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Living in the shadows

‘Grandpa touched me’ — A tragic story of child abuse

Editor’s note: The names in this four-part series have been changed to protect the identity of the family involved.

It is one of a parent’s worst nightmares. The unthinkable. Horrific events that will haunt every waking hour ... perhaps forever. It is the story that might happen to someone else, but it could never happen to you ... until it does.

The Smith family appears to have it all — a beautiful home, a steady and more-than-sufficient income, a tightly-knit family who wears smiles on their faces. But underneath those smiles, there is turmoil, fear and secrets that some might think are better left untold.

But the Smiths, who continue to search for healing, believe the sharing of their secret might just help someone else, another family who is struggling with similar circumstances. Here is their story ...

For quite some time, John and Jane Smith had worried about their daughter. While their other children were relatively easy to parent, their pre-teen daughter, Susie, was difficult. She bucked authority; she was often selfish, ungrateful, angry and disrespectful. John and Jane attempted different parenting strategies, but nothing seemed to work.

And then one night, Susie divulged a secret to her parents that she had been hiding for quite some time. Suddenly, it all made sense ... Susie said her grandfather had been “touching” her for quite some time.

“My husband and I were dumbfounded and in complete shock,” Jane said. “The image of a comic strip character with their chin on the floor comes to mind. I don’t think we were able to say anything before (Susie) asked in a carefree, fun-loving voice if she (could go back to what she had been doing). It was as if the terribly heavy load wasn’t hers to carry any longer.

“When (we) found our voices, we discussed our plan of action,” Jane continued. “We would talk with (Susie) more the next day to verify what she meant by ‘touching’ and call the counselor to make an appointment as soon as possible. Basically, we were in shock.” Jane said, adding they immediately began going through the motions of what they needed to do. She likened it to how one feels when a loved one dies — going through a grief stage and jumping through hoops to plan a funeral and eventually calling the other family members. The Smiths needed to remain silent about the abuse for six weeks while the investigation was ongoing.

So now what? You have just learned a family member — Grandpa — has been sexually molesting your child.

Jane said since the offender was a family member, the couple had to worry/wonder how this news would affect the relationships of their nuclear family with the extended family, but they vowed that regardless of the outcome — even if they were ostracized by the whole family, they would accept it and stand behind their daughter.

The emotions ran rampant ...

“I went through a lot of disbelief. Is this really happening? And yet I couldn’t deny it very long because the reality was there would be another legal ‘hoop’ to jump through or another counseling session to attend,” Jane said.

The anger was incredible.

“How could he do this to my baby? When I first saw him again five months later in the courtroom, all I wanted to do was take him and shake him and say, ‘How could you? How could you? How could you?’”

Jane said most of the men in the family wanted revenge — wanting to beat Grandpa up or even kill him.

She admits to having one particular day like that.

“It’s a horrible feeling to hate someone that much, but I think that day was more of a selfish one for me,” Jane said. “I thought of the years I had spent beating myself up for doing something wrong in the way I raised my children because they could be so disrespectful, selfish and ungrateful — not to infer that we have been anything near perfect in our parenting, but their behavior just seemed so incongruent with the values we were trying to instill in them and the way we treated them. I left that day behind by reminding myself that as much as I would like to .... I cannot change what has happened. I can only accept it and do my best to live and love well today.

Again, Jane compared the situation to the loss of a loved one.

“You grieve the loss of your child’s innocence, and you grieve that your ‘baby’ had to fight this lonely, adult-sized battle all by themselves,” Jane said.

Jane said she thought about the situation constantly. The abuse had been going on so long Susie couldn’t remember when it first began, and Jane and John couldn’t remember when their happy-go-lucky girl became so angry.

The second segment in this series in Tuesday’s BCR focuses on the Smiths learning their daughter, Susie, wasn’t alone in suffering abuse at the hands of her grandfather.

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