It was around the time I was twelve and half when I received a book that would begin to change me from the inside out. That book was given to me at a very difficult time in my life, after the death of a classmate and close friend named Jessica. It was given to me by my Gram, as a means to “understand” the unfairness of losing such a beautiful soul to leukemia at the tender age of 13. I don’t have many memories of heart to hearts with my Gram growing up (like I did so effortlessly with my Grammy) in fact, I often felt unsure of how to approach her about questions like “what my Pop was like?”, stories of her childhood, and other memories which my Grammy so effortlessly shared. I always felt like I knew my Poppy (Mom’s Dad) through my Grammy’s stories whereas my Father’s Father seemed like this elusive figure I only knew through photographs and snips of information I’d overhear from relatives.
I did not blame my Gram (I still don’t), after all, it’s still sometimes painful to recall memories of the ones we loved and lost. Everyone deals with grief differently, both of my Grandmothers are a testament to this. Although my Gram found it hard to share memories of my Pop as effortlessly as my Grammy, I know she loved him and missed him more then words could say. When I would hear things about my Pop like how he had an awesome sense of humor, loved History, and Greek culture (traits we share) I often wonder if I reminded her of him and how it made her feel. So with the death of Jessica, when she gave me ‘Embraced By The Light’ by Betty J. Eadie, she gave me something beautiful that I will treasure forever, that not only helped me cope with the loss of a friend but also my Grammy later on in life.
As mentioned above, I carried this book with me from the moment it was gifted to me by my Gram and often read and highlighted different passages to get me though many stages of my life. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen my Gram cry, she’s one of the strongest women I know, and I’m proud I share her blood. I love her for so many reasons but she did two things which I will cherish forever. The first being putting this book in my life which helped me in more ways then I can count and the second being when we laid my Uncle Tommy to rest beside my Grammy and Poppy.
As they were lowering Uncle Tommy into the ground, I saw my Grammy’s name etched into the tombstone. The same tombstone we’d visited annually to lay a Christmas wreath for Poppy each year and it was in that moment it truly hit me, I wouldn’t see her until my Earthly mission here was complete. I suddenly felt very alone, like I was suffocating from the inside and I did the only thing I could in that moment, I walked away briskly to be alone. It was then I felt a surprisingly strong pair of arms envelope me and I felt the love my Gram had for me. I also saw the tears in her eyes too, indicting she too missed my Grammy and she also knew I needed her deep down and she was there. Suddenly, I didn’t feel alone anymore in my grief. Once again, she threw me a lifeline. In the arms of my Gram, I felt safe to cry for the first time in months the ugliest cry I ever had in me and she just held me. No words were needed and despite the sadness associated with that memory it is one of my favorite memories of the two of us: United in our feelings of ‘what now?’.
I realized I am very much my Gram’s Granddaughter in a sense it took me months to talk about memories and share stories of my Grammy without being reduced to tears so I opted not to talk about it. Burying the pain was easier then crying and feeling it in Grammy’s absence. Slowly though, thanks to ‘Embraced By The Light’ I was able to re-tell her stories and memories she left with me this time with smiles and laughs. I read that book for days, weeks, months and years it was my light in my darkest moments. Gram gave me one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me in that gift.
One of the things Mrs. Eadie talks about in ‘Embraced by the Light’ is the power of forgiveness. Eadie expresses what she learned from Christ on page 70 in the chapter called ‘Healing and Dying’ where she states “It is important to remember, though, that God is the judge of each soul and the severity of each soul’s trials”. I remember highlighting this particular passage and reflecting on it during my many times reading this book through the years however I never thought there would come a moment where I would have the opportunity to exercise this power of forgiveness.
Growing up, I learned how cruel a kid could be when I first met my former classmate, Kevin. For several years in elementary school , Kevin was relentlessly cruel to me, calling me names like “buck toothed beaver”, “ugly” and “miss mouse”. While I often retaliated in calling him hurtful things in return, it gave me no joy to do this like it seemed to give Kevin. I would always cry in the arms of my Mother wondering what I ever did to make Kevin so mean to me. In middle school the first time I used the words “fuck you” was directed at him because he had gotten me so frustrated he brought me to curse for the first time in my life. As the years went on, Kevin left me alone but I will never forget the one time in my sophomore history class we had a conversation I wouldn’t remember until years later.
We had been arguing, through the years I had gotten good at arguing with Kevin and knowing how to shut him up but this particular time he turned around and said something particularly cruel to me, “Brittany if you were to die nobody in our school would care or even come to your funeral.” It was at that particular moment I responded with “Oh yeah? Well it will be a cold day in hell before you ever catch me yours, you miserable bastard!”.
Kevin dropped out his junior year and I only saw him a couple handful of times mostly when he would be working on the houses as a landscaper nearby in the town we grew up in. As I matured, I came to the realization that Kevin despite all his negative words and actions towards me must have had very low self-esteem to try to bring mine down. ‘Embraced By The Light’ brought on and encouraged this revelation and I found myself praying for Kevin that he found inner peace. His soul was not mine to judge, no matter what he’d done to me. As time went on I forgot about the things he said and did. After all, I didn’t rely on the people around me to dictate my worth to God, my family, and ultimately my friends.
So many years later, when I heard about the death of Kevin due to a drug overdose my heart immediately broke that it was not God’s will to heal whatever demons he was fighting within. Being engaged to my husband at the time, his mother had been very good friends with Kevin’s mother (who died when he and his twin brother were young) and so there I found myself at his funeral. One of the only people from our graduating class. The irony was proof even in the most despairing moments God has a sense of humor. It was then as I knelt before the shell of what was once my very sworn enemy, my heart filled with love and compassion for this man who clearly didn’t love himself enough to know his worth in God’s eyes, so much so that he tried for several years to bring me down. I thought about the chapter in ‘Embraced by the Light’ where Betty describes her life review, I wondered selfishly, if Kevin was able to feel the way he made me feel for all those years he tormented me. While the side of me which still felt victimized by him as a child relished in the thought that he would finally know what it was like to feel the pain that he caused me, my higher self, took no such joy in this. As I knelt in prayer before him I remembered that one conversation that stuck out in my mind and yet there I was at his funeral despite me swearing up and down I would never be caught mourning for him. I felt myself unable to resist sadness at the loss of his life. I let out a brief chuckle that probably sounded more like a sob and I began to pray and hard. I imagined my prayer as a beam of light going right up to Christ and in it I asked that he forgive Kevin for what he did against me. I realized I no longer saw my tormentor but a tortured soul who didn’t know how to express himself. I remember asking the Lord that whatever sins he held against Kevin, “do not hold the ones he committed against me against him because I forgive him”. That moment I have never felt as free in my life, forgiving Kevin was not my way of letting him off the hook for the years of torment I suffered at his hands emotionally but it was freeing myself of the hurt I carried with me unknowingly for years. In forgiving Kevin, I was able to follow Christ’s example and love others as I love myself.
Today I still keep Kevin in my prayers, and I hope that I will see him again one day in heaven and talk about this spiritual lesson I learned from his life and death. My Gram is a very big part of that lesson because in giving me that book ‘Embraced by the Light’ I was able to see that there are so many lessons we can learn and that we always have the choice to love and forgive. As Jesus said to Betty, “above all else, love one another as I love all of you”
Love you. Mean it.