Closing my eyes, I can still picture those mountains in my mind.
The memories are beginning to blur and fade a bit now and those once-vivid colors are slowly giving way to a more tinty, Polaroid hue. They float there sometimes… just out of reach but somehow… still, the heart-shapes remain the same.
Sometimes even the pain doesn’t seem as black as it was. Although every now and then, something scrapes and pricks my heart just enough to sharpen the view again. My throat catches and pulse quickens just moments before my mind has a chance to kick in and remember; that was then–this is now, Jesus is here.
Oh, but it wasn’t all bad
growing up in those mountains.
Those were the days when our little band of neighborhood ragamuffins ran wild and free around those hills. Days when our weary mothers sent us outside to play never worrying where we’d roamed until sundown. When there was nothing worse than getting stuck inside doing chores all day. So we’d pack a loose lunch and set out ….
Our trailer park was carved into the side of the Appalachian mountains where two tiers of abandoned railroad tracks sliced through the ridges above. The first had been plucked up and was a wide dirty swath, overgrown, shady and cool. Known as the “motorcycle” trail, off-road bikes could be heard or seen screaming through the woods at any given point in time. Here, it was a true treasure to find an rusty railroad spike to add to your collection.
The second set of tracks was higher along the ridge and much harder to get to. I can only recall a handful of times we ever attempted the climb, but the view was very much worth the effort.
We saw deer tracks, raccoon tracks and the occasional bear track. We dined like royalty in fields of wild mountain blueberries and strawberries. We chased down crawfish and drank water from the icy cold stream filtering through those mountain heights.
It’s a wonder nobody got sick or killed. Not once can I recall an adult in our presence as we wandered and roamed those hills like a band of homeless gypsies. We climbed high, built forts and took chances. We got dirty…really, really dirty. And we never got hurt… much.
I’m not sure who saw it first, much less who actually put the thing there, but I’ll never forget the day we stumbled across….
The Swing was just epic. I mean..Eh-PIC.
The longest rope we’d ever seen and looped at the bottom was tied, tacked and taped to a limb on the biggest tree we’d ever seen. Of course…we were kids so everything was huge-normous back then but people, this thing really was the. bomb.
To ride, you’d have to climb up the ridge where a waiting (and trusted!) friend would hold the loop open for you to get a grip on the rope and your foot “set”. Then
You’d swing waaaaay out over the rocks and into a wide open area overlooking the ridges and valley below. Man. We were stinkin FEARLESS! It was exhilarating!
The trick of The Swing was to make it out and back a few times on the momentum from that first push. Right about the time you were running out of steam, a friend would “catch” you and take the rope so you could hop off and help them take a turn.
Cool under it’s shady forest umbrella, The Swing became the place for quite a while that summer and probably through the next. After exhausting our imaginations and energies through highly-competitive games of Four Square, Elimination, Rumikub and role-play of “Space 1999”, we’d eventually find our way back out to The Swing.
Fourth grade? Fifth? Gosh we weren’t that old….ranging from 10 to 13, with the occasional straggler of a younger sibling in tow.
That’s what it must have been on the day my brother joined us. Two years younger than me, certainly not much bigger– I only remember he was there. I’d just landed back on the rocky ridge and now it was his turn. Dutifully, I held open the loop for his foot as he struggled to get a grip on the rope. He had to hop a bit to reach and grab on tightly.
What happened next seemed as endless as it is timeless. In one sharp second the loop, heavy with the gravity of his weight, trapped my hands around his foot as he pushed off. Sailing across the ridge, I dragged behind, my belly and torso slamming into and scraping along every rock in our path.
I… couldn’t see.
I couldn’t…. breathe.
I couldn’t make…. a sound.
Coming to a stop, he jumped off, releasing my hands and stood staring down at me. I just lay there for.. oh probably forever and a half a day more. Shock. I’m sure I was in shock.
I know he didn’t mean to.
I didn’t mean to either.
When I was finally able to catch my breath, get up and walk home… I…don’t remember what happened next. Bandaids? Mercurochrome? Bruising? Probably all that and then some.
Of course…things have a way of changing even before you’re ready. Beyond that day I can’t recall many more afternoons spent at The Swing. I know we moved not long after that and well, life kept moving too.
A few weeks ago, I had the chance to share a meal around a table with folks from many walks of life. The young man sitting across from me had recently hiked the entire Appalachian Trail and of course, I recalled my time in those mountains of New Jersey. This story rose straight to the surface.
As I shared, all the while in the back of my mind, I was thinking of my brother. I was thinking about where he was then and how much hard time had passed around and between us.
We were still as close as I could afford or allow. Depending on his current mood or state of affairs, we might connect several times a week. Then would come the times when he’d turn dark. Darker than I or anyone else could handle with angry, accusatory words and threats of violence against himself and others.
Unfortunately, so many painful memories from that deeply dark and dysfunctional childhood we had shared had taken root and embittered his soul. An injury at work was combined with several bad personal choices, which continued to be heavily marinated in alcohol, only deepening his misery and widening the gap between himself and anyone who dared to come near or tried to help.
During his dark and hateful moments, choices often had to be made, which sometimes meant closing off communications for a time. Never permanently, but always and only just to have time to catch your breath from the last bruising.
It was necessary to say “enough” for your own sake.. and for his.
It was necessary to say, ” No. I am not going to hold this loop open for you because I am not going to allow you to drag me across those rocks again. I will not be abused.”
It was our choice.
I know he didn’t mean to hurt me. I didn’t want to hurt him either. I truly, truly loved him and I believe he loved me too, right up until the very end. I have to believe he knew.
I have to.
In the end, the choice he made to end his life was the culmination of several years of failed attempts. Many heard his cry for help and did whatever they could to help. He was a sweet man at heart with a soft spot for animals and the weak and defenseless. He wanted to play the hero in everyone else’s story but he could never be the hero of his own.
I will miss him.
I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only one out here traveling these sometimes hazy roads. Some reading are currently in these types of difficult relationships. Some have difficult days and decisions ahead. Some are struggling with the pain of regret and wonder…. “if only”.
Dear friend…if this is you…if you are hurting too, please let me know so we can walk this thing together with Jesus’ help. He is willing, waiting and near..trust me, I know.
Jesus is the hero of my story and he’s the hero of this one too. Let him be the hero of yours.
27 thoughts on “when holding on seems like letting go”
I know this is a year later, but your post is so powerful and brings many memories back to me. Our son has gone through the dark valleys, many times self-destructive. He was intelligent beyond his years, very talented, but wasted since the age of 14.
We have seen him only once in 17 years (seven years ago). He will soon turn 45, if he is still alive. We pray for him, and our one desire is that Jesus will find him in one of those dark valleys.
Thanks for opening your heart in this way.
Oh Rich. Please hug your wife for me. You are one of the reasons I continue to allow God to search my soul and pull these painful things into His order and perspective. Because in the strong hands of our Redeemer, NOTHING is ever wasted. It’s a different economy with a price tag so far beyond our ability to comprehend. Thank you for sharing this with me and I pray that your prayers… your sweet, wrestling prayers, will be answered soon. I am happy to call you Brother.
While you grieve, in the loss, He is there. The beautiful part of words that become His…the end of the story when the scars are a testimony to healing. Praying for your heart.
Oh Katherine.. thank you. Yes, the memories and wounds have been nicked again but the realities are still the same and God is forever good and gracious. I hold on to THAT truth… right next to you. Love you Lady.
Loretta, your gift of words so beautifully woven into your childhood stories is a blessing. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from your story. You carried me up the mountain and out on the swing. And yes, through the grieving. I am so sorry for the sad loss of your brother. So hard to feel the life and emotions churning through another’s mind and soul. Only God, Himself, can truly understand. Praying for you. Grateful for he Lord’s healing in your life and how He will use this to minister to others.
Thank you for hearing and listening and reading with your heart here. My goal, is always to tell the stories for the purpose of Ultimate redemption… the pain is real but so is the love. Thank you for realizing this and for your prayer of peace. Back atcha! 🙂
Through dysfunction and just growing up your childhood in the mountains was harmless at best, except that moment when the swing took it’s toll. Your brother may have carried guilt from your hurt, but all in all it was the hurts of life that got to him. I am sorry he took the way he did to go, but it was his choice. There are so many we try to help but the final decision is up to the person to choose which path to take. I am happy you chose to take the Path of Jesus the Good shepherd. Thank you for sharing your story with us here at “Tell Me a Story.”
Your response to Stacey- “It’s probably always going to sting.” hit me between the eyes- It always when the person in my situation was alive. But God filled the wounds and calmed the nerves and as time passed allowed those wounds to turn to scars- I came through the wounding, and looking back I know that it was part of what formed His purpose for me. May He comfort as only He can.
Yes Nancy. You are right. I know with time, the sharpness of the pain will ease off a bit and maybe only “visit” on occasion. Every day I find another reason to be and live comforted. Honestly…your friendship has given me one more.
I resonate with so much here. The childhood memories are so similar to mine. Much was painful, confusing and overwhelming, but simultaneously we ran carefree and explored in the Ohio valleys and I loved every bit of those “Boxcar Child” moments. I love a person who lived on the cusp of danger and has a heart so battered and bitter. We walk tenuous lines in those relationships and must pull back when flames are high. Though I grieve what could be if all were whole and she loved God, He has enriched my life, redeemed more than what He ought and made my cup overflow. Most days my eyes are on all that abundant goodness … because my healing has made wide spaces to open to more of Him, more of who He made me to be and to all the blessings of what He is doing. I echo the feelings of others here. I feel your loss with you. Praying and knowing that the God of all comfort will comfort you as only He can and is. Thank you for sharing each inch of what you shared here.
Grateful to call you sister ~ Patty
You know Patty, one of the great gifts of grace to me during this time in my life is that I am not having to walk any of this alone. There is no “normal” or precedent of common behavior for much of anything in my family history. Christianity is a foreign concept and the way to grieve properly…as one with Hope…is non-issue. God has made me the trail blazer here. I can bear it because in those places where there have been significant lacks or voids, He’s filled them with Himself..and topped it off with the earnest blessings of fellow brothers and sisters who “get it” and I don’t need to explain or excuse the weirdness of it all. THAT, all by itself is a GREAT gift. I’m grateful for you as well. I look forward to the day when we can share time in real life. Blessings!
Loretta-this is just such beautiful writing. I loved reading about your childhood in the mountains… and the imagery from your childhood that you used to connect to your pain and your relationship with your brother… this lit nerd rejoices at the art of it.
I am sorry for your loss. Praying for you XO
From one Lit nerd to another; thank you. I can never wonder at God’s goodness when I can so clearly see and feel so much that He is redeeming. I’m glad you popped up over here– I’ve been wondering about you and where you’ve gone. Thanks for coming here today and for carrying a piece of my story away with you. That’s what I really want. That’s what really helps. Bless you.
There are no words…beautiful post Lorretta! My heart just aches for you in your loss. Praying for you sweet friend!
I gladly, gladly accept those prayers. There’s no easy way to do this or most anything else in life. I’m simply grateful to have a place to pour and people who pour back. Your heart is a gracious gift. Bless you Gay.
Hey there buddy, I am very sorry for your loss. I share a lot in common with my brother as you did yours. He swings over the precarious chasm of life on a very fragile rope and seemingly has no desire to change. I love him but I have to love him at a distance much like you did your brother. I know so much how you feel right now but as you know the Spirit makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be articulated. He sees you, He feels you, He knows and loves you.
Indeed he does. I hope and pray that you can always find your way to that path of peace with your brother. Distance is a kind friend at times. I think I’m grieving most what never was and now…what never will be. I give that to God too.
Lorretta, thank you for sharing such a private, painful part of your heart and life. May God comfort your heart and envelop you in His peace.
Thanks Deb. And He is. I know my Redeemer lives…and now, I pray only that He can take these words and carry them to the next one who needs to know that too. Love ya Deb!
Sweet friend. ((hugs)) I can only understand as much as I can, but know I am praying for you and lifting you up. I have one of those relationships, but I know it is its own and I don’t compare. I just see it in your story, and I’m sorry. I know what it’s like to wish it was different.
Oh Stacey… please own as much or as little of this story as you need. It’s not MINE anymore–it’s God’s and I want it to be used to heal. There’s so much hurt out there as people struggle with these difficult relationships. I don’t have the answer…. it’s probably always going to sting. But I know God can heal.. and will. Bless you.
This is beautiful Lorretta. I’m so, so sorry for your loss. Praying for you and your family. So like God that you can use the gift of words He’s given you to help process your own pain–and also minister to others in the process. Thanks so much for sharing.
Thank you Cindy… yes. God has been SO gracious to me on so many levels. The ONLY thing that would hurt me more is to imagine a life where things really were senseless or useless. God wastes NOTHING…and I beg Him.. please use these things too. Thanks so much Cindy.
a beautiful gift of words to your brother. God bless you as you grieve such loss.
I’ve lost a brother in this life but I pray that now he can see clearly what was so dim and know as he’s always been known…and then, we’ll be together again. And the gift in it all… I have a sister in this life found in you. Bless you friend.
I love you and thank you for this beautiful piece. Praying for you.
You are welcome dear Nikki. You know this place well. I’m so glad you are my neighbor….and my sister for LIFE! I love you too.