My husband, Olda, was born in 1962, in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia had a tumultuous history as a country. Olda’s father, Anton, was a political protester against communism. The Soviet Union led an invasion into Czechoslovakia in 1968 to squelch the reformist trends by the Czechoslovakian government. Olda was 6.
In the time before Olda’s family escaped from Czechoslovakia in 1969, Anton was imprisoned for staging rallies and giving political speeches. He was tortured and beaten by Soviet soldiers. They stomped on his hands, breaking all his fingers. They closed his dental practice. He and his family lived under house arrest in a tiny room for several months, using a pail as a toilet.
Olda and his mom fled Czechoslovakia with fake papers on one of the last trains to leave the country before the borders were closed. Soldiers stopped the train to verify people’s documents. A little boy spat at one of the soldiers. He and his father were removed from the train and killed in front of Olda’s eyes. He was 6.
Anton was in his 60s when the Boubin family came to the United States. He initially found work in the sugar beet fields near Crookston, Minnesota. He was no longer able to practice dentistry but was a talented artist and sold paintings for a meager living for the family. Life was very hard. At one point, Olda scrounged through dumpsters for food. When Olda was 12, his father died. The family had no support system.
Olda’s mother, Vera, introduced us when we were in college. Olda was handsome and funny. He was confident and a leader. I fell in love with him fast. I don’t remember exactly when he told me of his family’s tragic history. In looking at him you would never guess the trauma he experienced as a little boy. Throughout our marriage, I learned about issues that plagued their family after coming to the United States: alcohol abuse, abuse and mental illness, that his mother suffered from depression and attempted suicide twice. Olda found his mother after she completed suicide in 1996.
In 2001, we moved to Lexington, Nebraska, where Olda worked as the special education director. Our community was over 50% Hispanic. Olda worked with many immigrant families, and my belief is that this triggered all the trauma of his own immigration story that he hadn’t resolved. He suffered terrible anxiety which lead to horrific depression. He experienced post traumatic stress disorder including frightening nightmares. He struggled for the next 10 years. Olda died by suicide in August 2011. My youngest child was 6.
When Olda died, people we knew were shocked. They had no idea about Olda’s mental illness and the pain our family was experiencing. The Owatonna community was amazing. We received cards and food from our friends, our school family, our church family, but also from people we didn’t know. The kindness we experienced will never be forgotten. Thank you to all who helped us during the worst time of our lives.
The first thing I did when a police officer came to our house and told me my husband was dead, I gathered my children, and we prayed. We prayed a lot. I told my children, that I did not want my husband’s death to define our family, but that I believed something good would come out of it. And I believe something has. My children have good hearts. They almost always give others the benefit of the doubt. I think this is because they know that we have no idea the pain another person is experiencing. Although the siblings have their squabbles, I think they are usually considerate of others.
I started working as a therapist in 1989. I was naïve and unprepared for the pain I would witness in families with whom I worked. There was physical abuse, sexual abuse, drug and alcohol use, domestic violence and mental illness. I took a break from working to raise my children for 12 years and returned to the workforce in 2007 and was saddened to find nothing had changed. Children, like Olda, are still experiencing childhood trauma, pain over which they have no control. In many cases, that trauma will negatively impact their lives, the decisions they make about drug and alcohol use, their risks for mental illness and healthy relationships.
Two weeks ago, I watched in horror as one man slowly and calmly killed another human being. Most individuals were united in outrage. Then within a couple of days, I watched people steal other’s property, destroy businesses and damage Minneapolis and other cities around our country. In our outrage about a senseless death, we have caused more death. Police officers have been killed; business owners have been killed; a 5-year-old girl was killed standing on a street corner in Chicago. These lives lost are no less valuable than George Floyd’s or anyone else’s. We should grieve everyone of these tragic deaths.
There is a lot of finger pointing about whose problem this is and who should fix it. My answer is me. The only way I can make a more peaceful place in this world is to be more peaceful. To model this for my children. I definitely have moments of failure. Just last month I took my frustration out on the wrong person. It was not a peaceful moment. I was embarrassed and apologized for my behavior.
I love Saint Mother Teresa. Her devotion to the poorest of the poor is inspiring. I so admire her faith and courage. She said, “The way you help heal the world is that you start with your own family.” I pray for healing in our country, for peace in our world, for peace within our families but also for peace in my own heart.
“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” — Jill Jackson-Miller and Sy Miller