This week I received the expected news that Uncle Don had died peacefully, finally succumbing to pneumonia.
As my mums’ brother, he’d played a major part in my early years – visiting regularly , if not frequently with his family, on birthdays, high days and holidays.
Like so many families in the UK today we drifted apart for whatever reason you can think of – geography, busy lifestyle, I had a family of my own and so on…
A few years ago I saw him with his wife, Josie, at a family wedding. Even though he was in his late 60’s he was vital, joyous and youthful – full of fun with a ready smile and sparkling blue eyes – they were still jiving…still jiving…
A few years later I heard from a nameless source – nameless because I can’t for the life of me remember who delivered the news – that Uncle Don – my most favourite uncle – had been abusing a child in his care.
For my shame I only fleetingly entertained the thought that he hadn’t done it. My Uncle Don? Ridiculous. No, I joined the rest. There is, after all, no smoke without fire. Is there?
Time passed. My mental health deteriorated. I felt I had to know if my faulty wiring was due to nature or nurture. Were there any links to madness on my mums’ side of the family?
Last year I met up with Don at his home. He was a little drunk, but coherent. After a brief exchange of niceties, he asked me what I’d like him to tell my mum about me. He dreamt about her regularly and felt he had a special contact with her.
One of his first words as a child had been ‘Kissy’ – he couldn’t pronounce her name ‘Chrissie’ – so that became her nickname for a while.
It felt like we had limited time together – so he brought up the alleged abuse.
Don and Josie fostered and adopted a number of children throughout their lives. As they became more experienced in this they were able to support children from more and more complex and abusive backgrounds.
This is how they came to work with one particular girl and her brother. Don told me that their history was so awful he could not talk about it. It was so awful that the boy took his own life in his teens.
Don and Josie supported the girl, now a woman, to find a home, to make new relationships, to make a new life for herself. This was made easier because she had some money from criminal injuries -after the abuse she’d experienced at the hands of her parents – to launch her, to allow her to move on.
Unfortunately, like so many of us in modern day society, she could not manage her money. Very soon she found herself in debt with little idea of how to get out of it.
The next step for her, although abhorrent to everyone else, appeared obvious. She’d received thousands of pounds from criminal injuries after her parents abuse of her – she thought she could get more money if she accused Don of the same.
The time that followed was intolerable for Don – even though Josie stood by his side throughout – even though the accusations were found to be groundless – even though the woman withdrew all of her allegations.
Don was devastated, not only by the process of being dragged through the courts, but by the fact that many of his friends and family, the people who knew him so well as the man I had described from the wedding, had so readily believed what had been said about him.
He sought solace in alcohol – if not to take away the pain, to at least soften the blow.
I visited again a few weeks later to find the woman who’d taken him to court enjoying a cup of tea with Don and Josie in their living room.
What the Fuck?!
The ambience was friendly – perhaps warm. I decided to take the cue from my surroundings. I waited for the woman to leave before asking the obvious question –
What the Fuck?! Only more gently.
Don was so balanced in his appraisal of the situation.
He said 2 things that made it all clear –
“I forgive her,” and, “She has no moral compass.”
My first reaction was to blurt out,
“You’re a bigger man than me…”
My second reaction was much slower – much more considered – taking a few months for me to fully absorb.
I took some time looking at the forgiveness project
You’d do well to do the same.
I was sexually abused by someone close to me when I was in my early/ mid teens. In the years that followed I approached her time and again to apologise to me. Not only to apologise to me – but to do so in exactly the way I required. In the way that I needed them to.
It was never going to happen. For years I became more twisted, more angry, more frustrated…it drove me insane.
Don had suddenly – in a gradual sort of way – made it all clearer. More simple. Trying to get this person to apologise was like entrusting my future to another. I was putting all the control in her hands.
I had it, I have it within my power to forgive her. I realised I could take control of my life by starting the process of forgiveness.
Don was a bigger man than me – but it didn’t have to stay that way.
By forgiving this person they were no longer an unwelcome visitor in my head. They could continue with their thoughts and beliefs of which I had no control.
I began to forgive – I began to move on – I finished psychotherapy – I started my walk.
It is tragic that Don died very sad and with a dependence on alcohol. His pain never left him fully.
I want to shout from the highest peak, through the loudest megaphone, that this skinny, sparkly, sad, lovely man saved my life.
Walk a mile