Quite some time ago, I posted a poem written by a young girl whose life was changed forever when a trusted person in her life, chose to abuse her. The pain she lives with was evident in her words, and my heart broke for her.
Her poem resonated with many people – women in particular. I heard stories from many who described much the same type of abuse happening to them as little girls. So much pain. So much grief. So many women still carrying those open wounds of betrayal, vulnerability… and loss.
Longing for healing.
Then I heard from “Ruth”. The story she told me is so filled with hurt that I’ve struggled with just exactly how to present it. What can be gained in reading of the life of one so broken and alone?
The story has no happy ending.
It begins with emptiness… and ends in death.
Yet, through the life of “Sylvia”, Ruth and I have a hope that other victims can find healing and freedom from the pain of abuse.
Here’s Ruth (names and certain details have been changed):
In a quiet corner of my world, I read the poem, “Behind the Mask“ on Lynette’s blog.
My heart was saddened as a story played over and over within my heart; one that I wished would leave with the gentle breezes of each passing day. But it never seemed to take flight.
After reading the poem, I contacted Lynette. I shared some of my thoughts and we discussed the possibilities of telling the story you are about to read. Because I wasn’t sure that I could really do it or even wanted to, I let it rest for a period of time. My reasoning was that if it were ever told, it could bring more heartache and sorrow to families. And that is not what I wanted to happen.
After several months of resting the ‘issue’, I was surprised when Lynette contacted me asking if she had missed an email or other correspondence from me, if I had decided not to write or where I was with this story. Knowing in my heart that there are many out there carrying a heavy burden like Sylvia’s, I decided to tell our story.
This is the story of how God miraculously brought Sylvia and myself back together after many years and many miles of being far apart and what I learned about her life. It is about seeking forgiveness and redemption.
Little Girl Broken
Will the words of my friend, Sylvia, ever quit haunting me? Will I ever find the courage to tell her story? Will telling it bring me a sense of peace, knowing that I’ve finally been brave enough to delve into the abyss of the hidden secrets that many carry with them to their grave?
With gentle reassurance, I was encouraged to tell the story that has been hidden in my heart for many years. A story that I was afraid might erupt or explode out of my mouth whenever I’d hear of a similar circumstance. To protect those involved, some details have been changed. My hope is that in telling this story, other victims will gain the courage to voice their hurts and find healing.
As I tell you of my experiences, I begin by giving some of the background into her life. I think it gives perspective into the situation. In hindsight, it helped me make sense of this incredibly sad story. Sylvia was a life long friend of mine. Growing up in a rural Pennsylvania community, we attended the same church. We knew many of the same people, were involved in youth group together and later even had a job at the same location.
Sylvia was known as the life of the party at any get together. In our rather conservative church, she was also one to push the limits on the long list of rules. She had a unique and infectious laugh that made anyone around her smile and feel happy. I often said her giggle was contagious.
Sylvia was involved in many relationships when we were in the church youth group together. She was very much in love with one of the most popular guys. I thought he felt the same about her, but I have to say that the relationship came as a surprise to me. You see, though Sylvia was bubbly and outgoing, she had struggled for years with her weight. The stigma that comes with being heavy had followed her and Sylvia never seemed to be able to build friendships among the “popular” girls in both our school and our youth group.
Being rather naïve it took me some time to realize why some of these guys took her out.
When Sylvia was in her late teens, her family moved to another community and we no longer attended the same church or youth group. Sylvia eventually found another job and our lives drifted apart for a time.
After a rocky relationship in her early twenties, Sylvia moved out of state. In small communities like ours, the rumors ran wild, and my heart hurt for my friend. The move was good for Sylvia though, it seemed, and it wasn’t long before she fell in love again. An invitation arrived in the mail, and soon I was making plans to travel out west for her wedding.
Sylvia was a radiant bride on her wedding day. She had a gorgeous wedding gown and, though still a rather heavy woman, she was a beautiful bride. I was so happy for her!
Because she lived so far away, I didn’t see or hear much from Sylvia for a long time. Years passed before word reached me that Sylvia’s marriage had ended in divorce. I felt so sad for my friend as her sister described to me how Sylvia had to leave her abusive husband with the help of police protection. She had been told to have all the belongings she could carry with her, ready at the curb when the police came by to get her and take her to a woman’s shelter.
It was sometime after her first marriage fell apart that she had gastric bypass surgery in an attempt to lose weight… and she did. I remember seeing her at a class reunion and being amazed at how nice she looked. She was so proud of herself. I was happy for her! Happy that she felt good about herself and came to see all of us!
Sylvia moved again, where history repeated itself once more in her life. A wedding, an abusive marriage, and another divorce. In the end, Sylvia had a protective order in place so her ex couldn’t come near her. I never heard more about that situation, and it was then that she moved back home to our little Pennsylvania town.
The first inclination that Sylvia’s health wasn’t good came when I saw her parents at a church one day. Her Dad shared that their daughter was in the hospital and not doing well. He asked for prayers for her and the family. I rushed over to him after the service and asked for more details. The truth surprised me. Sylvia was an alcoholic.
Through the following months, Sylvia had numerous falls. After a broken neck, she spent months in a nursing home while recuperating. Not long after that, she was again hospitalized with a broken hip.
I decided to go and visit this long-lost friend, the one with the contagious laugh. I asked for her room number and headed in the direction they had pointed. I found the room, looked at the person in the bed and knew there had been a mistake. That wasn’t Sylvia. I looked at the name on the door-it was her name. I asked someone in the hall where Sylvia was. She confirmed what I didn’t believe-that was Sylvia.
I didn’t even recognize my own life long friend!
A bit taken aback but determined not to let it show, I walked into the room and cheerfully said, ‘Hi, Sylvia’. She was watching TV. Without looking at me, her immediate reply was, ‘Oh, I wish people would just leave me alone!’ I was crushed and near tears. I told her who I was and she only replied, ‘I know who you are’. Absolutely devastated, I softly told her that I was sorry and that if she didn’t want me to stay I would leave. She simply replied, “You can stay.”
Sylvia had deteriorated to what some would call ‘skin and bones’ and they would not have been exaggerating. Her face once filled out and smiling was now sunken, her chin jutting out like nothing I have ever seen or could have imagined. She was so thin and frail. I could hardly contain my sad emotions.
As I tried to visit with her that day, I soon realized this was no longer my happy-go-lucky friend - she was bitter and sad.
Sylvia was in pain and obviously uncomfortable. She complained about the staff not helping her. She was thirsty so I’d give her sips of ice water. She was not a happy camper and wanted to go home. She said so many times. After the staff came in to turn, position her and she was more comfortable, I thought perhaps I should leave so she could rest. I mentioned it but she surprised me by saying that I should stay, saying there was something she wanted to tell me. I moved my chair so we could visit, but she only continued to complain.
I tried to divert her mind from the constant complaining and her desire to go home. I told her about my family, about my extended family. I explained how I had thought of her often in life, how happy I was was to have her back home again, and that I’d like to come visit her again if that was ok with her. After her initial reaction to me, I wasn’t sure if she would want me to. Her response melted my heart. “I’d like that”.
The position change and medication finally seemed to help and she slept. I stayed by her side for about an hour, still trying to make myself believe that this was indeed Sylvia. She aroused for a bit several times, saw I was there and told me to stay, saying she wanted to tell me something, but she couldn’t stay awake long enough to tell me what it was.
And so I left, devastated, crying so hard at the obvious soul-pain my friend was carrying, that I needed to stop before I could drive home. But I was determined that I would now stand by my friend in what was obvious to me, her final days on this earth.
The next time I visited, I was surprised to find her in a wheelchair, sitting with 3 ladies in the dining room. She greeted me first by saying cheerfully, “Hi, Ruth”. I pulled up a chair and the 5 of us had a delightful visit. When it was obvious that Sylvia was not able to feed herself, I fed her. She was a bit chagrined to need my help but I brushed it off. The ladies were pleased, telling me they had never seen her eat that much. She only had her liquids, a few bites of her hot food and all of her ice cream. That was the best and would be the last good time I had with her. I’ve often thanked God for that day! When I went the next time and every visit later, she was no longer able to be out of bed and her demeanor had changed considerably.
On my third visit, I walked toward the hall where her room was. I could hear someone crying quite loudly. I felt sorry for whoever was in such distress. And then I realized it was Sylvia crying. But why was she saying what she was and why so loudly? She seemed glad I was there and we visited.
She again told me she wanted to tell me something, but never seemed able to do so. She was not always as alert, but it didn’t keep her from crying out. I would try to talk about the pleasantries of life but to no avail. She would return to the phrases that still haunt me.
“Don’t do that. Daddy, stop!
Daddy, please stop!”
I refused to acknowledge the meaning of her words, until one day when a mutual friend joined me in visiting Sylvia, she confirmed the truth to my worst thoughts and fears. In her final days, Sylvia was reliving some of her childhood experiences.
“Daddy, please stop.
Daddy, don’t! It hurts.”
To say my heart sank to the lowest level possible is an understatement. In a matter of minutes, I had every emotion possible - hate, pity, disbelief, disgust and honest sadness. I became almost physically sick. How could this happen - and why did it happen to my friend?
I continued to visit. I was now on a mission to make Sylvia’s final days a bit more comfortable. Yet, I’m not sure I always did. The crying never stopped.
And as her condition weakened, her words became nothing but a whisper and I can still hear her voice painfully, often moaning and groaning the words as if she was being hurt.
“Daddy, please stop.
Daddy, please don’t do it.
Daddy, it hurts.
Don’t do that. Daddy, stop!
Daddy, please stop.
It was a warm summer day when I received the call. Sylvia had passed. I stood in my front yard and stared unseeing at the world outside.
A hint of yellow caught my attention and I noticed with much chagrin that I had driven too closely to a favored yellow rose bush. There in the dirt lay a broken rose, with the tell tale signs of tread marks slashed across it’s petals.
It was crushed.
It’s death… too soon.
Tears slid down my face as I recognized how much Sylvia’s life reflected the existence of this delicate rose. Hers had been a life with so much beauty and joy to give yet she had been tamped down time and again by those stronger than herself… and now she was gone.
It angered me that the abuse that defined Sylvia’s childhood, had now defined her death.
And now, it was too late. Abuse… it had won.
All that remained was the memory of a wasted life.
Like broken petals on the ground.
Sylvia’s story is disturbing in that there is no happy ending. Yet, the sad reality is just that… it is reality. Ruth went on to write about the masks that so many of us wear, longing to hide the pain of abuse in our own lives, and I heard in her words a longing to be the voice for Sylvia. To invite us to find healing for the little girl hidden behind those masks.
There are no easy answers when it comes to the abused… or the abuser. But there is one thing I know.
You can be redeemed!
With God, there are no second-class citizens. He even says so in Isaiah 56:
Salvation is just around the corner,
My setting-things-right is about to go into action.
How blessed are you who enter into these things…
Make sure no outsider who now follows God
Ever has occasion to say,
‘God put me in second-class.
I don’t really belong.’
And make sure no physically mutilated person
Is ever made to think,
‘I’m damaged goods...
I don’t really belong.’”
For God says:
“To the mutilated who keep my Sabbaths,
And choose what delights Me
And keep a firm grip on My covenant,
I’ll provide them an honored place
In My family and within My city,
Even more honored than that of sons and daughters,
I’ll [bestow] permanent honors on them
That will never be revoked.
And in Jeremiah 31, He says:
“They found grace out in the desert, (where is your desert?)
These people who survived the killing. (Who crushed your soul?)
Israel, out looking for a place to rest, (Are you searching for rest?)
Met God out looking for them!” (He’s looking for you!)
God told them, (and now He tells you)
“I’ve never quit loving you and never will.
Expect love, love, and more love!
And so now I’ll start over with you
And build you up again.
If your life is much like the life of Sylvia, there is hope. Don’t let another day pass by without finding freedom from the chains of shame, bitterness and pain that have you bound. Life is too short to live with such misery.
Reach out to the One who created you for a life of peace, joy and meaning… a life meant to bring glory to Him! He can restore beauty from the ashes of your life. And He loves you enough to do it.
No matter what the world may tell you, remember this:
You are worth redeeming.
You are worth redeeming.
You are worth redeeming.
Friend, I will never pretend to understand all that abuse does to a person, but I can declare with great certainty that God wants more than pain and sorrow to be what defines your life. If you are hurting in any way, and can relate to the life Sylvia lived, please contact me (or a trusted friend). I would love to pray for you and help you find peace. Your prayer requests will remain confidential.
Step out of your boat of your past, and discover the beautiful future God has for you!