|On Sunday, May 25, 1997, I walked the stage at the Warner Theater in downtown Erie, PA to accept my diploma from Mercyhurst College.
It devoted four years to studying, practicums and student teaching experiences to earn this educational reward.
It was worth it.
What I didn’t realize was that within 24 hours from this monumental rite of passage, I’d be earning another honorary degree–one that can only be learned through life experience. (I believe I’ve earned multiple PhD’s in several life experience areas. #allthingsworktogetherformygood)
In a nutshell, here’s how the next 24 hours went down, sunshine.
After the formal pomp and circumstance and our parents left campus, my classmates and I celebrated.
Early the next morning, my roommate, Kelly, tried to awaken me; my brother was on the house phone. (It was 1997–pre-cell phone era, y’all.)
I was passed out cold.
Truly it may have been easier (and safer) for her to take away a bottle from a hungry baby.
I told her to have him call me later.
He told her it was urgent, and he had to talk to me.
I stumbled to the phone, still buzzed from the case of beer I downed the night before.
“You need to come home.”
He explained that Emery, my stepdad and the man who raised me from the time I was 8 years old, was in the hospital. He needed to get ahold of my mom who went on to Buffalo after graduation for my cousin’s First Holy Communion.
“Fran, you need to get home.”
I told him where to find our Buffalo cousin Ethyl’s phone number and that I’d be home later that day once I sobered up and we knew more about his condition.
Emery had a history of heart problems and even had several mini heart attacks.
“B, I’ll be home later today.”
“No, you need to come home now, Fran. He’s gone.”
“Emery died last night.”
In disbelief, I yelled some un-Christian-like words and phrases and hung up on my brother, the misfortunate messenger. (Sidenote: My poor brother called me 2 years, 2 months, and 2 days previously as the bearer of the news that my biological father died.)
I sobered up instantly.
My 21-year-old-selfish-self questioned, “Why me? Why does this stuff always happen to me?”
Nearly sunrise, all of my roommates were up, attempting to soothe the screaming baby. Unsuccessfully, they sat and watched me wail and rage, darting glances back and forth at one another hoping that someone would be able to say or do something to help me regain composure. (For the record–the last I heard, colleges don’t teach strategies to deal with psycho-roomates-in-crisis.)
The next several hours were a whirlwind.
I was planning on staying at school through the week, so none of my belongings were packed. My roommates began shoving books, clothes, and household items I’d acquired in black drawstring garbage bags.
Graciously, my roommates caravanned me home where I met my grieving family. We were pros at dealing with adversity so we immediately reverted to triage mode.
Over the next several days, my family rallied together.
Hundreds of people visited, delivered food, and attended the services. We mourned in black and ate lots of pasta while my Uncle Frank got tanked and played the accordion. Gotta love an Italian family.
But there were so many questions that day and over the next several, yet very few answers. The story we were told was that Emery went fishing and someone found him. An avid fishermen, we joked at least he died doing something he loved.
Simultaneously, members of Emery’s family were in “protection” mode.
I won’t get into all of the details here in fear you may contact Jerry Springer with a lead for future guests on his show, but Emery’s sons were alerted by the medical authorities and covered up many key parts of the story.
Six months later, January 16, 1998, the truth was revealed.
My mom, a beautician, found out from a lady at the salon that Emery had been having an affair. It was a secret affair that supposedly many people in our small town knew about, yet our entire family seemed to know nothing about.
He died at her house the night of May 25, 1997.
The picture was becoming clearer now.
The address where they found the car.
The medical records.
The coroner’s report.
The fact that there was no fishing pole in his car.
So much made sense now, yet a whole new cocktail of emotions stirred. Instead of grief, I felt anger. Betrayal. Frustration. Rage.
How it all played out and my reaction are details for another day (it involves me confronting the mistress), but the whole point of me sharing this memory is to let you know that grace wins every time.
After all of the heartache, pain, and sadness surrounding this sobering life event, I have forgiven Emery.
I have even forgiven “her.”
I have forgiven my stepbrothers for lying.
There have been so many opportunities for grace, love, and forgiveness over the years. I am so blessed that God has relentlessly pursued me to heal the hurt that this situation caused my mom, my family and me.
Over the last few decades, many lessons have come from this, and perhaps I’ll write about those another day, too, but one of the most poignant is that things happen not to you, but for you.
I pray that something in this message speaks to you or someone you know, sunshine. Perhaps there’s been a death or an affair or a betrayal. Or perhaps an unfortunate life circumstance that you are struggling to let go.
Ask God to reveal not why this happened to you, but what He wants you to know.