Losing Life But Gaining so much more: Reflections on my Dad.
It was midnight, and I was finishing up my custodial work in the FMA, my senior year of college. Usually, my night consisted of hyper girls riding around in mop buckets and singing “glorious” harmonies while “working”; but this night was overclouded by a sense of sadness that came over me. I didn’t know what it was at that moment, but I remember distinctly feeling “different” in those few moments as I was getting ready to go back to my dorm. I headed back to my room, got in my bunkbed and pulled the blanket down that I had rigged to create a cave-like experience. With 3 other girls in the room, you had to do what you had to do.
Around 2 am, my dorm supervisor came in our room, pulled back my cave door, and asked me to come down to her room. To be honest, I was a little put-out. Seriously, “You’re going to pull me out of bed to talk to me now, in the middle of the night?” I really wasn’t thinking that I was about to get bad news. I’m not sure what I thought. I was just confused. She handed me the phone and told me it was my mom. “My mom?” Now I was really confused. I’ll never forget the pain I could hear in my mom’s voice as she told me my Dad had died. I was in shock. Just 6 days before I was performing my senior speech recital, and my dad was telling me how proud he was of me. My family was together and we were celebrating. And now, he was gone? It was hard to process.
3 years earlier, my dad had been diagnosed with Cardiomyopathy, a form of heart disease. When we first heard the news of his condition, he had been told he had between 5 and 10 years, but that new studies and new equipment were being introduced that could possibly help increase his life. I was young when I heard this initial news. I really did not think this meant my dad was going to die. I was naively under the impression that doctors could fix anything, and that they would fix my dad. My sister on the other hand, being a nurse, perhaps had a different perspective. I remember exactly where we were when he told our family of his condition. We were in SC at my sister and her husband’s little house, all sitting in their living room. I don’t remember why we were in SC, but I remember some of those conversations that took place around this news. I remember my dad specifically saying, “You know, I want to be around to meet my little grandkids, if God gives me any.” This has stuck with me every single year as I remember him, and especially now that I have a child.
The diagnosis was 5-10 years, My dad made it 3 years. The evening of April 24th, he decided to go hit some golf balls at a nearby driving range in our little town of Fremont. He had planned to bring some dessert back for my mom and him on his way home. However, he would never return home. After a few hours, my mom became anxious as to why he hadn’t come home yet. Calls were being made to his cell phone, but there was no answer. Not knowing which driving range he went to, some people in our church helped go out and look with my mom. They separated and went to different ranges. It was a close friend of the family who noticed my Dad, sitting on the golf course bench, not breathing. How thankful I am that God spared my mom that scene. Our friend performed CPR and did what he could, but my dad had already passed. My dad used to joke, “When I die, I want to either be in the pulpit or on a golf course!” I guess God granted him that wish.
I held it together the best I could as I talked to my mom and tried to comfort her. Knowing we would talk again soon, we said goodbye and that we loved each other. In those first few moments I wanted to be alone. I was still in shock and needed some time to process what I had just heard. Shortly after, I made a phone call to Ricky, my boyfriend ( now my husband). I broke down. He, of course, thought I was laughing and was trying to make out what I was saying. It soon became apparent what I was telling him. I then woke up one of my best friends and through sobs, told her the news I had just received. Hannah stayed with me that entire night. We sat down in the study lounge on the couches and she held me. How thankful I was for such supportive friends during that time. I would desperately need them in the days to come.
The next day I felt numb. Jenna, another one of my close friends stayed by my side helping me push through my classes and projects that I did not want to put off. We were coming right up on exam week, and I knew I would most likely miss my exams and have to come back to finish them. The texts and messages that were coming in were overwhelming. I love how people come together in such support and encouragement, especially when tragedy happens. Many want to say the right thing, many don’t know what to say, many want to help but can’t, and many can relate. But, You don’t need the perfect words, or the perfect sympathy card. You just need to show them that you love, and that you care. Everyone handles death differently. Some want to talk about it and express their feelings and struggles. Others need more time and want to continue to process things in their own mind, without pouring it out to others. And both types can be encouraged by those who love them. Don’t be afraid to reach out; to say something.
I won’t go into the details of the funeral and all that surrounded that, but those were some of the hardest days for me and my family. Getting through a funeral for someone close to you is one thing, but facing the reality every single day that they really are gone, is another. He’s not answering the phone. He’s not telling a joke. He’s not here. It’s the reality, and you have to start dealing with it. The sorting, the selling, the decisions; it was hard.
My Dad was one of a kind. He was handsome, witty, talented, and passionate. I wish I could have known him when he was younger. From the stories I’ve heard, he was a riot in school. One particular story that stands out is the time he and his buddies took apart their school’s outhouse (Apparently, thats what they used in those days? Ha! ) and then reassembled it back together in the middle of the gym floor. They knew a school wide meeting was to be held that day, and what better way to welcome all the students than with an outhouse in the middle of the gym floor. I’m not quite sure if he ever got caught for that. Another great story was when he was in high school in Mooresville, IN there was a place called Biff’s bakery that my Dad loved. They sold rolls called Bizmarks that were not your typical cinnamon roll. Loaded with lots of cinnamon and gooey icing, they were sure to hit the spot! I must have inherited my love for donuts and cinnamon rolls from him! Anyway, One day as he was talking to one of his buddies, the rolls came up in the conversation and my dad said he could eat 20 of them. So his friend said “okay, I dare you.
If you can eat 20, I’ll pay for them.” So they agreed. However, my dad, who played football, had to eat them right before a Friday night football game. That was part of the deal. Off they went to Biff’s, but they only had 19 Bizmarks, so they threw in a jelly roll. Well, my dad scarfed them down; no problem. That night during the game, as he was about to make a great play (he was a receiver) running toward the goal, he was tackled and broke his arm. It was a pretty bad break. They rushed him to the hospital, and as the doctors began using ether to put him under, they noticed that there was some type of large “mass” in his stomach. He had no choice but to tell them the donut story! They were able to fix his arm but he had a pin in his elbow and a scar for the rest of his life. Whatever was “in”, my Dad was doing something different. He didn’t need to fit in to be cool.
As years went by, and my brothers and sister and I were born, family jokes and traditions developed. We all loved to sing together. It’s one of my favorite memories. My dad could sit down at the piano and start playing as if he had professionally studied piano, but he couldn’t read one note of music. He had such a good ear, he played effortlessly. My Dad loved golf, he loved life, he loved people, he loved preaching, and he loved Jesus. He had such a giving spirit. He wanted the best for his kids, and would never complain when things were tough. He emphasized that God would provide for us, and we saw first hand over and over again that God indeed provided exactly what we needed at exactly the right time. Barber by trade, My Dad came to know the Lord in his late twenties, and started studying the Bible. He later became a Pastor where he pastored our church in Fremont, MI for 20 years. He truly had a passion for people and for sharing the Word of God. Was he perfect? Absolutely not. He struggled, he sinned, and I’m sure at times he wanted to give up on ministry, but he held firm to what he believed in the Bible.
So, how is it that I can talk about my Dad’s death? How can I truly continue to have joy when someone so close has been lost. Because, I believe that what he has gained, is so much more than what he has lost.
It has been 8 years today since my Dad has passed away. I have graduated from college, gotten married, had a baby, moved several times, and experienced 3 more losses, since that day. And I feel like there is so much of my life that my Dad has missed. Many times I have wanted to pick up the phone and give my Dad a call. I’ve missed joking and laughing with him. I have especially missed our family traditions surrounding the holidays. Those were fun and special times, that we’ll never get back. But, we can remember them. We can talk about them, and we can laugh about how we re-gifted old things in the basement to give to my Dad, as a joke… and it helps. It helps because we know the truth of God’s word, and we know the hope that we find in the gospel. I am working on studying more deeply the subject of death in both believers and nonbelievers, and how to live joyfully when we lose loved ones. One thing is sure: Death is a part of life. It is all around us, happening all the time, and I would imagine even you may have experienced some sort of death in your life. Since having a child, my greatest fear and worry has been not that my son will fall down and get hurt, or that he’ll get sick, but rather that he will lose a parent. I would never want anyone, especially my child, to go through the pain, the hurt, and the sadness that surrounds losing such a close loved one, but I also know how losing someone so close has changed me for the better. It has made me stronger. It has changed my perspective on life, it has increased my compassion for others, and has challenged me to pursue things that really matter. It has forced me to seek and study the truth concerning those that die, so I can live in the joy of my Lord and encourage those around me who are hurting, as well. Romans 5:3-5 says, ” More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. And Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
These passages of Scripture are both a challenge and a comfort to me when dealing with death.
Philippians 3: 18-21: “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
*The Hope of Resurrection*
I Thess 4: 15-16: “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive , who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
*Jesus is much better*
2 Corinthians 5:4-6: “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith and not by sight. yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
Philippians 1: 21-23: “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”
*God gives us the power to be steadfast*
I Corinthians 15:50-58 : “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable and this mortal put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable and the mortal puts on the immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
So, we can continue in this life, truly joy filled, because we know that our believing loved ones who have passed have been redeemed and will be restored. They have been united with their Savior. They will one day have new, perfect and glorious bodies. They will rise first. They are at peace.
I look at my Dad’s life and his impact on mine, and I am thankful. Do, I do everything the same way he did? No. Do, I know he made mistakes? Yes, I do. But, more than anything I know he loved Jesus and that he wanted his kids to love Jesus too. It is a daily struggle to believe that what God says in his word is true. To consciously focus my thinking on the fact that God is a just, sovereign, all powerful God that loves his children and knows what’s best for them. Tragedy, death, sickness, and pain are all around us, but we have to trust that God is both just and loving, and will one day make it all right.
Dad, I love you. I wish you could have met our sweet Hudson, and witnessed so many more events in our life, but I know that what you have gained is truly better than what you have lost.
This is Joy Under the Sun.