my journey with truth

Archive for the ‘death’ Category

A long time ago, I lied to my Aunt Judy.

I thought I was doing something right in one sense, that it would save my life, in fact.  But in the end, it was an incredibly destructive lie.

I was about 7 years old.  And I told Aunt Judy that I couldn’t spend the night at her house because my mom said so.  It was just like what you had to say to friends who invite you over sometimes, it made sense to me.  Also, it was as simple as this: Mom’s word is final in all things (right?) so if I tell Aunt Judy that Mom said so, there is no room for argument.

Here’s the thing – Aunt Judy believed me.  And the other thing is that my mom never said I couldn’t go over to Aunt Judy’s house.  And beyond that, the problem is that my Aunt Judy and my mom have had relationship rifts in their lives, like sisters do, and without being an expert on their relationship (only they are) I am still pretty sure that my lie aggravated some of those rifts.  I did damage that day.  All on my own with my (big) little lie.

You see, Aunt Judy smoked.*  And I had seen all the films at school that documented the damage that happens to your lungs, turning them black like tar, giving you cancer, sometimes making your gums and tongue basically rot.  It was the high age of public service announcements and public health initiatives regarding second-hand smoke as well, and I got a full education between public school and the Public Broadcasting Service after-school programming.  I was absolutely convinced, sure to my core, certain in my heart of hearts that spending time at Aunt Judy’s house was going to kill me.

I’m not kidding.  I held my breath around her for as long as I could when she had a lit cigarette, taking in as few breaths as possible.  I would fret during the nights leading up to planned overnight visits, losing sleep in anticipation of losing my life.  I would sometimes even build myself up to have ‘the talk’ with Aunt Judy.  Instead of the wise and experienced adult explaining the birds and the bees, it would be the passionate and panicked child explaining the smoke and the sudden death.  But I never did have the talk with her for real.  The few times I brought up quitting, she quickly dismissed them.  I drew on facts and figures regarding her healthful prospects, but she would talk around them, assert her autonomy of choice mostly from what I recall.  I never just told her the truth.  I never said, “Aunt Judy, when you smoke, you’re killing me.”  Which, seven years old and weighed down with anxiety, was true in more than one way.

Instead, I lied – I said, “My mom won’t let me sleep over at your house.”  And even though my older sister (who may have had even deeper fears and anxieties in our childhood) and I spent many more nights over at Aunt Judy’s, she has always held onto that lie I gave her.  I can’t blame her for holding onto it, not only because I was the perpetrator of the lie.  Laying down a mother’s law like that was a much bigger deal than I understood at the time.

I never just told her the truth, though it’s true that smoking and second-hand smoke is bad.  It’s true your lungs really do turn black like tar, lung cancer is fast and furious in its destruction, and your mouth and all that is in it comprises the front line in a terrible war.  The truth really is that smoking is bad, and it will rapidly accelerate your death.  That is all truth.  And the truth was that I didn’t want to go over to Aunt Judy’s house.

Instead of telling the truth, I lied.  Ironically, that lie has worked its way into my familial ties like a cancer.

*I should say that my Aunt Judy gave up smoking a couple years ago.  While it’s exciting that I don’t ever hold my breath at Aunt Judy’s house anymore, it’s way more exciting that she has chosen this other life.  Also, the picture below is my mom and my Aunt Judy bonding over ebay.


Dear Diary,

How are you?  I’m fine.  I turned 12 yesterday.  Today we got out of school for Winter Break.  I can’t wait to sleep in.  Christmas Day is only 5 days away (not including today or Christmas day).  I don’t have any presents for anyone yet!  Today at school we basically watched movies.  It was fun.  In choir I went through the halls caroling.  Right now I’m babysitting Joshua Allred at home.  This is the first time that I’ve been completely by myself with the kid.  Tomorrow I’m going to have a party.  So far Kelly, Sarah, Katie, and Lindsay are coming.  Rachel R. probably is.  Josh & I are watching Robin Hood (cartoon) and already have watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  We got the Christmas tree day before yesterday.  We only have lights on it.


Alright, alright.  I’ll confess: the reason I had to clarify that we were watching the Disney cartoon version of Robin Hood is that I have an unnatural affection for the Kevin Costner version – or, more importantly and it makes me feel justified, the Morgan Freeman, Alan Rickman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and Geraldine McEwan (though I was kind of always scared of the witch scenes and she’s really above a role like that if you see any of her BBC stuff) version.  I also just generally seem to have an unnatural affection for the Robin Hood story in general because I not only know all the words to the cartoon version (we happened to watch it nearly every other day during quiet time at my favorite day care when I was little) and used to quote it all the time, but I secretly liked the new Scott/Crowe/Blanchett version, too.  And I read the big ol’ book from the classics for children series back in the day.  Maybe it explains my affinity for green and hats.  I’ve also thought it generated an early exercise in feminism and equality for me in that I was the only girl at day care who ever wanted to play pretend as Robin Hood and not Maid Marian.  Some would call it being a tomboy, I like to think I was progressive.

But besides what the part about Robin Hood reveals in this entry, the thing that stopped me cold while re-reading this entry was the mention of Josh Allred.  I used to watch Josh every week up at the church while his parents were in my parents’ Disciple Bible Study class.  He was pretty much my first kid in a long babysitting career.  I was 11 when I first watched him, and we were set up in a nursery room just one flight of stairs away from his parents’ class.  I was trusted, but I was also relieved to know that help wasn’t very far away if anything went wrong.  Josh was 3 when we first met and full of questions and cuteness.  It probably was a pretty big deal for me to be “completely by myself with the kid” at the ripe age of 12 and 1 day.

The reason my breath catches, though, even though I’ve reread this entry a couple times in the past week, is that Josh’s dad, Jim, died when I was 16.  When Jim was 54.  When Josh was 9.  When Cara, who wasn’t even born at the time of this diary entry, was 4.  And when Cheryl, Jim’s wife and Josh and Cara’s mom, was 34.  I have experienced many deaths in the Church.  I have experienced funerals for friends both very old and very young, and funerals for strangers (it comes with the territory of being two pastors’ kid).  I have grieved many times.  I had even grieved grandparents’ deaths at the point of Jim’s death.  But losing Jim so suddenly was an experience of irrational, egregious, foundation-shattering, deep-dark grief.

You have to understand – Jim was the nicest person in the whole wide world.  Warm.  Good to his core.  Worked so very hard.  Used his head and hands and strength.  LOVED his kids.  Cherished his wife.  He was a country-guy, a good ol’ boy in the real sense of being good and boy-like somehow even with gray hair.  He was a dear friend.  He was a brother to many people with whom he didn’t share blood.  He was a brother in Christ.  And he died of a heart attack one night.  It was very hard to reconcile that many of the men from his Sunday School class, the brothers he left behind, could possibly be gone just as quickly, with children just as young, with lives so full of love spent and love yet to give.  Jim was a first adult-grieving of sorts, and the beginning of a real fear of loss.  I stood at his graveside ceremony looking at the faces around and thinking, “How can I ever go through this again?”

If I’m honest, I’m still scared of the day my own father will die.  I’m scared of the grief that will mean.  I’m scared of having love yet to be given.  I miss Jim.  I miss babysitting Josh (who just left for his first year of college!).  I miss all those men from Jim’s Sunday School class who have been fatherly for me, too, but who I hardly ever get to see and likely still won’t even when I’m finally through with school and back in Texas for the long-term.  And if I’m really honest, I miss the good ol’ days of playing Robin Hood on the playground, too.


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  • myjourneywithtruth: i had it in my office at my internship in Corpus Christi two summers ago. ellen davis is brilliant and glows with an aura of holy.
  • amy h: i love this quote. i think i may need it hanging on my wall where i'll see it daily. perhaps in front of the toilet? by the door? bedside table? i'll
  • chaz: That post made me really sad too. Mostly because I want to take young Lizzie by the shoulders and shake her (gently?) into sublime realization that sh