Things at home had been steadily getting worse, my father was becoming more violent towards my mother and my underage age drinking was increasing as well. I was training twice a week at Glenavon FC and also on a Monday night in the Tech Gymnasium with another local team. I tried to spend as little time in the house as possible. I would often walk the short distance around the corner to my Grandmother’s house in Union Street and get food there just to get away from the constant fighting and arguing.
At the age of fifteen I left home and went to live with my Grandparents. It was great for a number of reasons, it was quiet, there was no arguing or fighting and I could come and go as I pleased. I went a little out of control during my stay there but would rather not go into all the details. Except to say that my attitude towards my parents were hardening and I was very angry and resentful towards them.
On one occasion I was walking through Trasnaway to get to a friend’s house and I met my mother coming towards me one the opposite side of the road. She called to me but I completely ignored her and kept on walking. I deeply regret doing that. I would seldom go home and if I did it was to see my younger brother and sister.
I have paused before writing the next chapter because old emotions and painful memories are coming back to me. It was a Friday the 21st of February 1975 and my mother had sent a message that she had something important to tell me. By now I was going to school whenever I felt like it, the truth is that most of the time I did not feel like going. This particular Friday was one of those days so I went round in the morning to see my mother and find out what this important thing was that she wanted to tell me.
My brother and sister were at school and my father was in Craigavon hospital in the Early Treatment Unit (ETU) for his alcohol problem so we were alone in the house. My mother was suffering much due to the domestic violence and what I can understand now as being emotional torture. She too was now drinking heavily and was also on prescription drugs, I assume they were for depression.
The reason she wanted to see me was to inform me that she knew someone who could get me a job in a local factory when I left school later that year age sixteen. What I am about to share next haunted me for over twenty years of my life. I began verbally abusing my mother in a really vicious way; I had put on the mantle of my father. I swore at her and told her that I did not want anything from her nor did I need anything from her. I stormed out of the house and that was the last time I ever spoke to my mother.
Later that afternoon my mother was found dead in the kitchen of our house, she had gassed herself. Someone came round to my Grandmothers and told me to go home quickly that something had happened. When I got round to the house there was an ambulance and a police car outside. I had no idea what I would find inside the house. People were trying to revive my mother but it was too late.
Can I please pause here for a moment and plead with anyone who has a broken relationship with a parent or any other family member to make things right before it might be too late and you have to live with regret and remorse for the rest of your life. There is part of a verse in scripture that says, “Do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Eph 4:26). Make things right with people now because for some the sun might never shine on them again.
I cannot describe the different feelings and emotions that I encountered as a sixteen year old boy who felt that my mother was dead because of the terrible way that I had treated her. I later mainly blamed my father but I believed that I was a guilty party as well. I can remember running around to my Grandparents house and telling them what had happened and seeing their disbelief. I went out to the outside toilet and cried my heart out, punching the wall and shouting, “You have left me again”. I thought that I had long forgotten and forgiven the abandonment years earlier, but that must not have been the case.
My father was released from the hospital for the funeral but he seemed to be in a daze and did not really understand what was happening. We were probably all in shock and disbelief. My lasting memory on the day of the funeral was at the grave side. I have absolutely no recollection of who conducted the service or what they said but what I will never forget is this, God spoke to me and asked me this question, “Jim one day you too will be lowered into the ground just like your mother, what then?”
For only the second time in my life I felt a terrible frightening fear of death. The verses of scripture that I had been faithfully taught in the Brethern and Salvation Army halls were still deep down in my heart and now they were rising up to challenge me. The verse that comes to mind the most is Heb 9:27, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment”. I knew in my heart that if I was to die there and then I was not prepared to meet the judge.
My father’s brother who lived in Belfast was a great help and comfort to us at that time. My brother and sister went to stay with family members and I stayed in the house with my father and uncle. The date was the 25th of February 1975 it was very late and my uncle was talking to me about my eternal soul. My uncle had been a bit of a wild character in his day but had apparently become a Christian and lived a different lifestyle now.
My head and my heart were well and truly mixed up and I was so uncertain what would happen to my family and to myself. My father could not look after himself let alone three children. My uncle insisted that if I gave my heart and life to Jesus he would come and change me, forgive me and help me. I needed help and I wanted forgiveness, especially for the last words I had spoken to my mother.
I told him that I wanted to ask Jesus into my heart, I already knew what I needed to do, my Sunday school teachers had taught me well. I knelt on the living room floor and asked Jesus to forgive my sins, I repented and received God’s wonderful gift of salvation. But as I was praying the door into the kitchen where my mother had died started to knock. Even as I recall this now the hairs on my neck are standing up.
I immediately stopped praying and jumped to my feet petrified. My uncle had his bible opened in his hand because he had been reading it to me; he did not seem to be afraid at all. He said to me that Satan was trying to distract me and prevent me from becoming a child of God but I had prayed the prayer and Satan had no longer any hold on my life. He walked towards the kitchen door with his open bible, the door was still knocking and he asked me to follow him. I could not move, that saying of being scared stiff was a reality to me.
I just stood there crying. My uncle opened the door, switched on the kitchen light and walked in. Everything was silent; it was the early hours of the morning. He came back to the door and called me over to him, I was able to move now. I did not go into the kitchen I just stuck my head around the corner and there was just my uncle. When I eventually went to bed I did not sleep very well but there seemed to be a peace in my heart.