My great-uncle died last week; entering that final silence, a deeper silence than all the silences between us.
Uncle E. was my grandfather’s identical twin brother. How did identical twins become so distant? How did they build walls of silence, pain and grievance over the span of generations? I come from this long line of division and brokenness–ever since my great grandfather came to America in 1920, my Greek immigrant family has spent the last 92 years disowning each other.
Long before I was born, my Greek family scrabbled and struggled to make it in America. They yelled and fought, philandered and hit each other. They were proud and fiery, poor and ambitious. And then, my grandfather found Jesus.
Instead of healing, religion became yet another dividing issue. Suddenly, my grandfather’s ambition was directed toward preaching and church-planting. He left home, moved to Southern California, founded a fundamentalist church and began growing his worldwide ministry. By the time I was born, a great wall of silence has grown between our divided families.
I grew up barely knowing anything about the other side of my family. Deaths and births came and went without so much as a phone call. I was a child and believed what I was told, but when our church imploded, I questioned everything.
What was true and what was false? How could my family perpetuate so much pain upon other people? I was ashamed of my very name. My Greek name! This name was responsible for heartache. It mortified me. I spent years apologizing for things that weren’t my fault because the shame was so overwhelming.
I tried to break the silence and the grievance within my great-uncle’s family several years ago. I tried to breach the fortress of division.
I hoped: reconciliation.
I hoped: healing.
I hoped a measure of peace for our broken, scattered family. I sorely underestimated the unrelenting strength of entrenched pain, the multitude of years spent harboring grief. I bounded in with such great optimism and enthusiasm. Love conquers all!
But I said the wrong things at the wrong times. I misspoke and mishandled. Unwittingly, I added salt to festering wounds. I was young and oblivious to the decades of ruination, the dark, grudging history of family desecration.
Still, I wanted to change that. I thought I could bring about healing. I wanted to at least try.
Uncle E. received me and we spoke long and deeply. We made our peace. But ultimate restoration for our whole family was not to be–at least, not this side of Heaven.
Last week when I heard Uncle E. had passed, I called. I left messages. I sent flowers. There has been no response. Only silence.
If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s to honor the silence. Perhaps it’s enough for them to know I’m here. I can’t fix this. But I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. All I can do is pray for peace and wait for that final reconciliation when God will wipe away every tear.
Αναπαύσου εν ειρήνη
Requiescat in pace, E.G.