Sympathy, Faith and a Tricycle

My tricycle“The last time I saw you,” she sighed, staring at an afternoon decades ago, “you were wearing a little shirt with a pocket on the chest, and a nappy, and I took you straight off ya Mum and walked down the back of the yard. We had a look at the animals, and you put ya head down on my shoulder. It was a few weeks until Christmas, and..” she paused, puffing out her cheeks before starting again, “.. ya Mum said she’d bring you back then to get your presents.” She pushed at the tablecloth, straightening wrinkles and bumps into temporary submission. She heaved in a breath, looked up to meet my gaze, blinking against the tears falling into the creases of her face. “I didn’t see you again. I didn’t even know if you was dead. Nothing.”

“Oh I’ve missed you,” she choked out. “I never forgot you. Never stopped loving you. Not ever. Not a single day without wondering where you were and if you were okay.”

This was my grandmother; a woman whom I didn’t even know existed until two months earlier. But I could see my face reflected in hers, and finally had a physical, genetic explanation of where my red hair and curves came from. It was our first weekend together (that I could remember), and we stared hungrily at each other’s face, asked questions and tried to fill in the enormous, bewildering gap of over two decades of life (and deaths and marriages, babies, successes and heartbreak) we had lived without knowledge of the other’s experiences.

Over and over again my Nan would say the same phrases, and still does whenever we talk. “I never forgot ya. Never stopped loving ya. Not ever. Not a single day without wondering where you were and if you was okay. It broke my heart.”  I don’t doubt it hurt her. My biological Dad and his siblings have told me of her grief, of their eventual insistence that she not speak of me in their hearing because of the pain it caused all of them. I couldn’t imagine what it meant, or felt like, to lose a granddaughter – the first grandbaby born to the family – in such a sudden, inexplicable and deliberate way.

Last October, when Elder Jeffrey R Holland began his talk with “There is almost no group in history for whom I have more sympathy than I have for the eleven remaining Apostles…” I thought of those I have sympathy for, and I immediately thought of two: in the scriptures, Mary Magdalene at the tomb, and in real life, my Nan. Every time I reread or again listen to Elder Holland’s words, I think of those two women.

About Mary Magdalene, I’ve often wondered what that Sabbath observance must have been like for her, the rituals and hours sliding past as she (I imagine) sat, wept and prayed, bewildered and mourning the loss of her loved Jesus. I’ve tried to imagine what the pulse of her neighbourhood would have been, with chaos and routine, brutality and broken futures tumbling through the days. Then, Shabbat done, to race to the tomb, to do what she could as a final act of devotion, only to find it empty. What was she thinking in that instant? As difficult as an occupied tomb must be to face, an unexpectedly empty one is surely worse.

I don’t think she believed Christ had risen, asking (to paraphrase) “If you have taken him away, please just tell me where and I will do the rest.” In my thoughts, I hear the ragged, husky voice of a heartbroken woman pleading, the words cracking and rasping on rising sobs. I feel such sympathy for her, asking for help from a stranger who (in just the next verse!) is joyously, gloriously revealed to be the very one she mourns and seeks after. It just takes one word – “Mary” – and she has hope, faith and gladness again, and beyond anything she could understand in that moment.

My Nan claims no faith, at least not in God. She does not discount His existence  but harrumphs and bites her cheek when faith and divine love are spoken of (if there is a God, He has forgotten her and hers, and she will continue to return the favour) yet she is accepting of my faith, and grateful that chasing my family history has brought me back to her. However I have also seen her cock her head at my devotion and faithful observances curiously, as if considering the number of times I may have been casually dropped on my head during her absence to cause such odd behaviour.

She says she has no faith, but I disagree. The first weekend together – after a separation of twenty four years – she cried as soon as she saw me.  “Oh look at you! I don’t know you, but I do!” she laughed through sobs, stroking my hair and face. “I never forgot ya. Never stopped loving ya. Not ever. Not a single day without wondering where you were and if you was okay. It broke my heart.”

“I didn’t want to die without seeing you again. I knew I’d see you again.”

Then she took me by the hand, out to her laundry room, and pushed me gently towards an old, well-maintained, tiny red tricycle. “This was your Christmas present. I’d already bought it when I saw you last. It’s yours. I kept it for you.”

Faith, sympathy and Easter to me are an empty tomb; a stranger turned loved one; and a slightly rust-chewed tricycle.

What does Easter mean to you? Is there an example of faith you hold particularly precious? Has Elder Holland’s talk impacted your life in some way? Which people do you think of when you hear “sympathy”?

About Kellie

(Blog Editor) lives way on the other side of the planet in her native Australia and gives thanks for the internet regularly. She loves books, her boys, panna cotta, collecting words, being a redhead and not putting things in order of importance when listing items. She credits writing at selwynssanity.blogspot.com as a major contributing factor to surviving her life with sanity mostly intact, though her (in)sanity level is subject to change without warning.

8 thoughts on “Sympathy, Faith and a Tricycle

  1. Oh Kel, what a heartbreaking story. You did it great justice with your beautiful way of connecting words. I especially loved, “staring at an afternoon decades ago”.

    Thanks for sharing your heart and faith.

  2. Oh wow, what a story.

    I think it’s more than a coincidence that I had a prompting to listen to Elder Holland’s talk this morning while getting ready for work, and here you have written about that very same talk. I hadn’t really thought of the talk as an Easter-themed one, but now that I think about it, it really is. I’ve thought a lot this year about how to make Easter more meaningful in my life. I’ve come to the conclusion that living as Christ’s disciple, doing my best to help others feel His love each and every day, is the best way for me to celebrate Easter.

    Thanks for this post and for prompting me to think more about Elder Holland’s talk.

  3. LOVE that sympathetic imagining of Mary’s experience. . .

    Would love to hear more of your story. . .

    LOVE your writing, as always. . .

  4. My sweet daughter, my mother’s first grandchild, is probably about the age you were when your Nan last saw you. We have a schism in my extended family, a broken branch, and as painful as it is for me to not have contact with my cousins anymore, I know it breaks my grandma’s heart every day even though it’s been 8 years. I can’t imagine my mom never seeing my baby again. This piece made me cry. Even though Mary and your Nan lived to know joy and reunion, it doesn’t make their suffering any less real. I mourn for them, for my cousins, for my grandma; I rejoice in restoration and resurrection. Thank you, Kellie. You didn’t say how long ago this reunion was, but I hope you have been able to develop a relationship with your grandmother and that this happy ending has a long epilogue.

  5. As I read this I felt frustrated.

    Why the 24 year seperation?

    Why the breach in family connections?

    My own life was doomed to 24 years of tragedy and trauma because of events that happened around Easter and it is the most difficult holiday for me to celebrate because of it.

    I understand if you don’t want to share the details of why the long chasm existed with your grandmother, but to me it is such a tease when a writer alludes to the whys but doesn’t delineate the facts.

    For twelve long years I melted down every Easter without knowing why. These episodes became increasingly bizarre and I could not understand the cyclical nature of my distress.

    Then my brother died, a tragic and unexpected departure from mortality and my brain exploded…and I began to remember.

    As my mind has reconstructed the events through the haziness of long ago trauma, I have found a measure of peace. My trust and faith in Heavenly Fathers kindness, his tender mercies, and his patient acceptance of the many stops and starts as I have wended my way through the pit of truth while slowly healing from the layers of sexual assault have provided a beacon of hope when it would have been so easy to just give up.

    I look forward to the day when I will relax and enjoy the Easter holiday and am able to fully embrace the significance of the events that occured around the Atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    But it will not happen this year.

    I continue to be overwhelmed with dark memories of a gang rape in a hospital setting…

    During that most difficult of life experiences Father sent my angel grandmother who had died when I was twelve. She had a group of angels with her and they pulled my spirit from my body during the rape and surrounded me so that I could not see what was happening as the four orderlies quickly assaulted me. The angels then put a veil of forgetting over my mind and for 12 years I felt the distress, but did not understand why.

    When I was finally able to begin to accept the truth the memories slipped into place slowly and piecemeal as I could handle them. It took time for me to accept the many layers of grace and help that were provided to me both during the assault and after. For years I was bottled up with anger and rage.

    But now, as I begin my 45th year on the Earth I am gradually finding peace, calm, and joy at Easter Time where before it was all confusion, panic, anxiety, depression, and inexplicable mania every spring.

    I always chuckle when professionals attempt to distill mental illness down to a chemical imbalance. And I laugh out loud when psuedo know it alls paste labels of diagnosis on the foreheads of individuals suffering with symptoms of trauma.

    The final thought I would like to throw out in this comment is that real, awful, traumatic distress is almost always the source of emotional symptoms. And it is the very people closest to the person suffering who are often the source of initial sexual trauma, and these are the most willing to grab onto the labels of mental illness and dismiss what the true source of the distress is.

    When I told my Child Molesting Father that I had been gang raped in the hospital he said, “It did not happen.” End of Story, no further discussion needed.

    He has proved over the years to be the one individual in my life who is most comfortable tossing around the doctors diagnosis when discussing his daughters distress. Manic Depressive, Psychotic, Suicidal Ideation, MENTALLY ILL.

    I long for the day when we finally get the diagnosis correct.

    How would it be if on initial diagnosis a trained professional wrote:

    This woman has all of the emotion distress typical of a person who was systematically sexually assaulted during her infancy and childhood by her father, who was then gang raped in a mental hospital after having her first child while in the throes of post partum psychosis.

    Refreshing, and definitely something to look forward to.

    Jenny Hatch

  6. Oh Kellie, I love this so much. What a sweet story about your grandmother. And I see her faith in the words she said to you too. That she doesn’t know you, but she does. So well-written. And I cannot believe she kept that tricycle for you. What a treasure, a symbol as you said, of stranger turned loved one. Love you friend.

  7. Thank you, all, for your comments.

    Jenny, I ached reading your experiences. I am so sorry that Easter has – for so long – been truly awful for you. I am relieved and gladdened that you are finding some peace, comfort and healing – truly the best three gifts of Easter we have ever been given, all through Christ. Thank you for sharing, Jenny.

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