I finger the three separate baggies in my hand. They contain the remains of my father (age 95; died February 16, 2019), my mother (age 96; died July 22, 2020), and my youngest brother, John (age 64; died February 19, 2022). My two older sisters and I gather on the Oregon coast to celebrate the lives of our family members and to remember. The air is thick with humidity, and the overcast skies remind us that rain is imminent. The weather mirrors the emotions as tears intermittently fall. We walk, separately, with our own separate bags and the memories we hold of the remnants we scatter. It is the way we decided to remember—individually, then corporately.
My memories swirl and collide; they settle and take flight all over again. In the years since I began to consider the impact of my family of origin and stories of harm, I have come to identify many of the things that created the chaos that inhabits my body, mind, and spirit. I have also been able to open my heart more to the work of healing and the grace that floods in to fill the years of self-blame, self-condemnation, and self-, as well as other-centered, contempt. There is so much freedom in release that bears honest witness to the harm done and makes room for the grace of God to redeem.
Walking through the messiness of trauma is necessary for the glory of redemption to take root and grow.
As I scatter the ashes of my father and mother, I remember the abuse and the healing that has begun, scatter the ashes of the past, and release my heart to the glory that lies ahead.
I remember my baby brother with tenderness. He is one of the innocents. His 63 years were filled with trauma and loss. In April 2021, after months of losing disability payments to a scam artist, he was attacked and left for dead. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and, less than a year later, died of his injuries. Yet, in the last months of his life, he enjoyed stable living conditions, visits from my sister, MJ, notes of love from his three sisters, a warm bed, good food, and people around him to care for him and love him. His ending is a beautiful picture of a story redeemed.
Afterward, my sisters and I gather around a fire and remember together. The new memories we share of this time are priceless. The rented cottage, the beautiful grounds, the rolling sea with its splendor and mystery—all are sacred spaces for us to hold, individually and corporately.
The journey of healing requires honesty, humility, courage, and care. At times, the heart and mind feel wrung out and spent. But the joy that comes with every step of redemption is worth the struggle. It is good to walk with others on the path to flourishing, becoming “oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”*
This fierce and tender community of Red Tent women makes the journey hope-filled. Know, precious friends, that you are not alone.
* Isaiah 61:1-3
Christine Browning is a lover of story. She loves the warmth of sunlight on long morning walks, deep conversations, story work, reading, teaching, and kitties. Christine enjoys walking alongside others as they discover the beauty and heartache in their stories. She completed Narrative Focused Trauma Care Levels 1 and 2 and Externship at The Allender Center. She also teaches counseling at Milligan University in upper east Tennessee. Christine and her delightfully witty husband, Tom, have been married for 50+ years. They love gathering with family members, visits from their grands, and sunsets.