Ask the Woman Next to You

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(c) Can Stock Photo / razyphoto

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but the people who experience it want you to be aware of it all of the time.

My first personal experience with a victim of domestic abuse was in my early twenties. I met a stunning woman who worked at my office and we became friends. Betty (not her real name) had dark hair worn full and glossy to her shoulders, porcelain skin, beautiful dark blue eyes, and a slender, feminine figure. We were talking one day and I expressed admiration at how lovely she was. She looked at me with a strange grimace on her face and said, “I didn’t always look like this.”

I laughed and said, “What, a little gilding on the lily?” She grew very quiet and pensive and I suddenly realized this was hard for her. I quickly assured her I didn’t mean to pry and she said, “No, you are a friend,” and she told me her story.

She married young to a man who was ten years older. Although she had no idea at the time that this was not the usual way to express love, he spent the next five years of their marriage isolating and tearing her down through emotional abuse. By the time they had a child, the abuse had become physical, but she was afraid to leave because he told her he would kill her if she ever left him and she believed him.

One night when her son was about four, the physical abuse affected him as well and she finally fought back. She never had before and she said, “It was like it was what he had been waiting for.”

He beat her until she was nearly unconscious and then when she came back to consciousness, he started again. A neighbor called in the disturbance and when the police came and saw the pitiful wreck he had left of her on the floor of their living room, they arrested her husband and called an ambulance for her. Their son was a few feet away, screaming and crying as he hid behind the couch.

Her husband had fractured her jaw, her orbital sockets on both eyes, broken several of her ribs, her collarbone, two bones in her arm and had punched her so hard in the mouth that most of the upper teeth were dislodged. Her sight would forever be compromised in one eye and the months of surgery it took to restore her to functionality were only eclipsed by the years of surgeries she would require to recover her appearance.

He served three years of a ten-year sentence and then began trying to find her.

She changed her name, her occupation, her appearance, protected her son any way she could and avoided public photography of any kind…just in case.

Betty told me this story, mostly with her head down, as if she was afraid to meet my eyes and see some kind of condemnation there. I learned later from my friends at Texas Advocacy Project and Survive2Thrive that this is not uncommon.

Many people don’t understand how fear of the unknown (loss of security, income, support for children, even access to a car) can be more frightening than violence or abuse.

The fear of the known…”He will kill me and my children if I try to leave,” is even worse. Women who have not experienced violence or abuse often think it is because they are smarter, stronger, or more informed and that this somehow shields them. They don’t understand why an abused woman would stay with her abuser or how she could even be attracted to him. They also don’t realize that abusive relationship patterns surface as early as high school.

I assure you, it can happen to anyone.  It can happen to me, to you, your sister, your mother, your daughter…anyone.  Just ask the woman next to you. Odds are that one in four women will experience abuse or assault, (sexual, emotional, physical) in her lifetime.

Learn more, get involved, talk about dating and domestic abuse openly with your children (Particularly as they become teens and don’t think this is just a woman’s issue – men can be abused as well!), and doing something to help where you can.

The odds are just too high for us to ignore.

 

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The Best Labor Day Present

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(c) Can Stock Photo / rogistok

My husband’s birthday often falls on Labor Day (although this year it is after the holiday) and the family lovingly teases his mom about “really celebrating Labor Day right!” She has nodded and smiled ruefully over the years, looking with pride at the three wonderful children she brought into the world. She devoted a good portion of her life to being their primary caregiver.

Dad Rourke was an extroverted sales and marketing guy with a great math mind and a way that made everyone around him feel lucky to be there. He always knew that he couldn’t have done what he did without a strong woman to support him and he loved his wife fiercely. His insurance business brought travel and frequent moves for the family, and she was the glue that held it all together.

His success was hers, as well and she took pride in always being his loving, impeccably groomed, and incredibly organized partner. They were our role models in how to make a strong marriage last and they enjoyed over 50 years of happiness.

Rourke 50th Portrait

50th Anniversary Portrait by Sharon Roy Finch

Dad Rourke passed away in 2010, and Mom has resented not going with him sooner as she approaches 93 and is losing much of her independence to age and senility. Over the thirty plus years I have been married to her only son, every once in a while, I have sent her a thank you card on his birthday for giving me and the world such a gift.

This year, I sent it early. I wanted to be sure she would still be able to read it and know, perhaps for the last time, how special she is and how grateful I am to her for all she has done for us.

When we celebrate Labor Day, I know it is primarily to honor the working men and women of industry and commerce, but I submit to you that without the historic and heroic labor of women in the home, whether while giving birth or nurturing, educating, developing and loving these children as they grow, there would be no Labor Day to celebrate.

Happy Labor Day, Mom Rourke. You did a fabulous job and always made it look classy, coordinated, and effortless. As Bob Thaves so famously quipped about the great Ginger Rogers, “Backwards and in high heels,” right?

 

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A Legacy of Pearls

This is a story of pearls.

When I was in my late twenties, a friend I worked with got an opportunity to go to China. This was not a usual occurrence at that time, and she asked me if I would like her to pick up some pearls while she was there.

“How much are they?” I asked. She wasn’t sure but she thought she could get me a really good strand for $500 or so. I told her I really loved the baroque style of pearls and a pink hue would be awesome.

“Baroque, huh?” she said, “Well, then maybe $400.” Done!

The pearls and 80’s hair – always a classic combination!

She brought back a strand of the most beautiful, lustrous, and baroque pearls and it was long enough to drape around my neck twice over. I wore them frequently, with business suits, dress up, whatever!

Then Dan and I got engaged and I decided I would like to wear them on my wedding day. My mother had done some jewelry making in the late 70s and had ground a large, oval opal herself and gave it to me as a birthday present. My husband and I discussed it and decided to have the jeweler who was creating our custom wedding rings look at it and see if he could create a strand enhancer for my Chinese pearls that would protect the opal and coordinate with the calla lily theme that was emerging from my engagement ring design and the pearl and gold earrings Dan was having made for me. Brian was up to the challenge and created a gold and pave diamond enhancer that was perfect!

Decades went by, and our older daughter was graduating from college. I had an inspiration that led me to have my pearls restrung, holding out two of the most perfect for Brian to make into earrings as her graduation present. They turned out great!

In 2017, our younger daughter got engaged and I was again inspired to take two more pearls from my string to create her wedding earrings. She had an elaborate gown and the simple, shining pearls at her ears were a lovely accent for her special day.

Our older daughter then got engaged and I thought again about those pearls. She had the earrings from her college graduation, but since she had chosen a very simple gown for her Spring 2018 wedding, would a matching necklace work?

It would, and while we were at it, I asked Brian Hoover of Avant Garde Jewelers (Still our jeweler thirty plus years later and the source of our older daughter’s engagement ring!) to look at my wedding necklace one more time and see if he could mount the opal on two single strands of pearls with a simple clasp. My plan was to wear my wedding jewelry for my daughters’ weddings and with the successive gifts of pearls, it was no longer as comfortable as a strand enhancer. Brian was up to the challenge, and there were enough pearls left over with the change to make a simple bracelet of them, as well. It was a lovely memory for me and a meaningful way to share the pearls along with my wishes for happiness in both of their marriages.

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My wedding, Dani’s wedding, Devin’s wedding…and the pearls continue! Photography by Wayne Long, Teale Photography, and Amanda Pomilla Photography.

My hope is that these will be heirlooms they will treasure and pass on to their daughters or granddaughters.

This is how legacy works, right?

You invest time, talent and treasure in something you feel passionate about. You pass that on and they pass that on, and someday many decades from now, a square-chinned young woman with bright eyes and a blinding smile may be touched when she wears these old and treasured pearls that the women in her family wore on their wedding days. I do love that image and perhaps she will wear them for her wedding and continue the chain of wonderful marriages. You never know!

Here’s to heirlooms and may they travel down the ages, bringing delight and memories of time past into the future.

 

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Do Gerbils Go to Heaven?

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(c) Can Stock Photo / zsv3207

Our Pastor told a story in his recent sermon, and in it, a little boy’s hamster had died and he asked his father (a fellow Pastor) if “Timmy” had gone to heaven. The boy was told in no uncertain terms by his father that nothing that has not professed faith in Jesus Christ shall enter the gates of heaven. I am paraphrasing, but you get the gist.

We were all a bit appalled to hear that blunt and dismissive statement from a father to a grieving son, and our Pastor said that he took the little boy aside on his way out and told him that Timmy sounded like a great hamster and he was sure that he was now playing in heaven.

Sounds like a platitude, doesn’t it? Continue reading

A “Dad-Shaped Hole” in My Heart

Father’s Day approaches, and although I rejoice in the wonderful Dad that my daughters have, I take no such joy in my own.

He was an unsolvable mystery to me. He married my mother when she was seventeen and they had me when she was nearly nineteen. My only impressions of him as I grew up came from family members who shared stories of his selfish, immature treatment of Mom during their short marriage. He seemed unable to connect emotionally with others, and from an adult perspective, I wonder if he may have been somewhere on the autism spectrum.

Soon after my birth, my mother divorced him and married her next husband. He was the one I would think of as “Dad” until that marriage dissolved when I was about six or seven years old.

My father checked back in briefly when I was fifteen; traveling from Memphis to Tulsa to sue for my custody when my mother temporarily gave my guardianship to my manager. I was a professional singer living in Oklahoma with my manager while my family stayed in Washington.

He strode into the courtroom, acting as his own attorney, and seemed totally oblivious to the realities of the situation (no, my mother was not giving me away) or any emotions I might have about meeting him for the first time. He lost his case, but my manager graciously invited him to her home to meet with me. I sang for him for the first and last time in my life, and tears came to his eyes.

Silly me; I thought we might have connected. Continue reading