no fairy-tale world.
I’ll be traveling back to the prison soon to be with Rick. I’ll get to watch him try to speak, walk, or raise his head. Parkinson’s disease is as cruel as the psychopaths Rick is exposed to. I’m still unable to fathom how things could have gone so horribly wrong. Life is hard without meaning.
No matter the circumstance I hope in God’s grace. His grace is not only forgiveness but promise that you will never loose Him as family. He will never say “I forgive you, but I don’t want to have a relationship with you.” God intends for us to have places on this earth where we feel completely secure and accepted. That’s the Lord’s desire for us in our families. He wants each person to have a sense of to being an integral part of a family, regardless.
I pray that my view of those I once saw with such promise would not be filtered through the suffering of Rick, but the suffering of Jesus. Maybe then things will finally be okay.