Sweetness after Trauma – To the Wall and Back

He must have been through  unspeakable suffering, to be so unspeakably kind when the chips were down

To the Wall and Back

“When you were a teenager, you went to the wall and back,  and your family doesn’t get that.” This came up in discussion with my Family Therapy instructor s in graduate school for Clinical Social Work Counseling.

He’s right. They never got that.

Now I know he was wrong.

Mammie and Pappie had been to the wall and back. They “got” the wall and back thing…The tragedy we lived at the time? My parents knew how it was to go to “the wall and back,”  during their war years, and many times since.  I wanted to “get” that, and they wanted to “get” my back- to- the- wall time, but we were delayed.

I eventually told my Dad about some of the walls I pushed my back into, and he told me some of his. My Mom  and sister too.

“Have you ever seen people who through some disaster were driven to great times of prayer? And have you noticed that once the disaster was long forgotten, a spiritual sweetness remained that warmed their souls?” June 12 Streams in the Desert L. B. Cowman

Those risks, of sharing our back-to-the-wall times,  are what make us sweet.

There is a sweet, hard-won comradery among veterans of war. There is a spiritual sweetness among many survivors of civilian war trauma and other hard times.

There is a sweet experience, often described by people in AA, of “I don’t know how I got here from there…” Meaning, this place is so much better, and I don’t know how I came from near-death, or spiritual-death to this, but here I am. It must be spiritual, a spiritual sweetness.

That’s what it’s all about that wall, showing each other when we were at the end of the line, and yet surviving

Today I remember Pappie, who passed away three years ago, 3/30/2008. His sweetness after trauma, at the end of his life,  included finding comfort in the Lord’s prayer, in Dutch and in English.

So the slow conversations our family started, decades after the hard walls in our lives, I call “recovery on the century plan.” Yet we did start, finally when I was in my thirties, and my parents aging, and the dialogue continues even though Pappie s no longer with us. My family finally knows more about my teenage alcoholism, about struggles with depression, and I know their struggles and joys.

I read an essay one time, perhaps you know the source, where the author wrote something like:

My mother died, and four years later my relationship with her is still changing. That’s how it is with my father. My relationship with him is still changing and growing.

My dad on the whole, blanked out his years in the Japanese Concentration Camps, however, he was so understanding when my sister or I had a painful secret on our hearts. With his non-judging understanding he showed us his “wall and back.” He must have been through  unspeakable suffering e, to be so unspeakably kind when the chips were down. He found a way to understand any pain, any experience. (Here is a portion of what Pappie lost, hsi home, his father died in the camps, his younger brother, sister and older brother all lived far apart – yet loved each other well, his mother was never the same after being a brave and valiant mom during the camp years)

How did your parents not just tell you, but ‘show’ you their story? What is your wall?

One of mine was finding sobriety and 12 step recovery in my teen years, you will be seeing more of that.

(my dad was not on the Bataan death march, however the brutality of that time is representative of what he survived.  Read here to learn about a remarkable, reverent,  Bataan death march commemoration.)

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One Response to “ “Sweetness after Trauma – To the Wall and Back”

  1. Janneke says:

    I mention here that Papa – Pappie could be incredibly kind. True, but I do want you to know he had all the anxiety-laden foibles of survivors as well. He could find fault with little things, “Why is this A- not an A? Would you help me?..” and we would tie down a sailboat to our trailer, that needed no more tie-downs. Oh, ugh, that thoroughness. He had a temper, yes he did…

    But, today is my day to commemorate his kindness, which was always there. Thank you Pappie, and thank you God, for giving me a great Dad.

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