The Problem of Pain

ProblemOfPainby Anniel  11/12/14
An Apology to My Grandmother  •  I awoke the other morning feeling compelled to write a very personal account of my family, particularly my grandmother. Please, I hope this will not be interpreted as seeking pity, and I sincerely hope the larger intent is clear.

Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?

Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. — Matthew 18:21-22; KJV

From the beginning The Lord has spoken about our need to forgive all men. It seems like such a difficult task. And so my story.

I met my father’s mother only once. I was four months old and my older brother and I were taken to Butte, Montana to meet the wreck of a woman who had deserted her husband, my grandfather, and surviving children when my father was just 13 years old. The only child Grandma said goodbye to and offered to take with her was my dad’s oldest sister, Sadie. Aunt Sadie said she would stay with her father and my grandmother laughed and told Sadie Grandpa wasn’t her “real” father, she was already pregnant when she married him. Sadie was stunned, but chose to stay with Grandpa anyway, and he reared and loved her all his days.

The funny thing about Grandpa was he never stopped loving my grandmother, his “Little Sweetheart.” Other people hated her but he refused that hate. I would never again see my grandmother after traveling to Butte, and my father refused to speak of her. She died of acute alcoholism when I was 7. For many years after that all I knew was that she had divorced Grandpa, remarried and had 3 more children, all girls.

My father felt that his half-sisters had stolen his mother’s love. That they had possessed the best part of her. And so he was jealous and never cared about them. Then one day the oldest girl, Aunt Elsa, came to visit with her husband, my wonderful Uncle Emil. Emil had decided it was time for my dad to learn the unrelieved horror his sisters had endured.

From that visit and the revelations from Emil and Elsa, my father gained three sisters and we children got not just aunts and uncles, all with stories of their own, but what seemed like dozens of new cousins. Actually we only know of an even dozen, but one of the sisters kept having baby after baby (her sisters say she had at least 19, plus the 5 she kept) to sell on the black market through a Finn woman’s brokerage as revealed just a few years ago in People Magazine. I had just assumed she dropped the babies off in a basket on some church’s steps.

I picked up only bits and pieces of the stories surrounding my grandmother, enough to know that my aunts were neglected and horribly abused in ways hard to imagine. I asked Aunt Elsa to tell me about her mother and she mostly refused to answer any questions. I did hear my father tell of Aunt Elsa going to a doctor about her horrible headaches. When the doctor told her they were caused by an earlier skull fracture she was mystified because she had never had a skull fracture. Then her sister said, “Oh, that must have been the time mom hit you over the head with the whiskey bottle and we had to take care of you for nearly two weeks because you couldn’t get up.” Elsa’s injury had been so severe she was unable to remember the incident.

So I learned to hate my grandmother, and I know she sounds terrible. But somehow I wanted to understand her. So I asked questions before some of the people who had known her died. I learned she came from the Karelia Region, on the side which is now Finland, and which at other times had belonged to Sweden or Russia. She grew up to be under 5 feet tall and wore a size 0 shoe. At 14 she was sent across the ocean to the U.S., traveling all by herself, to stay with and work for an uncle in McCall, Idaho. Then she traveled around mining camps in the the west, working as a laundress, dressmaker, or housekeeper. She was also drinking. She was working at a boarding house in a camp when she met and married Grandpa, had a family and then left them all behind.

I think my father was so needy he wanted to be the only person in my mother’s life. So he went on a bender when he found out my mom was pregnant with my older brother. He was sure she would love the baby more than she did him. The were living in a cabin in Island Park, Montana when he came in drunk. Mom had just finished the dishes and turned to have him throw the water out. He grabbed the dishpan from her hands and hurled it straight through the screen door. He told me that he sobered up almost instantly as he watched the water drip down the broken screen. Then he lay on the floor and cried and made the decision that to be a decent father he simply could never drink again. And he didn’t.

I believe that anyone with a drop of grandma’s blood should never drink.

One of the qualities I respected most in my father was his never failing care for the older people around him. Most of the non-relatives we called aunts and uncles were either Finns Dad grew up around, or blind people he met when his own father was blinded in a mine explosion. And care for them he did, helping them whenever and however he could. My youngest brother remembers vividly driving hundreds of miles to a TB Sanatorium in Denver so Daddy could say goodbye to one of those people. My brother today carries that legacy of helping others in his own life and actions.

I visited my “Aunt” Jenny after daddy had died. As I recall she was about 102 years old and I asked her how she, and her sisters he had also cared for, had known my dad. She told me her mother owned the boarding house where Grandpa and Grandma met and were married, and she had tended daddy and his siblings when grandma went out drinking. Dad never forgot her or her family. Aunt Jenny also said if I wanted to hear anything good about my grandma, I had come to the wrong person.

What a sad thing to be mourned by no one.

So why should I apologize to my grandmother now? My new understanding comes because of the illnesses afflicting my youngest daughter, and the pain she has had to endure. My daughter’s doctors now recognize that her illnesses are genetic. My father endured the same thing, as had his mother before him. Imagine your eyes constantly being hurt by any light, of having even quiet noises sounding like heavy artillery in your head, and oh the constant overwhelming headaches. This was before any of these illnesses were ever identified by medical science, before there was any treatment, or any pain relief – except for the self-medication of alcohol.

With my daughter’s permission, I post with this article a photo taken by her older sister when Cate had her head shaved for yet another surgery. I told the girls they should title it “Pain Is My Sister.” Pain is also my grandmother and my father.

There are some judgments that are not the province of mere mortals. Even with today’s medical miracles we know so little of the lives some people must live. One of my sons has said perhaps it was my grandmother’s greatest mercy to walk away when she did. We all have those to whom we should show mercy and try to forgive, for our own sake.

Grandma Aina, I apologize for my blindness. I shall honor you and thank you for a son, my father, who was strong enough to endure his own pain and leave a legacy of love for the next generations. • (1298 views)

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11 Responses to The Problem of Pain

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I will admit that forgiveness is difficult; indeed, the necessity to forgive those who do evil to you maliciously is one of the reasons I can’t be a Christian. But one can at least understand why some people do as they do. (For example, I think the fact that Obama was rejected by both of his parents had a lot to do with his twisted personality. One could even perhaps sympathize with him — if he hadn’t chosen to inflict his pain on America.) Sometimes it can even lead to forgiveness — after all, your point is that your grandmother’s behavior resulted from severe physical problems, beyond her ability to handle them. Who of us could be certain of reacting any better to such pain? “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

    • Anniel says:

      Timothy, I have had only temporary bouts of this illness, not the unending years of affliction. I knew on some level how bad things could be, but it wasn’t until Bronwyn had so much go wrong that I could stand back and see at last. Even she says she would not change what we have all learned. Thank you for your understanding.

  2. GHG says:

    Anniel, thank you for sharing that poignant yet uplifting story. The sadness of your grandmothers life was the central theme but from that came the living testimony of your grandfather who refused to judge her and lived his life loving and caring for others. From your grandfather’s example your father had the strength of character to never touch alcohol again after that bad experience and from his example you have the strength to forgive and to bare your soul to help others.

    I think your larger intent was clear, even more than you intended.

    • Anniel says:

      Mr. Lesser, I love your thought about “the living testimony” of my grandfather. It is amazing for you to put it that way, and even I did not fully appreciate what I revealed of the man who filled my youngest days. Thank you, too.

  3. This touched me in a very personal way — I’ve come to much the same conclusion about my father — how many people in the past have had to turn to alcohol for relief from unremitting pain — emotional or physical? Thank you for writing this.

    • Anniel says:

      Deanna, I didn’t know at first whether I should publish this because it was so close and personal. But I have been touched by some things that this story has led to. I will be adding some connections to this article in a short while, as soon as I hear from other people who may be involved in a portion of what I wrote. If that sounds like a chapter book, it just might be.

      • David Ray says:

        Dennis Prager had an hour devoted to relationships between daughters and their fathers. It stemmed from some feminists protrusion that fathers are not needed at all. (i.e. single mothers are all that’s needed.)
        It was during his “ultimate issues” hour. If you gals can find it, you might glean some pearls from it.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Now you can see why the Communist Party has always had the elimination of the family as one of its primary planks. As much as we may draw inspiration and strength from watching the Beaver Cleaver family on TV (or the Waltons, for that matter), the reality is that a large percentage of families are nowhere near that ideal.

    In the “Progressive” interpretation of Communism, the elimination of the male and the elevation of the single mother (Julia) has been the current expression of this desire to eliminate the family. Perhaps much of that Communist dislike for the family itself has been lost as the grievance has been transferred to the male via feminism. But the reasons remain the same: Neither family nor relationships are Utopia.

    It’s not perfectly clear why there has been this relatively sudden demand for Utopia — to the point where that which is good (but imperfect) is to be jettisoned. Perhaps it is a result of the enormous material prosperity brought about by freedom intersecting with modern advances in science and technology. We perhaps forget that nature is red in tooth in claw, that the norm for humanity is an imperfect and often painful struggle.

    We also live in a highly manipulative, artificial, and status-oriented mass pop culture where we are bombarded with images and stories of the perfect and the happy. Chronic pain issues aside, so many of the crazy things we do (including substance abuse) has to do with judging ourselves as inferior. We try as best we can to escape ourselves for to be merely human and flawed in this culture is intolerable.

    Whatever the case may be, something has driven more than a few people to drink. As Michael Medved has pointed out about Prohibition, this can be seen as a larger phenomenon than just a bunch of “social gospel” Christians and political Progressives going mad with state power. When Prohibition was enacted, people were commonly drinking three for four times as much alcohol as is average today. It was a huge problem. And a culture which has forgotten its own history may even be stupid enough to want to expand the number of drugs that are legal (not that I expect Libertarians to ever get a clue).

    Please, I hope this will not be interpreted as seeking pity

    I will definitely let you know as soon as I see you, or anyone else, delving into lib-style self-congratulatory self-flagellation. 🙂 We don’t do victimhood here!

    But…geez…if anyone deserves to be called a victim it was probably your grandfather and aunts and uncles. And I like that you have again, Annie, stretched the essay format beyond the political. Nothing against other fine sites such as American Thinker, but I never want this place to be that dull or repetitive. It is likely beyond most people to delve into topics that are this personal, and that’s fine. To each his own. We all have our own comfort zones in this regard.

    But how many times can we say “Obama is a Marxist, America-hating pig”? He is that and more. But it’s useful to note that the goal of the Left is to politicize everything, to see every facet of life in terms of political implications, not personal ones. I really should have named this site something else to give it less of a political spin, but we have what we have. And when people insert so much of themselves in something, to me that is one of the best antidotes to Progressivism.

    • Rosalys says:

      I really should have named this site something else…

      No, Stubborn Things is a very good name. Though the most of what is written here may be political, facts being stubborn things is true about the laws of nature, history, mathematics, and a whole host of other things. Not our fault that in these latter days just about EVERYTHING has become politicized!

      But not everything written about here is political. This is a very special site!

  5. Rosalys says:

    My father, too, was an alcoholic. My father never abused any of us – his wife or his children – physically. He was beaten as a child by his father (also an alcoholic) and rather than carrying on in like manner by turning physical abuse into a family tradition, he instead vowed never to lay a hand on his family. (I remember being spanked only once as a child – in spite of the numerous times I deserved a good lickin’). There was verbal abuse however – always when he was drunk, which was pretty much all the time – and myriad humiliating memories associated with having a drunken parent; and I loved/hated him.

    I used to avoid him as much as possible and wished my mother would divorce him. She almost did, but she sought the counsel of our parish priest first. It was rather late in the year and he said that the holidays were coming up; don’t do anything yet and give it a little more thought and prayer. Thank God for his counsel! Early the next spring Dad came home from work one day and announced that he was going to give up drinking – and he did! Cold turkey! About two days later he came home drunk, but this time it was different. He spent the next few hours until bedtime in constant apology and said it would never happen again – and it didn’t. ‘Til the day he died, Dad never drank so much as one more drop of booze.

    And they all lived happily ever after! Right? Well, not quite. It’s not that easy to just start liking someone you’ve spent a lifetime despising, and I resented the fact that that was what I was expected to do. About two years later a friend of mine had an accident with the family car. She told me that her father’s first words were, “Is the car badly damaged?” I was shocked, because I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that even in my Dad’s drinking days and in his worst stupor, had it been me, his first words would have been, “Are you okay?” I felt sorry for my friend and began the process of learning to love my dad. Today I am very grateful to have had the parents God gave me.

    Dad learned to drink his problems away while serving in the Army Air Corps, in the Pacific theater during WWII. He saw some pretty awful stuff and was order to do some questionable stuff, one incident weighing very heavily on him. Dad told my brother a lot more than he did me and my brother has told me stuff in the past nine years that I never knew, one of them being that the reason Dad stopped drinking was that he didn’t want to lose his family; so I suppose Mom must have made it clear to him that she couldn’t and wouldn’t take it anymore.

    There are always reasons for things and humans are complex creatures. Forgiving doesn’t mean that you have to start liking someone who has done you wrong. It doesn’t mean you have to pretend that nothing ever happened. I read one definition of forgiveness as giving up your personal right to revenge.

    Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. – Romans 12:19

    No. There are times when it is best to let God deal with them. It will save you from vengeance consuming you – and besides, He’ll do a better job of it.

    Sorry for the rambling. Thank you, Anniel, for sharing your wonderful, poignant story.

    • Anniel says:

      Rosalys, sometimes I find it passing strange how we touch each other on this site. Who would know these things if it were not for Brad. Political only when we want to be, and cheers for those stubborn facts.

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