This was the hardest thing I have ever written. Not only is it difficult to describe how one feels, but most of all to be so open and transparent with your deepest thoughts and feelings; to bear your very soul and expose it to the picking and prodding of judgmental eyes; to invite another into the most intimate and vulnerable place of your being. But, just maybe, sharing my story will help someone else in their journey of healing.
For those who do not know, two months ago today (April 20th) I lost my dad to a short-lived and very aggressive terminal illness. Cancer. I almost can’t say the word. He only lived thirty days – all spent in the hospital – from the day he went into the emergency room until the day of his death. He was diagnosed only three weeks before he died, with AML or Acute Myeloid Leukemia. The night before he died we learned he had acquired the most aggressive and least treatable type of AML.
Who knew that trip to the ER had already begun the journey of lasts for him: the last time he worked, the last time he went to church carrying his handmade wooden Bible case, the last time he taught Family Bible Hour, the last time he felt really good (or at least okay), the last night he slept in his own bed, the last time he left his home (little did he or anyone know he’d never come back), the last time he took a drive with my mom, the last time he would sit up and wait for her to walk in the door from work, the last time my sons would be able to spend any time with their grandpa, the last time my mom would watch him walk up from his jeep, after a long day at work, carrying his lunch box and a plaid buttoned-shirt loosely thrown on top, and the last time he would eagerly devote his time to help another with their project. These all break my heart.
The first week and a half of his hospital stay was packed full of unknowns, questions, confusion and concern. I had a feeling from the beginning he wouldn’t be leaving. Even with that feeling I still never imagined I’d slowly, over the course of the next thirty days, be forced to let go of the hand of my father –the man who raised me and protected me; the man who introduced me to Jesus and guided me when I plodded dark paths; the man who spoke truth whether I was a willing listener or not; the man who lived and breathed God’s Word. He once suggested he and I go on a “hike” so I could take pictures, but it turned into hours of him patiently waiting while I took hundreds of pictures, never complaining once. However, something that imprinted me most was in the hospital. As one of my brothers and my mom sat with him he began weeping uncontrollably. When he was finally able to talk he shared that he had prayed for years for his wife and his five children to have a closer walk with God. And through tears he told them, “What if this is the answer to my own prayer?” He felt God ask him if he was willing to go through it. His answer was “Yes – yes I am.” He told us he had peace from that moment on. He willingly laid down his life – if it was God’s will to take it – so that through this final journey (the leukemia) his kids and wife would have a closer walk with God.
Grieving – the true rawness of grief – is not talked about. It’s a hush-hush subject. We are usually able to openly admit we’re grieving, but we stop there. The tears start rolling and we quickly run and hide. We don’t describe the extreme sadness or the overwhelming heartache that a loss creates. So I will open myself up. I will share what’s in my heart: the difficulty, the turmoil, the good and the unpleasant.
Grief is stressful, sometimes it’s ugly, but it’s always sad. Some of these moments are short, while others hang on, but here is the truth of my grief:
There are moments when I only see the ugly side of death. There are moments when I miss my dad immensely. There are moments when I fondly replay the memories of him over and over. There are moments I feel I have been cheated the time I deserve with my dad.
And other moments when I am jealous that he is pain and sorrow-free. There is no more evil, only beauty and righteousness in his sight. I rejoice for him – I cannot even begin to imagine what he’s experiencing! To sit at the feet of Jesus. To walk the streets of gold. To sing praises like none of us have ever known. To behold God’s goodness, love and grace firsthand. To see the supernatural world, the angels, and God’s amazing and majestic glory! God’s glory makes me think of the sun – how bright it is for our eyes. Yet the sun is only a part of God’s handiwork – it’s not even Him. Can you imagine how much more amazing and more glorious He is!?
There are moments when I am actually okay, followed by moments when I am completely swallowed up by my own grief. I am extremely sad knowing my boys will never remember the wonderful man I called “Dad.” There are moments when I feel numb and I seem to have forgotten and I simply revert back to my, he-cannot-possibly-be-gone mindset. I want to feel his intense bear hug one more time. Absentmindedly I expect him to walk in the door when visiting their house, or I think I see him out of the corner of my eye. Some mornings I want to call him again to share what I learned in God’s Word or ask him a question. And I want to tell him once more how much I respect and love him.
There are moments when I’m overtaken by fear, by sadness, by joy; overtaken by my own emotions and thoughts. Sometimes I have no idea what I am thinking, and there is no possible way to identify any particular thought.
There is a battle raging inside. Part of me thinks I know how I’m supposed to view death and how I am supposed to grieve – after all, we learn from watching those around us. You’re allowed to grieve for a short time, but it has to come to an end. Anyway, crying is a sign of weakness, I’ve heard some say. I am supposed to trust in God’s sovereign plan; that my dad’s death was part of His purpose. My head agrees, but my heart argues. I do not always think good about my dad’s death, in fact, I struggle to these days. I just spent the last two weeks making sure my eyes darted quickly past two particular places in my house. In those places sit pictures of my dad. I avoided thinking about him. I finally came to the conclusion that I was coping, not processing. I was afraid to face the sting of sorrow if I looked at his picture for more than a glance. I was afraid to think about him for more than a passing moment because I didn’t want experience the crushing emotions I knew I couldn’t escape if I let myself feel. It’s easier to lie to yourself than believe he’s truly gone. It’s much less agonizing to push aside the pain rather than to embrace it, accept it and heal. I struggle at times with anger toward God for taking him. I struggle with jealousy because others still have their dads, and I feel they may take for granted the time they have to spend with them. It’s not their fault and they’re not doing anything wrong, I’m just sad.
No one talks about this, but there is a certain element of darkness and mystery to death. Why? Because God created life. He never meant for that life to end. The penalty of sin is death, so the moment sin entered the world, so did death. We do not like to experience death, especially when it directly affects our life. Death is not pleasant. I had the bittersweet opportunity to watch my dad in his last hours, minutes and seconds. I watched him take his last breath. I later watched as he was lowered into the ground. In my mind I picture his body, laying a few feet beneath the ground’s surface. Alone. Waiting only for time. Time to make his body disappear. In my heart I know he’s with Jesus in heaven, but my mind battles my heart to grasp that he is not in that grave. His soul – what makes him him – is not left alone in the ground to decay. As a believer, I am to grieve as one who has hope because he is alive with Christ, but I also continue living my life without him. I know that I should have hope and comfort, but there is still so much sadness and pain. And so, the battle rages on.
Around those who are mourning there is silence. Perhaps we simply avoid them. But we will all experience a death. It’s inescapable. And just as each person works through situations in their own way, death is no different. It affects us all uniquely. Do not ignore your grief. Don’t wish it away. Do not feel you need to justify it. Grief is normal; grief is necessary. Grief is an emotional process that helps you work through your loss, no matter how great or how little.
And this is what I keep telling myself too.