For the first time publicly, Cynthia Vaughn tells the powerful story of finding liberation after forgiving a man confined on Tennessee’s “death row,” convicted of murdering one of her loved ones.
Here is the moving and vulnerable story from Jackie Rizo on childhood violation, loneliness, shame, and forgiveness. She told it at Tenx9’s October theme “Fear.”
“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always … so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”
As the summer night began, she gracefully entered the home as a young, teenage girl. Her long curls bounced back and forth as her and her friends danced the night away with Dr Dre, Meatloaf, & Ace of Base. It was a party of firsts for her. Her first time to be at a party with no supervision. A party where the boys shot guns & where many drank alcohol.
It was the party that changed her course of life.
She was your average, Small Town Girl, well-known in her community for her role in sports. Her family was poor, probably the only ‘somewhat’ homeless family in the town. But it didn’t stop her from trying to rise above it, instead she hid her home life from the world. No one needed to know that she lived in a house with no utilities, no food, and an absent father.
As the night grew late, she was escorted into a room by her boyfriend. He was clearly drunk and she was clearly naive. As quickly as the door shut, his arms restricted her with each heartbeat. She was forced to give him something that was never his to begin with.
And from downstairs, she could hear the Eagles sing “Desperado” while her tears puddled the bed sheets.
She left the house much differently than she had arrived. Out the front door, there was a new road awaiting her. It was dark, lonely, and expressed itself just as she had felt.
And that is when she took her first steps….steps that led her down the road of despair.
Small town living is rather beautiful. A place kind of like “Cheers”. You know, “where everyone knows your name & their always glad that you came.”
But, that quickly changes when a girl looses her virginity at the age of 14.
No, it is at that moment that it becomes a brutal place to live.
Rumors spread quickly about her. Feeling helpless, she said nothing. For it was far too late for her defense.
The years passed and her void became a black hole, sucking her into a life spinning out of control.
She was the type of girl that masked her hurts with drugs, alcohol, and a handful of partners. One that tried hard to do right, but kept filling the void with instant gratification that only left her soul famished.
Shame laid heavily on her head. Her eyes felt comfort in the floor. Her best friend, well, we all know her by the name of “Loneliness”.
She was the type of girl that taunted trouble & that trouble loved to chase. And if I’m honest, there were times that I, too, would bask in her careless spirit. From spotlight parties to the country back roads, we’d dance & drink the cares away.
But, in reality…..I absolutely hated her and all that she represented. She found her defense in her false reality. Her lies were told out of self-preservation. She would cover the truth for fear of being exposed, alone, and unloved. Hope, well, you wouldn’t see hope shine on her path.
She spent her entire life in hiding. A place where only loneliness knew of her childhood, her abuse, & her poor choices. She would throw the memories in her prison cell, lock the door, and pretend to forget.
But we all know, no one can run from their past.
I can no longer run.
From my bathroom mirror, I see her eyes stare back at me yearning to be free. She silently cries and I tell her to stop. Her tears are not wanted here.
This is MY here. I created my “now”.
It is a place where I single-handedly laid each & every thick, cement brick, in order to mask the screams of a 14 year old girl crying out for her innocence to return.
A place to hide past & present mistakes.
A place for this wife to throw her shame.
I pushed the old me in that cell & tried to keep her locked up for over 13 years. But she is an escape artist. Her bruising is permanent and smells of filth. She is a carrier of shame, regret, and bad experiences. I threw her in there because I didn’t want to look at her. I didn’t think she deserved to exist.
It’s funny how the truth will set you free regardless if you ask it to or not.
This past year has been a long one for my marriage.
My husband knows her, my past. He has fought for me to bring her in the light, to expose every hidden corner within my soul for healing to be found. But to do so, would mean that I would have to tell him the present truth…. I am still her.
If exposed, I just knew he would see my lies, my loneliness, my void, & my shame. He’d know that I still hide & that my heart desired to look for something outside of marriage.
For 13 years of marriage, fear was winning. If he knew, I was convinced he’d leave me. He’d stop loving me.
So one by one, I laid false bricks around my inner world & waged an unnecessary war to protect it.
But to my surprise, he fought back harder, uncovering me until there was nothing left to uncover.
I spent years in fear of losing the one person who loves me with such tenderness. The one willing and desiring to love all of me.
I’ve heard it said, “Love conquers fear.”
Not in a fairy tale kind of way. But in a way that gives a hurting husband strength to reach out in forgiveness to his broken wife.
After all this time, I finally realize that there was never just one road awaiting me that night back in 1993 or any night thereafter.
For many years, I blinded myself from this simple fact.
I continually chose to find comfort in my own despair.
Missing a road where hope is found.
Where honesty reigns.
And where forgiveness wears no chains.
Here is Jacques Sirois’ story on hospice, death, and the sacred words, “I love you,” and “goodbye.” Told at February’s Tenx9 event.
Michael sent me a text yesterday asking me what my story was about? I answered: “Death, ask me no more questions.” His reply was “ OK..”
My favorite movie in 2013 was “The Book Thief” in which I fell in love with a character that you never see but only hear his voice, his name was Death.
In 1955 there was a song written for a movie with the same name and was last recorded by Ringo Starr in 1998 on his album called “Sentimental Journey”, the title of the song was “Love is a many Splendored Things”.
Let me combine these two facts and tell you about my love story and what it has to do with death.
My love story starts my involvement with Hospice, an organization I have been a part of for the past 14 years. It’s a love story not of watching someone die, but the privilege of being on sacred ground when you’re in the room with a love one as they pass.
It all began in 1982 when my father lost both his legs due to diabetes leaving him wheelchair bound and depending on my mother and myself to aid him with some basic tasks such as dressing, bathing, and turning around in bed during the night.
Growing up, my relationship with my father was not the greatest and things like hugs and saying I love you was not a part of everyday life in my household.
After losing his leg and having to depend on me more and more, my father taught me to how to say “I love you” and he made sure to say it every time I assisted him in the simplest task that he was not able to do alone.
One night in March of 1985, my father had a bad cold and I was awaken hearing him cough. I went downstair to see if he needed anything and he said my mother already gave him cough medicine, he felt tired and most likely would fall asleep soon. As I proceeded up the stairs, he called out my name and when I respond he told me that he loved me. Those were his last words he spoke , he died that night. 29 years later I still hear his saying those precious word like it happened this afternoon. I believe hearing those simple yet powerful words that night, was the best THANK YOU for my years of service to my father.
In 2000 I became a volunteer for Hospice, a position I feel honored to hold to this day. Hospice has taught me not to be afraid of death and to be that helping hand with family members as they participate in the dying process.
A couple of years after my father’s death, unbeknown to me, my mother invited her sister to come and live with us. It started off good but in a short period of time it turned sour and I was stuck in the middle, my aunt had no other place to go. This woman was not a happy person which could make being in the same house with her very uncomfortable.
My aunt was 90 yrs. old and in great health,but one morning while turning off the stove her nightgown caught on fire. She had a bathrobe over the nightgown and the flame smoldered up her arm and down her back until my mother threw water on her to put out the fire. I was with her the day before she died.
She woke up long enough to tell me that she was afraid that she would not go to heaven. I asked her if I could pray with her to put her mind to ease, which she agreed and I could sense a peace that came over her. I not only prayed for her, I forgave her and I said goodbye let her know that I was going to be there for her until she passed on. She died the next morning and there was a sense of peace as she passed..
The sad part was my aunt was a widow, had no children an had 3 sister that live in the area, my mother was in the same hospital at the time and would not come up to see her. I have always felt that my mother and her sisters were never at peace with Aunt Julie’s death and a lot of it had to do with the fact they never forgave her and never said goodbye.
In 2008, at the age of 94, my mother had a stroke and was in rehab for 2 months. During her time in rehab she fought hard to get better so she could come home, I believe she worked hard so she could come home and die. She lasted 4 day after coming home.
Less than 24 hours before I realize she was dying, I called all 12 of my sibling telling them they better come home. It was then that my years of Hospice work kicked in fast. I not only made sure my mother knew she was not alone, but was able to teach my sibling the importance of saying goodbye, something none of us had a chance to do for our father.
One stipulation we established , was if anyone wanted to be alone with our mother, everyone had to leave the room out of respect for that sacred time with her. Some sat and held her hand, others prayed with her, one of my sister actually climbed into bed to be with her. I imagine some asked for forgiveness and forgave her.
The privilege I experience was the one time I was alone with her. She opened her eyes and said thank you for taken care of her for 32 years and that she loved me. Again I was the last one in the family to hear the final words “I love you” from each of my parents. What a gift!
When my mother died there were 10 of her 13 children in the room. Two massaging her hands and 2 massaging her feet. Each one of us felt the loss in our lives, but that day we all remember the love that filled the room. A side note: my mother died in the same room she was born in 94 years earlier
My last love story with death happen in November of last year. My brother, who just turned 67, had a stroke , fallen and not found until 6 hours later. He had fluid built up around his brain.
His children made difficult decision collectively to take him off life support, knowing that was a decision he had discussed with his sons before any of this happened.
No knowing for sure if I would make it home in time to see my, I called my nephew while he was in the hospital room with his father and asked if he would put the phone to my brother ear so I could talk to him. Hearing is the last thing to go in the dying process.
I told him goodbye, that I loved him, I asked for forgiveness for anything might between us, lastly I told him it was ok to die.
Once my sibling heard what I did, each of one that lived a distance away, took the time to call to say goodbye and that they loved him. Those that lived in the area made sure to say those precious words every time the entered or left the room
An important lesson I learned from Hospice was to always make sure to say goodbye when we have the chance. I believe that saying goodbye and making peace with a loved one takes the sting out of death.
A quote from Martin Heidegger :“If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life- and only then will I be free to become myself”.
So yes, Love can be a many Splendored thing, even in death.