I was beaten at times as a child. There was no love in the home where I grew up as far as I remember. My Dad thought that working and bringing home the bacon was love. No hugs, no kisses, no compassion.
I went off to war and returned before I was 21 years old. I saw the horror of it. I committed terrible acts.
I had my first heart attack and open heart surgery when I was 36. I had another heart episode when I was 44. I had another bypass open heart surgery in 2003 at 54. And the latest foray into my heart just happened in 2011. I'm making it through that, but barely.
I lost my oldest daughter to a car accident when she was a month shy of her 18th birthday.
These traumas have caused my life to feel like I am on borrowed time. I struggle with severe depression. I’ll never show it to you, but I have it. I suffer from the effects of PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My family suffers from it as well because they are codependent. They stuck by me and suffered with me and and they too went through the trauma when their sister, our daughter, was lost to this world.
I am not asking for any sympathy, just laying the groundwork for the story I am about to tell you.
For 25 years or longer I lived through this. I grew my hair long, or in my case, thick and bushy, almost like an Italian Afro. I let my beard grow to hide my face. I swept up my family, spouse and one-year old child at the time, and moved to the country way up North in Minnesota, far from our birthplace and home near Chicago.
I was hiding out in the woods, hiding behind a cloud of smoke and a one quart bottle of bourbon. People that met me and knew me never knew I was a Veteran and never knew who I really was. I didn’t show that side of myself to anyone, and even though there were secrets that my family and very close friends knew that other’s didn’t, there were more secrets that no one but myself lives with and never will learn of for eternity.
Since those darkest times back then, something found me. I certainly can’t say I found something. I can’t take credit for looking for help and healing from the scars of trauma. No, it found me. I wandered across two healing spirits, two women, one a healer and clairvoyant, the other, let’s just say she was described to me as an Ojibwe Medicine Woman.
The day I met them, a mutual friend took me to the rural home of the Medicine Woman and we talked. It was decided to hold a healing ceremony for me. A date and time was set and I showed up, along with some others, on a Saturday evening.
I didn’t know what to expect, after all, I had never been exposed to ceremony or had anyone use any other healing methods on me except pills prescribed by a doctor or an operation at a hospital. I arrived, and in the side yard of the farmhouse, overlooking a great hayfield high atop a bluff along the Mississippi River, was a small rock fire pit with a small but steady fire burning.
This fire pit was surrounded with cedar fronds in a circle around it with space enough to walk between the pit and the fronds. There was an open space, which was on the East side of this circle, to enter the space. There were others around, but they were not there for the purpose of being a part of this healing ceremony or to observe it. Seems they often meet at the fire on a Saturday night.
I had been given instructions earlier on about how to prepare. I was told to put a pinch of tobacco into a small piece of cloth and tie these into a little bundle. I was instructed to make seven of these and use red cloth. I was to tie the end shut using any color thread or string I wanted to use, but to tie one of the seven with a different color thread or string than the others. These are commonly called prayer ties or prayer bundles in the Native community.
I carried these tied bundles in my hand and held them out to the Medicine Woman for her to see. The other woman spoke to me and it was assumed that she would run the ceremony, but the Medicine Woman had instructed her on how to proceed.
The ceremony itself was quite simple. Take four of these ties and go off in the four directions and leave a tie on a tree limb. Then, back at the fire, take one and offer it to the Grand Father in the sky above, and another to the Grand Mother Earth below. That would leave me with one tie remaining, the one that was different from the rest, the one with the different color thread.
I held this and it seemed like the woman was ignoring me. I stood there for what seemed like a very long time. I felt stupid and dumb. I was confused, but then, she turned to me, rather abruptly, and told me,
“Think about something you need to get rid of and put it in that bundle, then toss it into the fire.”
I immediately thought of my Father and how he left this world without us ever having reached a time of closeness in our lives. I thought of how I wished I understood why he was the way he was and even though I don’t remember using the word forgive, I wanted to forgive him and get on with living in a more peaceful way. I put this thought into that last prayer tie bundle and cast it into the flames. The ceremony was over.
I wondered then, “Now what? Is that it, I’m healed from it all?” I still didn’t understand, but I knew something had happened. I felt lighter. This is how I started on a healing path even though I didn’t know that at the time.
One of the things that I was given some time before this was a cassette tape of something called guided imagery. It is a voice and it speaks and soothes and comforts as you relax and rest. The one I received from a friend was on PTSD. After a while, I found more at a healing arts bookstore about Diabetes and Heart Disease. I also read a book by a well-known comedian, Louis Anderson. It wasn’t a funny joke book as I expected. It was his own narrative of growing up and learning to forgive his Father long after he had passed away.
I have a broken heart. Literally and figuratively. The tape was helpful. It painted a guided image of my heart and a journey through it. It was black with many scars. The words told me that there was a light deep down inside that still burned, but I didn’t believe it because I never saw it.
Some years after this healing ceremony, in another attempt to accept healing, I went to a 7 week inpatient program at the Hot Springs, SD Veterans Hospital. The program taught me many skills and gave me some tools to deal with the anger, depression, hatred, hypervigalence, paranoia, malaise, general bad feelings about myself and many other symptoms of PTSD too numerous to mention, but you get the idea.
The program helped to heal by taking care of the body, mind and spirit. One of the treatments was a hands on healing session with a practitioner. In the public realm, she would be a Reiki Master. In the VA, she was a practitioner doing hands on healing therapy.
I liked these sessions. I asked for more of them and had three in the 7 weeks I was there. The woman who did the treatments was a nice person. Very gentle. She touched me at my ankles and my knees, my hips and then at the shoulders. She spoke softly with a smooth voice.
This wasn’t a massage, just hands on, just touch. She would exclaim that she was doing this for the greater good of Joseph Spado. She would take her hands off of me with a sweeping motion and cast what evil came to her away from my body. I felt it go. I was feeling it physically.
In one session, I went into a trance. You might say sleep. I might have been dreaming, but I like to think of it as a vision. A real vision where I saw my heart, the inside of it. I saw the soot and cobwebs inside of the chambers. I saw the black coal like dust and I was afraid to walk through it. I know I had to, but I was afraid. The heart was black. There was no light. It was sick. I was dirty with the grime of a lifetime of despair. All this came to me in that vision, just like the person that talked to me when I played the guided imagery cassette tape.
I walked through amongst the filth and horror and eventually, I did see a light. Very faint, but I saw it. I was terrified. I was drawn to the light and walked that way, not knowing what force was leading me as I was still afraid, but at least there was something ahead of me to guide my way. As I got closer, it got brighter. I had walked a long long way to get to it. I wondered if I’d have enough energy to get back, but I kept walking towards the light.
When I got close, I saw it was bright, very bright. It was golden, like a bright sunshine, just the light, not the orb, but the light itself, shining ahead of me in my path, bright, golden.
From this light emerged two figures. One was my Daughter, Maggie. She was beautiful. She was clean, immaculate, and in her hand was my Fathers hand. He had a sheepish look on his face as if to ask, “Is it okay if I come into your heart?” Maggie was leading him by the hand.
I wept, I am weeping now. I’ll forever weep when I think of this vision. It was at that moment that I accepted my father for himself. I realized that he didn’t wake up every morning and decide how he would hurt us. I realized that he did what he thought he must do. He was walking his path and I was finally given this understanding.
As I walked back out of my heart with this great understanding, the woman who was touching me was sweeping the walls of my heart. Sweeping them clean. They were still black, but were shiny and allowed the light from deep within me to glisten on the walls of my broken heart.
I started to forgive him a while before this happened at another spiritual ceremony I attended. I now realized that I, too, needed to ask that he forgive me. I told him I loved him still. Then, I realized the important task of forgiving myself.
I thanked Maggie and realized that her job in the cosmos was to help others cross. Those that would have a hard time crossing themselves, she was to help them. That was my Dad. I know he was afraid of death and dying. She was there to help him cross. I understood why she was no longer here with us. I accepted that I’d see her when I was to cross.
In a few weeks, I had a dream one night where my Dad appeared to me. We hugged for the first time that I remember. He looked young and had on a clean white T-shirt. In all previous dreams, he was old and shabbily dressed. He never hugged me, now he did, and he told me he loved me and forgave me.
Now, I feel the narration of this episode of my life establishes a real friendship for I have shared the intimacy of my very soul. I trust it with you for some reason. The connection about your ancestors, or maybe the paganism and religious beliefs some of us follow.
The book I told you about also had some influence with this whole experience. For in his book, Louis Anderson comes to the same realization I did. His Dad was a drinker, mine was not, but their behavior was the same. I experienced the same sensation that Mr. Anderson did about my relationship with my Dad.
The light shines brighter these days. I’m not healed completely. I never will be. But I know what it is to forgive and to love. I still have a hard time accepting love. This is the hardest thing to deal with from the PTSD. The realization that nobody should or could really love me on any level. I accept the inevitability of loneliness as I struggle to be understood.
Thank you for allowing me to share these things.