Mary Kay Jordan Fleming

Holding On for Dear Life

Dad came from a family of smokers consumed by emphysema, and now it was his turn. Barely out of my teens, even I understood there was no hope of improvement. Only death would bring relief from suffering.

Our family took turns keeping vigil at Dad’s hospital bedside, always in pairs for moral support. During each of my stays, I offered a silent prayer: Please don’t let me be here when it happens and, especially, don’t let me be alone. I was scared to death. Mostly, I was scared of death.

Single Steps

Sometimes, the answer is so small and simple it goes unnoticed at the time.

I had barely entered my twenties when my parents died, within two years of one another. Well-wishers inundated me with questions about whether I would keep the family homestead, continue my education or change jobs. Should I donate my parents’ clothing and furniture and start a new life in a smaller place? After all, the old status quo was gone, never to return.

Hidden Wounds

“Growing up in an abusive home completely changed my outlook on life. There’s no love inside the home, only fear. Eventually, the pain and fear became normal. You’re afraid of your parents but you’re also afraid of a world without them because they’re all you know. You’re anxious, depressed, even suicidal. You have no social skills. It’s a lonely world with no way to cope.”
That was the searing testimony of Wyatt, a thirty-year-old military veteran in my developmental psychology class. On the first night of class, he warned me that he might pace in the back of the room because it was difficult for him to sit still for three hours. Halfway through the course, when I assigned students to explain how child maltreatment affects the developing brain, Wyatt drew a picture with words of what it’s like to grow up without love.

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