You’re Not Alone: Lessons learned on Memorial Day weekend
It all started with a lie – the lie of my father’s wife, my stepmother, in 1989. That lie would span 20 years and 3,500 miles. That lie tore my family apart. My father sided with his wife. That lie caused my favorite uncle, my father’s little brother, Siegfried, so much pain. When my stepmother’s grand finale lie surfaced shortly before she died, my father reached out to his brother and they made amends. The details of the lies are insignificant now because the damage is done. I never forgave my father for it all completely until I looked into his wallet after he died.
My Onkel Siegfried was a father to me in my early years when my father sent me to live in Germany until he got his affairs in order. He took me to Kindergarten every day. I think he liked the teacher. I always had to make sure my shoes were clean before I got into his car. He took me camping. I love my uncle, I miss him, and I wish he were here. He is a passionate and sensitive man. He lives in my family’s hometown, Karlsruhe, Germany. My father knew I would never take sides against my uncle. We rarely spoke about it during those twenty years. I lived in Germany from 1990 through 1994. I was at my uncle’s 50th birthday party. I sent my father a video of it to spite him.
Why would my father do that to me and my family? In the early 1960’s, my uncle was planning on immigrating to the U.S. as well. My father was going to be his sponsor. They were both excited about the prospect. But, my uncle had a horrific automobile accident and needed about a year to recover. He stayed in Germany and met my Tante Steffi. We all visited across the Atlantic throughout the years and every reunion was wonderful. Until the lie.
In 2010 the family was going to celebrate my Aunt Ingrid’s 70th birthday in Virginia. My father and his delightful girlfriend planned on driving up from Florida. My Onkel Siegfried and Tante Steffi were arriving in Dulles Airport, Washington D.C. Plans changed when my father needed an emergency open heart surgery. I flew to Florida first. My Aunt Ingrid met my uncle at the airport and they drove straight to Florida. It was Memorial Day weekend.
Before my father went into surgery, he asked to speak with his brother in private. My uncle came out in tears. My father told him he wasn’t sure if he was going to survive the surgery. He wanted to make things right before he died. My father apologized for all the trouble in the past. They held hands tightly and both agreed the past was forgiven.
My father had five more years. He and my uncle would visit a few more times. Although they had made amends, the extended family had not. Including me. I was still disgusted that my father didn’t see the truth in 1989 and there was still a rift in my family.
After my father died, it took me a while to go through all of his possessions. I had his wallet but couldn’t bring myself to go through it for months. When I got myself together, I sat in my parlor and opened his wallet. Tucked away separately was a picture of my uncle. On the back was written, “Zum Andenken, Dein Bruder, Siegfried.” That roughly translates as “to remember/memento, your brother.” My uncle had given my father that picture when he left for the United States in 1958. He had kept it all those years.
Nothing yet everything made sense in that moment. My father loved his brother to the end. I held that picture and told myself I would do my best to not hold grudges, to forgive, and to keep my family close to my heart always. I’m getting there. Oh, it’s an ongoing challenge. Yet, when I look at that picture, I can forgive the lies.
My healing journey continues. Join me. Bring some pictures. It’s Memorial Day weekend.
(Henry Alfred Rudolph. Born April 2, 1930. Died March 2, 2015.)
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