By Christopher Scott
I have a friend I see occasionally, let’s call her Grace, who’s actually quite amazing. Employed by the same company for the last sixteen years, a friend and mentor to many, a fabulous mother of two young boys. Warm, kind, and enthusiastic, you’d never know she’s broken.
But she is. Grace grew up in a truly damaging setting, an environment that makes my supposedly “difficult” childhood look like a picnic. We’ve only really talked about it in passing, but what she’s shared makes the person she’s become all the more remarkable.
Growing up in the northeast the only child of a drug addict, Grace spent her childhood moving from home to home as her mother found her fix. At times sleeping in a tent or a car, fully aware of her mother’s drug use, Grace used her mind and made up games to pass the time and escape her reality. As is usually the case, her mother’s problem only accelerated in severity, eventually culminating in her premature death.
To make matters worse, she never knew her father. Just another man willing to abandon his children without so much as a second thought, leaving his daughter curious as to what he even looked like. Adding to her feelings of abandonment, Grace later found out he’d taken a mulligan, remarrying and starting a second family as if the first one never happened.
Fortunately for Grace, as she headed into adolescence, her grandmother stepped in to stop the insanity. Gram, as she so affectionately calls her, finally had enough, somehow gaining custody and moving Grace to Florida. Or, as she was so fond of saying as she battled old age and dementia, “I stole you.”
Thank God for all the grandparents out there willing to steal their grandchildren from neglectful parents, on some level acknowledging their own failures as a parent and unwittingly finding redemption. Where would we be without them. In Grace’s case, Gram took on the role of her mother, really her only connection, her only sense of love and security as she made her way into adulthood.
Not always smoothly though. Grace has struggled to overcome her past, most of the horrid details she’s yet to share with me, the majority of which she probably never will. Fortunately, she sees a Psychologist and seems to have overcome many of the lingering after-effects of her broken childhood including depression, eating disorders, and who knows what else.
She’s battled through her problems with purpose and a great attitude, and now tries to help others who struggle with similar issues. She never really asks why or feels sorry for herself, but uses her childhood as a kind of strength to know she can get through anything. How she became this incredible person I can only imagine, but surely Gram had a lot to do with it.
A couple weeks ago, Gram passed away. Upon hearing the sad news, I froze, knowing how important Gram was in her life, frankly worried as to how Grace might respond. So this week, I went to see her.
She’s returned to work, but it’s easy to tell her heart and mind aren’t there, even as she tries to smile and hide her feelings. She’s shockingly thin, but promises to start eating again now that the nausea has faded. I can tell Grace is battling the best she can even as her world has fallen apart.
It’s always hard to know what to say in this situation. You don’t want to say too much and keep opening up the wound, but at the same time, you want to let her know you’re there for her, that she has your support. For once, I was brief, saying only the words I hope she needed to hear.
I simply told Grace that I love her.