Tomorrow is the first Father’s Day without my Father alive. It’s strange and heavy. Just in the last 24 hours I’ve thought of handful of questions to which I know he’d have the answer or could add detail. Thoughts and emotions about him tumble in at miscellaneous times and often choke me up. I hear from others that this is quite normal and doesn’t necessarily have a time limit.
To honor my Father today, I decided to share my words from his funeral a few months ago:
“Many of you here have experienced the loss of a parent. Depending on the circumstances, there are many emotions that can come and go. It’s strange to feel so many ways and to have emotions pop up suddenly or stirred by the most seemingly insignificant trigger. Last week as I thought ahead to this weekend, I found myself excited for a moment because one of my favorite cousins and his family along with my brother and sister-in-law would be in town, but then almost immediately I was met with tears because I could imagine just how incredibly happy the healthy version of my Dad would be to see this same group of people and all of you. I can see his grin. I could imagine the short, one-liners he’d have that often caught me off guard and made me smile because I knew he was comfortable and happy. I know many of you know that version of my Dad, too.
With the sadness that comes with loss, there is a feeling of wrongness, one that says we shouldn’t be experiencing this pain. One of the few benefits of disappointing struggles in this life is that, not only can it humble us, but it can also bring light to an often ignored truth which is that this human life is not meant to be easy or pain-free. As a believer in something bigger and greater than myself, I decide each day to trust that there is meaning behind each disappointment. I came across two quotes this week that highlight this truth.
C.S. Lewis, a man that found himself determined to prove that the God of the Bible did not exist, yet ended up referring to himself as the “most reluctant convert in all of England” has said, “We must stop regarding unpleasant or unexpected things as interruptions of real life. The truth is that interruptions are real life.”
Also, a former pastor that planted churches in New York City, who is currently going through treatment for cancer said about he and his wife, “To our surprise, an encouragement we have discovered is that the less we attempt to make this world into a heaven, the more we are able to enjoy it. No longer are we burdening it with demands impossible for it to fulfill.”
When recently I wrote about the passing of my Dad, I purposely did not skim over the hard stuff; the icky and sad stuff about his struggles. Although his death was initially deemed “natural causes”, we decided to go forward with an autopsy just in case we found helpful information. Although I didn’t have great concern that his death was anything other than natural causes, the morning I received the call from the pathologist with initial findings, I felt an odd calm after learning that he passed from a heart attack from 95% blockage and a contributing bleeding ulcer. I don’t know what the afterlife is like, but I began talking to my Dad as I drove down the road. I told him how thankful I was that he didn’t commit suicide and that he had essentially chosen to “hold on” when it was especially dark for him. Although he told me once that when it came to going against God’s will, he was a coward, I know he also didn’t want us to experience the same heartache as he did with his brother’s death. It was one of, if not the, hardest experiences in his almost 70 years.
Life is hard. It’s filled with great joys and incredible highs, but it’s hard. We each walk our own paths through this life while having different genetics, heritage, circumstances, brain chemistry and opportunities. My father may have been dealt a challenging hand, but I do know he made the best of it by pushing through and taking full advantage of opportunities. I would describe him as a classic self-made man who started in the air conditioning field and produced a very successful business, of which my husband and I are incredibly grateful to now own and grow. He was not perfect, but he was giving and compassionate and clever. As I think all parents do, he wanted his children to have a better life than he did; better opportunities to go to college and pursue dreams. I remember him telling me to find something I love doing and make that a job.
My brother and I have begun to see some of the enriching qualities that we’ve received from my Dad. Unfortunately for my outgoing Mom at times, the three of us are very similar; introspective introverts with a splash of ADHD. We enjoy being with friends and family, but need that recovery space afterwards to decompress. Loud and crowded events are not our forte!
Although we feel very grateful for those wonderful qualities, we also see opportunity in the ways we’d like to do things differently and I know he would agree. One area in which my father was especially weak was admitting to internal struggles and accepting help. By being a male and growing up in the generation that he did, I bet it made it especially difficult. Thankfully, the mental health stigma is slowly crumbling, but it still remains an ever-present uphill climb for most. No matter how old you are, there is hope available if you are hurting. My own experience with finally finding a correct diagnosis for my OCD shows me that there is hope, but we must look for it and hold the hand of the one offering it. If you have someone in your life that is struggling with their mental health, the #1 piece of advice I have is to never, ever give up on them. Never stop reminding them that you are there and willing to help them with finding the hope and grabbing ahold of it for dear life.
The IF-ONLYs about the latter part of my Dad’s life are disappointing. Lately, I hear my kids crack a joke or do something that makes me want to squeeze them because I love them so much, I think that maybe my Dad is watching. Again, I don’t know how things go once the human body dies or how interactive they are with us still here on Earth, but maybe he’s giving that grin that I love so much and genuinely laughing. It meant he was in a good place in those moments. I hope he is feeling completely free of all the heaviness he carried around for so long and is enjoying watching his grandkids from there. Just last night as I was looking at the pictures we gathered of him, I felt waves of sadness because I realized that the way I feel about my children, how I tell them that being their mother is my absolute most favorite thing in the world, that is how he felt about Ty and me. I wish he were here because I know my healthy Dad would knock it out of the park as a grandfather, but that can’t be.
This life is not all there is. I will see him again, but until then, I will continue to do my best to take care of myself so I can be the best mother, wife, sister, daughter, and friend I can be. I want to continue to make him proud.
Again, I want to thank you for being a part of my father’s life. If you feel it may have been insignificant, my faith in God tells me that no interaction is without significance, value and purpose. As funerals or memorials like these usually do, our busy lives briefly pause as we consider death and all it implies. Take advantage of the next few hours or days as you contemplate life and death. Although it’s tempting, try not to shove away that discomfort, but welcome it as an opportunity to see how it can impact your choices and interactions with others. You are loved.”
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you so much.