Remembering Sister

Today I learned that one of my favorite teachers has passed.

I was blessed to attend an outstanding, private, all-girls high school; Ursuline Academy in Dedham, Massachusetts.

I have referenced my school in several posts, including “Perfectionista!”  I specifically talk about Sister Ursula (Sister)in my post, “eye lock

In “eye lock,” Sister Ursula was the nurturing, caring and perceptive teacher who clearly saw through my “stiff-upper-lip-ish-ness” in homeroom on that cold December day. It was the day before my nana died.

As mothers, we have an inherent capacity to identify and detect our children’s needs, fear, sorrow and happiness. We know when something is off with our kids. We can FEEL it.

Sister Ursula was not a biological mother, but I observed on many occasions her innate ability to express that maternal love to her students especially when they were troubled. She extended her love and genuine warmth without appeal. She just knew what to do.

She did this for me, and I will never forget it.  She responded to her maternal sense toward me in her homeroom, first period,  in Latin 2.

It was the day before my nana died. I knew it was imminent. Although I kept my fear and sadness it to myself (without success, apparently,) she sensed my sorrow and despair within the first minutes of class.

After our opening prayer, she paused, looked at me with her head tilted in compassion and asked, “Mistress Mary, what troubles you so?”

I burst into tears. I sobbed in her embrace, and she just held me and comforted me as mothers do. My classmates looked on silently and respectfully with kindness and compassion. I told her that Nana was not expected to live.

That was correct. She died the next day.

Last May, I attended my 3oth high school reunion which, in itself, is gross and mean and hurts my feelings. Yes, thirty.

Despite the sparse attendance from our class, there was a remarkable connection between us. It was as if we had not lost a moment.  Ursuline is a special and unique school whose students have an uncanny bond as sisters. It is a bond which transcends time and does not discriminate concerning graduating year.

Sister Ursula, along with numerous other teachers, both religious and lay, made our experience one of learning, love of learning and just plain love.

I struggled immensely in my formative high school years. I was privately coping with repeated sexual abuse by my grandfather, Nana’s husband. I kept it a secret from my school. Despite that and all my sadness, my school community made me feel loved.

So, in close, here is my testimonial to this remarkable lady.

What a loss to our Ursuline community. Sister Ursula was a dynamic woman whom I will never forget. She was an inspirational and impassioned person. Sister went to great lengths to better our learning with her zeal and candor. She was a lover of art, humanities, sharing her knowledge and being in community.

She had MOXIE.

I will forever remember her for her blessed gift of shining a light on the uniqueness and beauty of each of her students.

One of the many remarkable things she did was to collect a stone from the beach each summer for every one of her homeroom students. She painted it uniquely for each young woman and gifted it on the student’s birthday. On one side she painted a relevant quote. On the other, she painted a picture

Who does that?

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I wish that all Ursuline girls had the wonderful gift of Sister. And for those of us who were blessed enough to know her, let her spirit live on in all of us.

Rest in Peace, Sister. Love to you.

 

That’s All.

 

 

 

HAPPY Officer Paul-IVERSARY!

It has been one year this weekend, friends.

One year has passed since My Laura and I laid eyes on each other after a thirty-five-year separation. A separation over which we had no choice.

One year has passed since I stood on the train station platform with my heart beating like crazy waiting for her to step off the car so I could hug her again.

One year has passed since she and I curled up in front of a roaring fire with tea and warm blankets and finally found all of those missing pieces to the puzzles of our lives.

One year has passed since we sported our white “Invincible” coats and stood camera ready for My Michael to capture a moment we would never forget.

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One year has passed since we ventured to Carlisle to find his grave.

One year has passed since I hurled behind a dumpster.

One year since we met Officer Paul Smith, our hero.

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Everybody’s hero.

One year since we learned that there was, at least, one other little girl he abused.

One year has passed since we held her momma and cried together.

And from that one year that has passed to this very moment

THOUSANDS have said, “ME TOO!”  

We founded Say It, Survivor. 

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THANK YOU TO ALL WHO HAVE BEEN INSTRUMENTAL IN HELPING US AND OTHERS.

Especially-

Officer Paul Smith

Chief Fisher

The beautiful girl’s Momma

Susan Elsbree

Michael Ross

S.I, Rosenbaum

Brian Stauffer

MY MICHEL

My children

My Dearest Clare, who has been my closest pal since age 14 who knew my secret from the start

Friends, family and everybody has read Marymorphosis, shared, offered kindness and love

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That’s all.

Peanut Butter is Disgusting?

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Taken at the time of my grandparents visit which I share below. I am seven.

 

This morning I sliced a banana and put a dollop of peanut butter on my plate. All of a sudden my stomach lurched. I remembered something that has not crossed my mind in years.

I was triggered.

Anyone who has suffered trauma is triggered from time to time. Trauma happens as a result of anything that challenges or strays from what feels right to us as human beings. Whether the trauma is the result of an accident, the horror of serving during a war, sexual abuse or any other event, trauma happens.

I was seven years old and in the second grade. I got off the bus at the end of the driveway, walked up and entered my house to greet my mom, Nana, and Grandpa, who were visiting for a few days.

THE Grandpa. My abuser.

Mom asked if I wanted my usual snack, peanut butter in a small orange ramekin. Of course, I accepted.

As I sat there enjoying, propped up on the kitchen chair by The Yellow Pages, and swinging my little legs. Grandpa looked at me, curled his lip and said, “That’s disgusting.”

That moment turns my stomach. Not the peanut butter, mind you, but the way he was turned off by my snack choice.

All the while, he was sexually abusing me.

So peanut butter is disgusting.  What?

I have been thinking all morning about how insanely twisted and skewed that scene was.

My grandparents came to visit often. I remember their visits as a young girl before my abuse had started – before I was seven-ish.

I loved their visits.

I have fond memories of sitting at our octagonal kitchen table with the yellow 70-ish chairs playing Rummy 500. Dad and Grandpa would drink a Knickerbocker Beer and Smoke Raleigh Filter tips, the ashes of which they flicked into the amber, plate sized ashtray.

We had fun.

I remember that Nana was dear to me. She was kind and sweet and spoiled me. When I had an occasional temper tantrum kicking and screaming on the floor, she would gently put her foot on my back and say, “OH! What a nice rug!”

I would soon come out of it and return to my cheerful self. She would give me a chocolate out of the box with the red bow on it. I always chose the candy with the pink rosebud on top.

Grandpa was standoffish. He left me alone for the most part. Then things changed. He took an interest in me.

We would walk to the playground. I would run my little fingers along the chain link fence that abutted the sidewalk. I would pick up the remnant of a deciduous a tree – that little bit that looked like a coat hanger and hold it up to my face as if they were my mustache.

One thing lead to another.

Things changed. He was not longer aloof. He paid attention to me. I was little. I did not know what he was doing.

Grooming.

He was grooming me.

You see, sexual abuse does not always just start with a “BOOM!” Most of the time it happens at the hands of a family member or a close family friend who takes the time and interest to foster the victim.

It happens over time. I may start with things like tickling, or an inappropriate touch or the perpetrator telling secrets as a way to build a bond. The abuser wants to build trust.

Over time, it changes. There is a sick takeover, an overpowering, so to speak.

Dominance.

Children are usually dumbfounded, scared out of their wits and lose their sense of selves. They don’t know what to do.

I knew what he was doing to me was wrong. It felt yucky. But I did not know what it was or meant. Was it the baseline? Did it happen to every little person?

I was ashamed and embarrassed. I did not know how to communicate what had happened to me to my mom and dad. Even if I did have the words, I was too mortified to speak them.

Much like most children, I looked up to my folks. I was a pleaser. I was teacher’s pet and was the only seven-year-old at the YWCA that was brave enough to jump off the deep-end diving board.

I did not want to “upset the applecart,” anger my parents or make a fuss. It was only me after all.

Yup. That is when that feeling started. It was only measly little me.

Way. Back. Then.

In my case, I kept my mouth shut. For years. I did not have the words. I did not know how to tell anyone that that “innocent kiss” did not feel right. I sat on his lap, but I was told to do so. I had to. Most of the time I quickly struggled and squirmed away. Again, it felt yucky.

I would give anything to go back in time and change it all. I wish that I had shouted “no!” I wish that I knew how to say the words. I wish that I had the confidence in myself to tell. I wish that he was locked away.

If I had, my cousin would have been spared. And others would have been spared, too.

I do not feel responsible for the abuse that happened to My Laura and other children. I did not know any better. No one taught me.

I did know enough to warn Laura about what Grandpa might do to her.  But she laughed. She had NO idea what the details of my warning really meant. She laughed. She was little.

To a child,  my words, my warning, the details sounded preposterous.

How can a child effectively warn another child when she, herself, doesn’t have the words?

As adults, it may be uncomfortable to do so, but necessary. Imperative, even.

I am not sure that people think to educate themselves as to how to protect their children. I protected my child out of absolute fear; I was overprotective, and a helicopter but that was because I was keenly aware of the peril.

But I never studied or researched HOW to protect my babe. I made it up as I went along.

Now I know. Now I know that there are tools and sources, and there is valuable information to educate us.

Parents. Everybody.  You can learn the warning signs. You can teach your children the proper language to express inappropriate behavior or violation by another. You can convince them that it is safe to tell. You can cut it off before it begins.

There are no guarantees that you can prevent sexual abuse, but you can arm yourself. Be smart. Be proactive.

And if it has already started, that is not the worst thing. The worst thing is if your child never tells you about it.

I eventually told my parents. My abuse was swept under the carpet; it was not acknowledged by the other family members who were also told.
And neither was Laura’s, except by her mom.

Here is the takeaway.

Smarten up. Don’t be uncomfortable or embarrassed that you will insult someone or hurt their feelings if you are suspicious. Call the person out. Interject if you suspect someone has inappropriate behavior. Listen, speak up.

Join the bandwagon because when it comes to peanut butter and incest, you know which is is disgusting.

That’s all.

 

For more information or to register for a workshop or a lecture, please visit sayitsurvivor.org

 

Mary MAMA BEAR

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Adrianne Simeone, The Mama Bear Effect

I love this sentiment.  It resonates.

This website is powerful and useful beyond measure. And I love the name of it, “The Mama Bear Effect.”

In the most literal sense, I am an example of a “Mama Bear.”

I was a single mother since my son was just a wee tot.  He was just three years old when my ex and I separated.  It was not until he was ten when I remarried My Michael and, with his two boys, we became a new family.

Those seven years were a challenging time.

In my eyes, it was my responsibility to overcompensate for our divorce. I stayed married for many years: Much longer than was healthy because I did not want him to be the only child of a broken home.

I finally realized that our family had been broken for years.

Come hell or high water, I was going to make up for it. I was going to make up for the shuffling between homes, heartbreaking transitions, and he had one parental kiss each night.

I overcompensated.

I spoiled him.  I intervened when I should have let him work things out on his own. I was overly protective and keenly aware if anyone looked askance at him. I sided with him almost all the time.

And he ate a lot of ice cream.

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One day, I was meddling in some situation with my child; One in which I had no business meddling. My friend’s husband candidly pointed it out to me by saying, “Mary, STOP being the Mama Bear!”

I shook my head, trying to shake those words around so that I could understand his intention.

I did not KNOW I was the Mama Bear. I was constantly keeping my eye on the prize: Winning  the Mother-of-the-Year Award. It never even dawned on me.

He was right.

I mulled over that for a long time. I journaled about it. I tried to connect the dots. I prayed about it. I finally get it.

I am a survivor of sexual abuse. The trauma and aftermath of which wreaks havoc on its victims psychological, physical and general health. It rears its ugly head in eating disorders, addiction, perfection, low self-worth, low self-esteem, and perfectionism.

I possess many of these qualities, mostly perfectionism, but also another. Being ENOUGH.

I have never felt as if I or my efforts have been enough.

I have always had unrealistic expectations of myself. I needed to be the smartest, prettiest, most successful, thinnest, best- you name it. And the reality is that I will never be the “-est.” And realizing that, after holding it as truth for so long, is a hard pill to swallow.

To me, the ultimate test of being the perfectionist is mothering.

Being a survivor evokes a heightened sense of overprotection. It’s not about holding my child’s hand while crossing the street or making sure that every electrical outlet had that little plastic safety thingy on it.

I had to guard him.

I had to be sure that NO ONE could get to him. I was willing to die a long and painful death to ensure that he would not suffer the way I had.

And there have been many times that this “Mama Bear” exited her cave, claws out, growling and ready to protect her cub.

The trauma of my abuse permeated its way into my parenting skills.

My cousin, Laura and I reported our abuse to the police, an investigation ensued, and Laura’s blog post went viral. Then it became clear that I had to tell my kids what happened to me. In hindsight, I should have had the conversation long before.

A few people asked, “Are you going to tell the boys?”

Of course.

A few people asked, “What are you going to tell the boys?”

The truth.

I will admit that I was nervous.

It was not the fear that they would be upset. It was not the notion that they would feel uncomfortable. I was ready to talk about it openly and shamelessly. I was ready for the hard questions and the answer.

The question to which I feared the answer more than any other.

“Has anyone ever done anything to make you feel uncomfortable? Has anyone ever acted in an abusive manner? “Has anyone ever sexually abused you?”

I held my breath.

“No.”

Glory be. Thank you, God.

We have got to have a heightened sense of the eminent danger to our kids. Because it is happening right under our noses.

Abuse is happening families and in circles of close friends. “Stranger Danger” is an inaccurate cliche that masks a hard topic. Everybody, strangers make up only five percent of abusers.

I have always used the term “Mama Bear” in a not-so-favorable manner. But quite to the contrary, “The Mama Bear Effect” sheds light on this term positively and pro-actively, giving  powerful and poignant information.  The content includes topics like how to talk to your children about abuse, how to prevent abuse and how to detect the signs of abuse.

I love big and try to mend all the hurts. I shield, over-compensate and fiercely protect my kids. I probably won’t change those things, but I will move on with a conscious heart and mind as I parent.

So, now my charge, with my cousin, is to educate others; children, parents and anyone else who will listen. We speak appropriately, clearly, candidly and with conviction about abuse. We want you to speak, too.

Because, everyone, our children’s lives depend on it.

That’s all.

themamabeareffect.org

maryMOMphosis

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On my due date November 2001

Mother’s Day is upon us! Folks flood the card aisle. Stores post reminders to “Mother’s Day is May 10!”  Well-wishing Mother’s Day Mylar Balloons float around us and tap our shoulders as we stand a the grocery check-out.

This floral holiday Trumps Valentine’s Day, for Goodness sake!

I will never forget the first moment I became a mother. To me, it was not when I peed on the stick and the second line appeared. It was the moment I looked at him. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, despite his cone head and red face.

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The hospital wrist band I wore as an infant, and the one I wore and Ronan wore when he was born

He was gorgeous.

I will bet every mother has felt the same way.

Over the past 13 years, I have adored being a mom. Over the past three I have loved being a stepmom, too. Motherhood is the hardest job I have ever loved. I have morphed into a woman I would never have become had I not been blessed with motherhood.

My mother made me a cup of tea the day I took my baby home from the hospital. She set it down and said, “Enjoy. You will never again have another cup of hot tea. “ She was joking, but she was so right.

Mothers love their children unconditionally. Being a mother means putting yourself at the back of the family line. You can always count on Mom. Mom makes the hurt go away.

Mother is a verb.

Some of the best meals I have ever enjoyed were in my bed on mother’s day morning. From the very young age of five my boy brought me breakfast in bed. I think that it started with goldfish and a water bottle. Most recently, my three boys brought me a toasted bagel with cream cheese, a brimming bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios drowning in milk and coffee brewed from the Keurig.

Children idolize their mothers. Mothers are the rock, the source of love and the center of a child’s universe.

In many ways, the attention and love I receive as a mother can feel overwhelming to me. It feels like such a gift.  I gift I have never believed I deserved.

But they do love me. I feel it every single day.

In third grade, he gave me this mothers day poem.

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My AWESOME Mother’s Day Card 2011

Clearly, it made an impression.

I think that one of the most beautiful moments of motherhood happened in the Chatham Dunkin Donuts on Cape Cod. My two and a half-year-old and I were patiently waiting in line for his chocolate donut. We were surrounded by retirees. A lovely elderly lady behind us caught his eye.

“Where did you get your beautiful blonde curls?”

He instantly replied, “From God.”

Proud Mama moment!

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Curls from God

Now that my boy is a teen things have changed. I am annoying. I am so not cool anymore. I am a helicopter. The eye roll has become as dominant in his interaction with me as the word “like.” Its all good, though.

 

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13th Birthday!

Our roles change.

I have morphed from the center of his universe to a tornado. And I know that as he grows, our relationship will continue to morph and continue to change in many ways. Most of which I hope to be delightful.

My relationship with my mother has too, changed over the years. She was my everything as a child. She was my friend as a teenager. We shopped and had our nails done and lunched. She was career counselor after I graduated. Then she took care of my baby when I worked.

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Each day I got a note from the day’s events. Elmo was BIG back then!

When she had a devastating and debilitating stroke 11 years ago, the tables turned. I took care of her.

I visited her thrice a day for the three months she was in the hospital. I fed her and dressed her and put on her makeup and did her hair when she was immobilized and could not speak. It is so important to look and feel your best when your rehab for the day is getting into a wheelchair.

It was an enormous role reversal.

She became dependant. I became the nurturer.

Looking back I would not change it. EVER.

She is stubborn and opinionated (the apple does not fall far from the tree.) She has spunk and refuses to leave her home despite my father’s death and despite that she is patently disabled.

In light of recent life events, including reuniting with my long-lost cousin, Laura, hearing the other side of the story about our abuse and going to the police, there has been a predictable crack in my relationship with my mother.

It is a huge gaping fault much like the aftermath of an earthquake.

I am so, so angry. I am intensely hurt.

Mom is loving and kind. She is smart and generous and funny. She took care of me. She loves me.

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Christmas 1968

I struggle so.

There is a place that I am trying so hard to reach where I can reconcile the past and my mom’s role in it. It is the most difficult thing I have ever done. It is perhaps more difficult than the aftermath of my sexual abuse and certainly more difficult than reporting her father, my abuser, to the police 35 years later.

It is heart wrenching, and I am torn. We all have hurts. We all have emotions and sensitivity. Once we are burned, it can be hard to stick your hand in the flame again.

So, people cope with their sexual abuse in different ways. When I was disbelieved after reporting my sexual abuse to my parents and uncle I had to survive. I mirrored their behavior. I pretended that it did not happen. I told my story in that kitchen. No one listened to my story.

(For clarification, please read my first blog post, “Before He Wrote it Down,”)

BUT my story, as much as I tried to stuff it down as far into my soul as possible, has told itself over and over again in my decisions, in my choices and in how I have lived.

Ok so here is a twist. Taking it one step further, people cope with OTHERS sexual abuse in different ways, too.

I applaud some. I shake my head at others. But I can’t judge. No one can judge. That is not our humanly job.

Although she is getting help for the first time in her life and says that she believes me, the jury is still out. But at 76 years old, I am grateful that she is a least trying.

My brother is brilliant and has offered great insight. He has provided guidance. He asks if I want to have a relationship with her? If so, that is the FIRST thing I need to decide. If so, and only IF SO, I need to determine if I can forgive. If I choose to forgive, I must do just that -all in-no takebacks no exclusions.

I am human. I am so very hurt.

I look at my mom. I can only imagine what happened to her as a child. She has coped differently. I suspect that she did the “stuffing down into the soul” trick. And it worked for her. But it did not work for me.

Herein lies the problem.

So on this mother’s day I have made a decision. I have decided to forgive my mom.

Forgiveness has many faces.  Forgiveness can be as easy breezy as a fist punch and a pat on the back.  Forgiveness can happen over years laying on that black leather couch.  Forgiveness can just be a decision.

Forgiveness, in this matter, is not releasing it, accepting that what happened can be dismissed or saying “It’s ok.”

In a billion, gazillion years, it will never be “OK” with the past but I choose to move forward.  I have decided that my grandfather had my past but will never have my future.  No flipping way.

I cannot change the past, but I can change the future.

I cannot judge, but I can love

I cannot undo it, but I can move on and accept her frailties and shortcomings.

Although I cannot say that it will ever be the same (how could it be) I will try.

There is an abundant amount of love in this world. We just need to let it in.

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Happy Mother’s Day.

That’s all.

grace happens…

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Several years ago I leased a beautiful, new car and was reveling in its purity. It was not yet tattooed by the hands of urban parking, and the rims were still gleaming. On my new shiny’s maiden voyage from the dealership, I drove to collect my son from school.

As I waited for him in the pickup line, I spotted my boy joyfully skipping to the car grinning ear to ear, backpack trailing and waving what I thought to be a piece of paper.

“Guess what, Mama?” he asked, out of breath.

“What, Sweets?” I responded.

“I won STUDENT OF THE MONTH!” he proudly announced.

I beamed! I wanted to shout it from the top of the Hancock Tower! I wanted to send out an email blast! YAY!

Then, he handed it to me. Yes, IT.

The sticker read, “MY SON WAS STUDENT OF THE MONTH AT BLAH BLAH SCHOOL.”

Oh, Lord.

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This was, most likely, the only instance I voluntarily (was it voluntary?) slapped an announcement on my bumper. If given a choice, I would have publicized my son’s success in my way to my family and friends, not necessarily to my fellow commuters. TMI.

I can think of one other exception to sharing a message on my tail, however. I would be willing to post the sticker, “Grace Happens.”

Have you ever seen that bumper sticker? It has a white field with a serendipitous font and little yellow stars on it. It is light, hopeful and divine. I love it.

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It is TRUE! I believe that Grace happens all around us, all the time. It is a bestowal of blessings. Do you see it?

Each time I see that bumper sticker I am reminded to open my eyes and witness Grace. It is everywhere.

Grace has been present to me in remarkable ways on several occasions.

My dear dad passed away of heart failure in 2010. Clearly, it was sudden and the most devastating event in my life. I still miss him every single day.

Dad and I shared great passion and strong opinions on many topics, yet we agreed on few. Our relationship was a tumultuous one, but it never, ever lacked love. Looking back, I am thankful that, no matter what our differences, at least our relationship was REAL.

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At the time of his death, he and I were just starting to reconcile after a hurtful impasse that had kept us from speaking for months. Despite our past disagreements, we had never been so disconnected in my 43 years. Looking back, I would have given just about anything to have been on good terms when he left this life. I wished I’d had the opportunity for a do-over.

But he died. Grief crippled me. I could barely function.

One morning, I accepted that I could not face that day. I surrendered myself back to bed after I dropped my son off at school. Then, I had a dream that I am confident will remain crystal clear in my mind forever.

I dreamt that I was standing on a sidewalk on a rainy day waiting for my dad. He and I had a standing appointment each week on the same day. My head was down. I was studying a big, muddy puddle at my feet. Then, it dawned on me. He was not coming.

All of a sudden, to my surprise, a car slowly passed me, upsetting my puddle. It stopped when its rear bumper aligned with where I was standing. I looked up to see the driver’s window slowly roll down. My dad’s face appeared in the window, and he looked at me.

“Dad? But you are gone!” I said.

“I am not gone, Darling, I am still here with you.”

“Can you see me, Daddy?”

“I can’t see your face but I can see you from above.”

Then, I woke. The dream ended there. I felt enormous love in my heart and the deepest comfort imaginable. Grace happened. Reconciliation happened. I knew he would never leave me. It was finally clear. He loved me so.

I am so grateful that my dad continued to visit me for months after my dream. I understand that he was checking on me. He was reassuring me and he was trying to alleviate my excruciating grief and GUILT. Let’s not forget the guilt.

I felt his presence every Sunday at church and my husband made sure to have a clean handkerchief in his pocket. It became a thing. One day I saw Dad observing (inspecting) the landscaping of my new house. Good thing he could not speak. One time, for a split second, while waiting in the drive-through, I swear I saw my dad in the Camry two cars back. That was unexpected.

Life is messy. Life can be hard and tragic and disappointing and so many other things. On our journey, we don’t know where we are going to land. But, there is a plan. And Lovey, Grace has everything to do with it.

I do not know what inspired me spontaneously to look for and find my long-lost cousins on Facebook but I was overcome with the sense that somehow, that very moment, I needed to.

My friend request has reunited me with my Laura, who, in just five months, knows almost all the secrets I have ever kept. And if you keep reading my blog, soon enough you will know all of them, too.

We were meant to go to the police. We were meant to meet Officer Paul Smith. Officer Paul Smith was meant to find another victim of our grandfather’s abuse. Laura was meant to write her blog post, “He Wrote it Down,” which has resonated with SO many.

Now, Laura and I, holding hands, are about to do the next great thing. And guess what? We are certain that Grace will join us.

Grace happens! Do you see? It is a miracle. It is a marvel. It stupendous phenomenon and it brings very welcome consequences.

Thank you, Grace.

03 Native New Yorker (Radio Edit)