The Gift That Freed Me To Give
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Guest Post by Dr. O. Raye Adkins
A significant lesson for me has been understanding and accepting that our greatest gains often come through experiences in our lives that may be extremely painful.
My father, Raphel Orval Beason, died less than four months before I was born at the age of 19 in an explosion at the Port Chicago U.S. Navy arsenal near Oakland, Calif. He was among 320 men killed on July 17, 1944, when two merchant ships blew next to the docks where the men were loading bullets, bombs and other materials.
It was the worst stateside accident of World War II, but for years very little was known about it. I lived until I was 12 with my grandparents in my father’s hometown of Palestine, Texas. But no one in my family talked very much about what happened.
As a child I had many more questions than anyone could answer. At every opportunity, I asked other children about their dads. Although I encountered many children with absent fathers, it seemed I was only one whose daddy had died before their birth. I felt different and ashamed in a way I could not explain or understand.
I wondered why my father had left before knowing I had safely made it into the world. It seemed that the norm was to have two parents, somewhere. I had always had only one.
Mother said that my daddy was certain that she was carrying a baby boy. I longed to let him know that I was not a boy, but that I was his little girl. Mother gave me his name, rearranged a little. His name was Raphel Orval; mine, Orval Ray. I became Orval Ray and later, simply Raye.
As I grew up, got married, became a mom and worked for years as a public school teacher and principal, Port Chicago was always with me. My only memento of my father was a black and white photo of him in his cap and gown the day he graduated from high school.
When my mother passed away, I grieved not only for her but for my father as well. My heartache for my father escalated and became inconsolable. I cried constantly — always in private. I suffered constant sharp pains in my lower back. I had denied, stored and covered the impact of my father’s loss for too long.
Fortunately I had a friend I could talk to – my neighbor Meg Hudson. She helped to unmask some of the hidden pain and doubts by reassuring me that the emotions I felt for him were valid and not so unusual. And she encouraged me to get counseling, saying: “You cannot do this by yourself.”
I called Wajida Quintero, a life coach I had met in a professional setting. She explained that it is not unusual for grief over a loved-one long gone to surface and even overshadow a recent loss. One of her first suggestions was that I buy a gift for myself that could have come from my father.
For most of my life, I had wanted to have that special gift that would have come only from a daddy’s hand. I imagined that the gift would have been given for no special occasion other than an expression of his love. I would have vowed to keep it for a lifetime. I would’ve kept it with me from my early years and on through college. And finally, as an adult, it would have been a tucked away treasure and a reminder of my father’s love.
I searched in department stores, toy stores, specialty shops and catalogues. I looked at dolls, games, stuffed animals, and gadgets to no avail. Finally I found it — an oversized teddy bear that I named Collemore after my grandfather, my father’s dad. The gift was a physical form of consolation that I had not been able to seek or request. It empowered me to receive consolation.
The teddy bear was the first of three gifts that drew my out of my depression. Other miraculous gifts allowed me to visit the place where my father died and to have his name added to a monument honoring World War II veterans in Palestine, Texas.
Since then I have founded a nonprofit foundation and a company that sells products to help others, particularly children of poverty who need help getting a good education and kids who have lost a parent.
One of the things we have done is establish a program called Help The Bear to distribute teddy bears to foster children in Texas and New Mexico. Our foundation also raises money to support schools in Africa.
My healing progressed when I was able to acknowledge the grief I had always felt and accept that teddy bear and other gifts that came to me years after my father’s death. They may not have been given as I’d imagined, but I shall be eternally grateful for the gifts and the healing attached to them.
About the Author: O. Raye Adkins, Ed.D, is a former school principal turned nonprofit executive, expert on caring for children facing loss and poverty, and author of the new book Letters To My Father: The Gifts. In her book, Dr. Adkins chronicles, through letters to her father, her journey from pain and grief to miraculous gifts and blessings. Learn more about Dr. Adkins and her work to care for children facing loss and poverty at www.letters2myfather.com and www.oramite.com.
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