A small story of exceptional courage

Years ago I worked as a Family Therapist in a shelter for runaway youth. For some reason, I’ve been thinking lately about one of the last families I worked with in that position. The lessons they taught me have stuck with me for years now. And perhaps I’d like to give voice to the amazing courage I saw on display.

The story starts with 14 year old Amy running away from home. She spent a few days at the shelter and then I met with Amy, her adoptive mother Jackie and her adoptive younger sister Jessica. Jackie had adopted both of these girls after major physical and sexual abuse in their young lives. She had also adopted an older boy who had sexually molested Jessica in her home and been removed. I never met him.

In the first meeting I was a little concerned at how harsh Jackie was with the two girls. There was a group of my colleagues who observed the session behind a one-way mirror who criticized me afterwards for not intervening on behalf of the girls. But something in me told me to leave it be…so I did.

I went on to work with Jackie, Amy and Jessica over a period of a few months. And Jackie became a hero of mine. I was awed by her commitment to these girls no matter what. She loved and cared for them with a fierceness that only a very strong woman could do.  

I’ll give you an example. One meeting, Amy was complaining about a rule Jackie had enforced and was accusing Jackie of lying. It wasn’t true, but she wouldn’t let go and just kept hounding her point. In response, Jackie told a story about how being called a liar triggered some pain from her own childhood when she had been abused and humiliated horribly. She told the girls this story calmly but exposing her own pain in a tangible way. Amy responded by going for the jugular with even more fierce accusations. I was stunned and hurting on Jackie’s behalf and didn’t know quite how to respond. Our time was over and I didn’t think I could let them leave that evening with the wound of so many pains just gapping open. So I asked them what they needed to do in order to be ready to end the meeting. Jackie responded by saying, “I think my girls need a hug.” I was literally blown away by this response and the tears that welled up in my eyes let them know that.

That’s why Jackie has always been a hero of mine. A woman who has found enough strength to not only face her own abuse and humiliation as a child, but was able to pass that on to two broken little girls who needed a Mom more than anything in the world. I was humbled more than I’ve ever been in my professional life by this woman. And to think, our initial instincts were to criticize her, of all people.

I not only learned what real courage was from Jackie. I also learned that you need to take time to get to know more about someone’s journey before drawing too many conclusions. If I had challenged Jackie in that first session, I might have missed having the opportunity to see her courage and love on display. And I might never have received this prize possession…a poem she wrote me for our last meeting.

First there was the pain. Sharp, searing and rushing

Through our lives. Pain calls us you know, some pains

Carry our name from generation to generation.

We brought it in with us, blaming, yelling and desperate

for some relief.

We opened our mouths and spit it at you, yelled it at you

And you found the reason to smile. Each blow was warded off

And placed where it really belonged. Like a puzzle

Where slowly the pieces begin to fit. Not just one puzzle

But three. Not yet put together, but beautifully begun.

First there was the pain, and the ache of a thousand years

Of mothers. Then slowly came the wonder and some days even

The joy.

Thank you for seeing through the pain, to the joy.

Thank you for letting us be children and for letting us

Grow up.

With love and peace

Jackie, Amy and Jessica



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  1. mid 30’s by now. I hope she, Jackie and Jessica got their puzzles put together and have found some joy at last.  

    • pfiore8 on March 11, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    is finally connecting with what is courageous in us…

    those moments when we are just free enough to believe ourselves

    sounds like these women made that connection…

  2. You must have been a great therapist because of your ability to truly see a situation, look at it from many angles, and make conclusions that don’t simply reinforce your own ego investment.

    • Alma on March 12, 2008 at 12:09 am

    It brought tears to my eyes.  Thank you for sharing the story with us.  🙂

    • RiaD on March 12, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    you have me in tears!

    what a beautiful story

    what a heart wrenching poem…

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