I tried putting a new phone number in my phone yesterday and a message appeared saying the memory was full. (Just as well human memory banks don't work that way!) So today I went through the list on my phone and deleted some numbers. I started with people I didn't recognise or can't remember (Message appears on forehead: "memory is defective") then removed the numbers of peopleI never see or ring any more, then duplicates and numbers I know have been changed or are wrong. This freed up a reasonable amount of space, but now I can't remember the number of the person I was trying to add! The reason I'm mentioning this is that as I scanned through the list I came across the number of a man named Steve.
I've thought about Steve many times over the last couple of years, wondering how he is and how he is coping with a tough situation he found himself in a few years ago. I decided to ring him, and I'm really glad I did. Not because it was a light or pleasant call, it wasn't, in fact it was pretty much full of bad news and accounts of struggles and difficulty but afterwards I knew it had been the right thing to do.
Steve's story goes back to a time when he went out with a lady called Anne
. Anne had three kids who went to the school I used to work at. She herself was a teacher. Sometimes simple actions and everyday incidents go from ordinary and mundane to bizarre and tragic. That's what happened to Anne. One day she drove home from work and pulled the car up into the drive the way she always did, but for some reason this particular day she forgot to put the handbrake on. As she got out of the car it started to roll backwards down the driveway. In a panic Anne ran to the back of the car and tried to stop it rolling away. Unfortunately she fell and the car ran her over. Her children were home and her eldest son ran to her aid after hearing her screams. Tragically, Anne died from the injuries she sustained, right there on the road at the bottom of the driveway, in the arms of her shocked and horrified son. It's hard to imagine how it could have happened and it's so easy in hindsight to see what could have been done differently that would have completely changed the outcome, leaving it as an almost comical accident, rather than the dreadful tragedy it became.
In my role as school chaplain I became involved with the family and ended up conducting the funeral service as well as seeking to offer some on-going support and care for the bereaved family.
This is where Steve comes in.
The kid's father was no longer on the scene and although he came to the funeral, inexplicably he has had no further contact with the family, not even replying to letters cards or phone calls from his children! I find that horrific and struggle to feel anything other than condemnation and contempt for him, for his callous disregard of his children's needs. I won't say any more. I am surely not without sin and I don't know the full story, but ...!
Thankfully there was Steve to enter the story.
Having been a partner to Anne for several years he knew and loved the kids and purposed in his heart that from that moment he would do everything he could to look after and care for them. And that's what he has done for the last 3 years. They are not his kids, but he has taken on the role of father, provider, supporter, carer, taxi-driver, chief cook and bottle-washer. He left his own home, coming to live with the kids in order to look after them, sleeping on the unfinished back patio extension.
When I spoke to him today I asked him how he is coping and was struck and saddened to hear how much of a struggle it has been. His own health has suffered, it has cost him a great deal financially, he has sacrificed his time and energy totally in caring for the needs of the kids. Sadly, his own Mum, whom he described as his greatest source of strength and encouragement, passed away 6 months ago, leaving him heart broken and lonely. The eldest son in the family has not coped well at all with his mother's death and has gone "off the rails", making him very difficult to live with. His behaviour and attitudes have caused Steve and the other two kids a great deal of pain and upset, so much so that they don't want him to live there any more because he is so difficult. (His behaviour, as described to me by Steve is anti-social and destructive, but in his defence I ask, "How would you cope and deal with the trauma of holding your mother in your arms as she died after a tragic and avoidable accident?")
Before you play the "What about counselling ?" card, Steve reported that they had a couple of disastrous attempts at counselling after the incident and were so shocked and disgusted at the poor service and support offered that they are completely burned and innoculated against counselling. He described one "counselor" as having chastised the kids "for still being upset about their mother's death"!!!!!
The one constant in these kid's lives the last three years has been Steve. He has loved them with determination, compassion, commitment and total dedication to the task. It has cost him a great deal but he has not given up or looked for a way out, he has stuck with them.
He said, "All the support is gone now. It was there at first, after Anne died, but now people have gone back to their normal lives, to their own families and we are on our own." He wasn't bitter, he understood that people need to move on and have their own lives to live, but there was a tinge of sadness and disappointment that he was on his own, bearing a heavy burden with no family or community support.
I was deeply moved by Steve's story. There wasn't anything else I could do, but as I said, I'm glad I rang.
I told him he is a hero, that I have huge admiration and respect for him and for the amazing job he has done in raising these kids who are not his and who he could quite legitimately have walked away from, that he has been a rock of strength and support for them and that I appreciate the lengths he has gone to in caring for them. It wasn't much but I felt good at being able to verbally affirm him for his sacrifice and love offered freely and at great personal cost.
Steve, you are indeed a hero, and I salute you.