Relationship stories from our past have a way of shaping us years after they occurred. I have two of them that happened decades ago during this month of September. It wasn’t until many years had passed that I understood the impact these two events had on my life.
It’s what I’m going to talk about in today’s episode because I bet you have stories like this, too.
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Welcome to You Were Made for This. If you find yourself wanting more from your relationships, you’ve come to the right place. Here you’ll discover practical principles you can use to experience the life-giving relationships you were made for.
I'm John Certalic, author and relationship coach, here to help you find more joy in the relationships God designed for you.
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Both of the stories from my past that greatly affected me happened in September. The first has to do with my grandma, my dad’s mother. Every Labor Day I saw her crying over the death of her daughter Helen in a car crash on Labor Day that happened many years ago in the late 1920s or early 30s. It was the only time I ever saw her cry. I felt so bad for her.
My dad was pretty young at the time, not even a teenager yet. He was in the car with his sisters Helen and Josephine, and Grandma when it happened. Aunt Jo, as we called her, was driving the car. Everyone survived except Helen.
During the time I was doing genealogy work in an effort to locate my birth father, I also found the death certificate of my dad’s sister Helen in the Register of Deeds office. I took notes about it, but I can’t find them. Maybe I'll go down there to look again if I can get in. I remember the name of the road where the crash took place, and where it happened. I’ve driven through this location. And when I do I always think of the heartache my Grandma experienced on that Labor Day so long ago, and how it stayed with her the rest of her life.
Pain that doesn’t go away
This is one of the stories from my past that helped shape me. It was the first time, I saw an adult cry over pain in their life. A piece of my Grandmother’s heart was ripped out of her decades ago and there was nothing anyone could do to fix it now. There was no way to make the pain of this traumatic loss go away. Yet in spite of this hole in her heart she was able to love me, and the rest of our family, along with her network of Slovenian immigrant friends.
I wish I had asked questions about the crash. Questions of my dad or grandmother. Questions like: how did this affect everyone? What caused the accident? Was Aunt Jo responsible for the accident, or was someone else who crashed into them? Did she feel guilty? How did she and Grandma relate after the accident? What was Helen like? What kind of person was she?
Where is she buried? What was my dad’s relationship with Helen before she was killed? Anyone who could answer these questions are long gone.
I had opportunities to ask my dad and grandma these questions, but like all of us, I was more concerned with issues facing me in the present. So I didn’t ask them, and I’m at a loss for it. I didn’t appreciate how this tragic event from the past affected my father and grandmother. Had I known more of what they went through back then it could have shed some light on how they both related to me in the present. The past often illuminates the present. I regret not learning this important relationship lesson earlier in life.
I hope you learn it. Sooner rather than later.
Another September tragedy
Of all the relationship stories from my past, the most impactful one happened when I was 15 years old and my friend Mark, who lived across the street, was killed on September 10, 1964.
I wrote about this in my book THEM – The Richer Life Found in Caring for Others. Here’s a brief excerpt:
“Of all the memories of my dad, however, the one that sticks out the most is the day Bozo died. I cringe now even using his name, but that is what we all affectionately called Mark, a neighbor boy who lived across the street. To refer to him now as Mark seems disrespectful. We all loved Bozo. Our neighborhood had lots of kids who hung around together, and we all got along well with each other. He was an integral part of our community, a community torn apart the evening Bozo was killed.
“It was a few days after school started in September and my brother and I had just gone downstairs to do our homework in our basement bedroom—our boy cave. Suddenly, we heard unexpected footsteps coming down the stairs. It was our mother. Visibly shaken, she sat on one of our beds.
“‘I have some very bad news to tell you.’
“There was a long pause as she started to choke up, and then composed herself.
“‘Bozo was riding his bike home from a park late this afternoon and was hit by a car. And he died.’
“He died? Bozo is dead? How can that be? We just saw him yesterday. How could he be dead? I wondered. That just can’t be.
My family reacts to the tragic news
“Quietly sobbing, my mother went back upstairs. Shortly thereafter, my brother Joe and I followed upstairs. I remember all of us wandering around in disbelief, like disoriented ants, not knowing what to think and feeling quite shocked. With dusk setting in, I looked out a window and saw something I will never forget.
“There was Bozo’s father, walking down the middle of the street of our quiet sleepy neighborhood, with my dad beside him, arm over his shoulder. My dad was no grief counselor. He had no training in this area, but he was a good neighbor and he cared for his friend. When I hear the expression ‘walking with someone through difficult times,' I think of this image of my dad, who did this literally and figuratively for a neighbor whose son had just been killed.
“I can’t help but admire a man like that. For though he didn’t treat me as well as he should have, he did the best he could. Relating to adults was easier for him; he was just unskilled in relating to his oldest son, who biologically was not his own. Yeah, I can have compassion for a dad like that, who had compassion for a grieving friend. I can forgive someone like him. Sure. I can do that. I should do that. Since I want to do that, I will. I will forgive. And I did.”
THEM, Chapter 13, “Forgiveness”, pages 170-171
This story from my past grew me
This story from my past grew me in several ways. It was my first realization that people close to me will one day die. I knew this in my mind, of course, but Bozo’s death embedded this reality in my heart.
When I was working on the book I wrote, I wasn’t sure of the exact date and year of Bozo’s death. So I went to the cemetery next to the church his family and mine attended. It took a while, but I found his gravestone. I took a photo
of it and you can see in the show notes. He would be 71 today had he lived, instead of dying at age 13.
I loved the inscription on his gravestone, “In God’s Care.” I hope his parents and siblings believed this, and that it brought them comfort.
It was important for me to go to his grave because it confirmed for me that what I thought happened many years ago actually did occur at the time I remembered. Do you ever think like this, where you second guess yourself about events from long ago? Did this really happen?
Understanding may not come for many years
And as I mentioned in the reading from the book, this experience grew me by seeing a side of my father that made it easier to forgive him for how he parented me. But I didn’t really see it until many years later. What I witnessed that evening was an observation, but I was too immature to reflect on what I observed.
It wasn’t until many years later, with the Spirit of God working in my heart, that I could reflect on the meaning of that poignant scene of my dad walking down the middle of the street, his arm over the shoulder of a neighbor whose son had just been killed.
So what does all this mean for YOU?
What are the stories from your past that would be helpful to reflect upon now? Maybe now is the time to ask God to help you find a larger meaning to something that impacted you years ago. Maybe there’s something you missed then that could help you grow now.
Here’s the main takeaway I hope you remember from today’s episode
Stories from our past can continue to grow us. Reflecting on them through the lens of God’s spirit within us will often yield deeper insights years later into what happened back then.
I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode. In closing, I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, enough to put into practice what you’ve just heard about reflecting upon stories from your past.
For when you do, it will help you experience the joy of relationships God wants for you. Because after all, You Were Made for This.
Well, that’s it for today. If there’s someone in your life you think might like to hear what you just heard, please forward this episode on to them. The link is JohnCertalic.com/175.
And don’t forget to spread a little relational sunshine around the people you meet this week. Spark some joy for them. And I’ll see you again next time. Goodbye for now.
Related episodes you may want to listen to, along with the book mentioned:
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