A Second Chance

As I reflect on Genesis 3:8, the word “hid” catches my attention, and a memory comes back to me from when I worked at an organization called Citizen Advocates. 

My job was to recruit local community members to become advocates for people who had developmental disabilities and no one in their lives to speak up for them; that is, everyone in their lives was paid to be there. Paid people can have inherent conflicts of interest. Sometimes, social workers would call me to ask if I could find an advocate for someone they knew.

In that way, I met a thirteen-year-old girl who had been living in a group home since she was a child. Her mother came to visit her once or twice a year, but otherwise Ellen had no one. After meeting Ellen, I called her mother to tell her I was going to recruit an advocate for her daughter. I thought of this as a courtesy call, but I wanted a little more background too.

Her mother told me that Ellen was the youngest of three daughters and that they had not been able to care for her at home. Ellen was dependent on someone for all her needs—she was unable to walk or talk or feed herself—so she and her husband had decided to place Ellen in a group home. 

When I met a new person who needed an advocate, I would report it to my board of directors. At the next board meeting, Ellen’s name was on the list of new people. One of the board members asked if she was related to a family he knew who had the same last name. 

“Yes,” I said, “she is their daughter.”

“No,” he said, “they only have two daughters.” 

“No,” I replied, “they have three daughters. Ellen is their youngest.”

He declared that was not possible, that he knew this family very well, that he and his family had been at their house many times and had gone on vacation with them. Their two daughters were the same age as his two older girls. I could only tell him what I knew; in that moment, though, I knew I had inadvertently revealed a deep family secret.

A few days later, Ellen’s mother called me, and she was angry. I reminded her that I had explained my process, but that was beside the point. The point was that I had outed her. I understood her anger because I probably would have felt the same if someone revealed my secret, but there was nothing I could do about it now. 

I don’t know if you have ever been blasted by the fury of someone who has been blindsided, but I can tell you it was very unpleasant. I began to avoid this woman whenever I saw her. Since we both worked in the same small town, it was inevitable that our paths would cross, and when I saw her, I would cross the street or duck into a shop—anything to avoid another confrontation.

At the same time, I went on with my job and recruited an advocate for Ellen, a women who included Ellen in her life and worked to improve the quality of Ellen’s life in many ways.

Eventually, I left that job for work in another town and over time, I rarely thought about Ellen’s mother.

Then, about ten years later, I drove past the home of Ellen’s advocate and wondered if they were still in touch. 

A few days later, I attended a fundraiser for the job I then held. It was at a home in the town where Ellen’s mother lived, but I never expected her to attend. When I saw her walk into the yard, I literally hid behind a pillar with a huge plant on top. 

What was she doing here? All my old feelings came flooding back.

I was scheduled to speak about my work to this group of 100 people, and the last thing I needed was some kind of a scene. 

Fortunately, I was able to avoid her for the remainder of the cocktail hour; then, the hostess invited me into the house where I was to speak. While I waited for the crew to get everything in place, I saw Ellen’s mother walking across the room toward me. Instantly, my throat tightened and my palms got clammy. “Panic attack,” I thought. There was nowhere to hide, so I braced myself for a confrontation.

She was pleasant in her greeting, so I shared that I had recently thought of her daughter when I drove by the advocate’s house. Were they still in touch? I asked.

She said they were, and then she told me how the advocate had included Ellen in her life and the life of her family, how Ellen spent holidays with the advocate’s family. She said that over the years, the relationship the advocate had with Ellen had helped her see Ellen in a different way. “I came here to thank you,” she said. “You gave me back my daughter.”

I had no words, just tears streaming down my cheeks.

TLH photoMadeline Bialecki grew up in Detroit and recently returned after living in Philadelphia for twenty-eight years. She began writing about her spiritual journey and faith life after the death of her best friend in 2012. She likes to read, knit, bake, and garden. She shares her spiritual journey here.