In the midst of all of that pain, with my father gone out of her life seemingly for good, and now having more children with his second wife, there was always one thing mum did. She prayed for dad. Every day. I gotta confess I didn’t pray for him much, if at all. It felt awkward. Awkward and useless. One gaping hole in my prayer life where I thought prayers were sucked in to die a lonely, unheard death.
I can, by nature, be a graceless man. I slip all too easily into either a snakes-and-ladders works-based righteousness; up when I’m doing well, down when I’m not.
Or, worse, I fail to extend grace to other people. My bent towards being a chippy so-and-so, coupled with, – how shall we put it -, an “exuberant” personality, sees me cut someone down with a smart comment way too often.
Which is why I’m grateful for the grace expressed down the years by my mother, who, as I have written about in an earlier post, experienced the trauma of being torn from a loving foster family in Dublin – kidnapped actually -, and placed back with her birth family, who she had no idea existed, until that nightmare day, at age eight, she was whisked off the Dublin streets and taken to Belfast.
I wish that had been my mum’s most traumatic life moment. I wish. But it wasn’t. That came later.
Aged forty, and by now living in Australia, mum watched her husband, my dad, who was the love of her life since age seventeen, drive himself off to live with a stranger – the woman who would become his second wife.
The next week on pay day there was exactly one dollar left in mum’s bank account. It couldn’t get more rock bottom than that.
Except it could. She came home from church one Sunday not long after, and dad, knowing she’d be out worshipping the God who gives and takes away, came and took away some stuff of his own, including his beloved stereo system and records. Mum just sat on the hallway floor and wept in the arms of old Anne Gallop, the quintessential no-nonsense church lady, whose asbestos personality could not resist some tears of its own at that point.
Mum was bereft. We all were; my three brothers and I. Feelings of abandonment kicked in all over again for mum, raising the old traumas she’d experienced being kidnapped, but the low-grade trauma of moving away from her beloved Northern Ireland to set up life thirteen thousand miles away in Australia.
Yet in the midst of all of that pain, with my father gone out of her life seemingly for good, and now having more children with his second wife, there was always one thing mum did. She prayed for dad. Every day.
I gotta confess I didn’t pray for him much, if at all. It felt awkward. Awkward and useless. One gaping hole in my prayer life where I thought prayers were sucked in to die a lonely, unheard death.
One by one, first me, then a second brother, then a third, made amends with dad, and I even spent a good deal of time with his second wife, (who I still get on well with), and his other two boys, one of whom is as close to me as my other brothers.
But mum? She never saw dad in all that time. Yet still she prayed, and urged us to do so at the same time. “If something should ever happen to him,” she’d say again, knowing that some day something would.
Even before I got married, dad looked at the invitation Jill and I handed to him and said softly, and sadly. “You know I can’t go. I’d love to, but I don’t want to spoil it for your mum.”
Mum wanted dad to go, but to be honest I didn’t, for her sake. In the end there’s a photo of Jill and me kissing outside the brick and spire Wesley Church in the main street of Perth, and if you look carefully in the corner of the photo, there’s dad, and his wife and the two boys – still very young at that stage – standing outside the McDonald’s restaurant across the road watching it all. I still wonder what he was thinking at that time.
And still mum prayed. She worked more regularly out of necessity; moving steadily from house cleaning to typing jobs; learning how to use a computer, then to admin help, and finally to running the front desk and admissions at an aged-care facility. She always did more than the job required and the residents loved her, as did their families.
When she retired they threw a big party. “Time to think of yourself for a change Pauline!” said the grand old resident with the perfect elocution who’d MC-ed the event. And everyone agreed.
I assured them all in my speech that mum, even though she had been paid to care for people, would care for people for free!
And she’s actually proved that to be so. Her former employers have leased her one of their independent living units. She lives where she used to work, and is always busying herself helping with shopping, gardening and meals for less-independent residents.
And still, all that work time, she prayed for dad. By this stage dad had gone quiet. Very quiet. I hadn’t heard from him for nearly a year. No calls, no call-arounds. Nothing. Not a peep. Something was wrong.