At 2:30 am, my dad’s friend called me and told me to come to the hospital right away. He said that my Dad had had a heart attack…I asked him if he was ok. I could tell by the choke in his voice that the answer was no. We arrived at the hospital too late. He was already gone. I stood screaming at the nurses to “Do something! Don’t stop, please.” Of course, those lovely people had already done all that they could. I stood there frozen in disbelief. After a few minutes, I stepped outside to call my brother and the only words I could manage were, “Matthew, Daddy’s gone. I need you to come home now.”
The next morning, the sun came up as usual, and I remember watching people drive by and thinking, “How can you be going about life like usual? Don’t you know that everything has changed forever?” Some people say that the first days after they lose someone is a blur, but for me, those memories are crystal clear and I have to force them out of my mind. I have to remember that those last images are not what I should hold onto. I don’t want to remember my father’s death. I want to remember his life.
One of my favorite articles about grief says, “Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life.”
Going through the grief process is awful. It is gut-wrenching. It is relentless at times. It has made me sick; but oddly enough, it has also given me some gifts:
Grief has taught me that God’s timing is perfect.
I often wish that I had more time with my Dad at the end. Time to say everything I had always wanted to say. Time to ask him all my questions, hear all his stories and soak in every bit of who he was so that it could last me a lifetime without him. I sometimes feel cheated because his passing was so quick. A few days after he died, I asked Jonathan what the last thing I said to my Dad was…I was frantic about the fact that I couldn’t remember the last words we spoke to each other. He said to me, “You told him that you loved him, and you kissed him on the head like you always did.” See…even with more time, I would’ve told him the same exact same thing. He already knew how I felt about him, and I knew how he felt about me. Nothing else or different needed to be said. My dad had a type of Leukemia that would have eventually come back, and it would have been a long, hard passing. The “extra time” I would have had with him would have been torture for him and for us. God, in His kindness, took my father when he was feeling wonderful and enjoying life. God didn’t ask my dad to suffer any more than he already had. God also put a trusted friend in our home that night to support my mom and me until my brother could get home. I don’t understand why it was his time to go. But in a situation that would have been painful no matter when it happened, God’s timing was gracious. It was kind. It was perfect.
Grief has taught me that those who love us never truly leave.
I miss him. Every single day. I miss sharing the little things…like the way he’d gently hold my arm when we would walk through a parking lot. I miss the way he whistled non-stop and sang off tune in the car. I miss the smell of his cologne when I’d hug his neck. I miss hearing him call me “Toots” or asking me if I needed gas money (even well after I was married and out of the house!). Of course, I miss him on the “big” days…birthdays, Christmases, vacations, etc. But most of all, I grieve that he’ll never know my girls and that they won’t know him.
But here’s the truth…in the middle of my grief, God constantly shows me that my Dad is still with me. I see him every time I look at my brother’s hands. I see him in my daughter when she tans to the same perfect shade of golden brown in the summer. In quiet moments, I can close my eyes and still hear his laugh and feel his hand on mine. I am reminded that my daughters will “know” him because he helped to shape their momma. He is with me in the moments when I am about to give up, reminding me that worrying about tomorrow is only draining me of today’s strength. He is the little voice inside me that reminds me that I am blessed. He reminds me that I am loved. He reminds me that I am not alone. Simply put…he is with me. Always. Just as my Heavenly Father has never left me, even in this valley of grief.
Grief has taught me to make the most of every moment.
Death may have cheated me of time, but grief has taught me to make the most of it. Grief can do strange things to you. An emotion that often rears its head for me is envy. It's not something I'm proud of, but it's there all the same. When I hear someone complaining about visiting their parents, it's all I can do not to shake them and say, "Don't you realize how lucky you are?” It’s hard to watch Grandpas play with their grandkids at the park, or even to watch my own in-laws share special days with my girls in a way that my own parents will never get the chance.
You never get over a death. You get through it, yes…and you'll probably get used to it, but you don't get over it. A piece of your life “puzzle” has been removed, and no matter how much you try to rearrange the other pieces, they never quite fit in the same way again. And maybe that's not necessarily an entirely bad thing. If our parents profoundly shaped us in life, then surely their deaths should shape us too…especially in how we live and love.
Soon after my dad died, we adopted our oldest daughter, Gracie, at birth and found out three months later that we were pregnant with our Millie (after eight years of praying for a family). There's nothing quite like the death of a parent followed quickly by motherhood to really make you examine how you spend your time with your children. His death has made me hyper aware that my time with them is short, and that I need to make the most of it. The grief propels me to soak in each moment with my babies. Hopefully it has made me a better mother than I would have otherwise been. Hopefully it has made me a better daughter to my mom and wife to my husband because I am more conscious that each day I have with them is a stolen moment. The grief has made me appreciate life’s “mountain moments” more now because I've had to experience the valley early in life. Grief constantly reminds me that time is short and that I am called to love well. I owe that to my Dad because he loved so well.
“Home” to me will always be 2418 Naples Drive in Schererville, IN. It’s where I spent my first 18 years of life. That house holds all of my memories. Like the Miranda Lambert song says, it’s the house that “built me”. In my mind, home has always been that place…that neighborhood…It’s where we played kick the can during the summer. It’s where my heart was broken for the first time. It’s where we hosted cast parties, football pasta nights, birthday parties and more. When my parents moved from there, I felt like I was anchorless. I felt like I no longer had a “home” to go back to anymore.
But now, Grief has reminded me of my true home. Before my dad died, I always thought of heaven as that faraway place in the sky. Angels dancing on clouds, streets of gold, cherubs buzzing about…you get the picture. But when he passed, the realization that Heaven was real came over me quickly, and was one of the only things that gave me real hope in the first dark days. My dad is truly “home” now. I have found comfort in the fact that after a hard life, my dad is healthy and whole again in heaven. And that’s where he’ll be waiting for me.
Revelation 21:4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.