When John and Abigail Adams lost a good friend at Bunker Hill, Mrs. Adams wrote a letter of grief to her husband and began by saying, “My bursting heart must find vent at my pen.”
And today, I too must find vent at my pen, or keyboard, as the case may be.
11 years ago, today, as the sun was rising over Savannah, Georgia, my father drew his last breath.
Unexpected. Painful. Gut-wrenching. Devastating.
No words do justice to the grief that ensued.
There is no eloquent way to summarize the heartache.
And there is simply no balm to heal the wounds of his absence.
Euripides wrote in the Athenian tragedy, Herakels, “Come back. Even as a shadow, even as a dream.”
Today, 11 years later, my soul still longs for my father. To see even a glimpse of his shadow. To hear even a murmur of his voice. His presence in my dreams is jolting. They never last long enough. To have just one more hug, or one more chat. And yet neither happens.
Grief is such a messy, confusing, horrendous experience.
Losing people, you love can rock you. It becomes not just an event in the timeline of your life, but a gapping hope of heartache inside of you. It never just magically goes away, even when your “mourning” officially ends.
Grief is an incredibly lonely experience. And though you may be blessed, like I have been, to have friends who come along side of you, and never leave; who walk the path by your side, it is a darkness that is impenetrable to the wildest imagination of those who are unbereaved, as Iris Murdoch once said.
On December 1, 2006, I joined an illustrious club that I never sought membership in. It is what Helen Keller once referred to as, “the largest company in all the world-the company of those who have known suffering.” Since my father’s passing, I have watched countless friends walk through unspeakable tragedies as well. Cancer, accidents of varying natures, and worse, the unknown causes. No one is immune. Many say grief is the cost of love. And, 11 years later, I can say, if I had it to do all over again, I would; unequivocally.
Having experienced such earth-shattering grief, I so badly want to protect those I know and care about from the feelings of pain that resonate with such loss. But we cannot, that is not our job. I can simply share my own experience. And so today, that is what I choose to do with my grief. I choose to share my journey. My pain. My redemption. My restoration. My hope. I choose to share with you my Daddy. James O’Barr once said, “If the people we love are stolen from us, the way to have them live on is to never stop loving them.” It’s impossible for me to imagine not loving the man I lost that December morning. He was bigger than life to me. He was my person. My parents have always been my protectors, my providers, my cheerleaders, my encouragers, my confidantes, my sources of strength. He beamed with pride at the mere mention of my name. My flaws never phased him. He loved me wholly.
His loss has been profound; but has taught me so much. I’ve learned to embrace emotions, of every sort. I’ve realized if I can feel this consuming grief and pain, that I can also embrace love and joy with all that I am. And I have to. We do an injustice to ourselves, and those around us, when we pick and choose what emotions we let into our lives. We have to let it all in. You cannot truly experience one without the other. I used to say, “I’m not a crier.” And it’s true, I’m not as emotional as some of my friends. But I’ve learned that as Rita Schiano said, “Tears are God’s gift to us. Our holy water. They heal us as they flow.” I’ve learned that sometimes a good cry can really cleanse the heart of the burden of grief. It doesn’t remove it, but it washes over with a soothing sensation. Grief is not a sign that something is wrong with you. It’s not a disorder, or a disease, or even a sign of a weakness. It’s a necessity for your growth as a human being waging war with life. Grief is the price you pay for love. The only way to cure grief is to allow yourself to truly and completely grieve. Sometimes grieving is writing a letter to a loved one who has passed away, like I did last year, here. Sometimes its doing something else in the memory. Sometimes it is as simple as speaking their name.
I still miss my Dad every single day of my life, and I likely always will. But my grief has changed. It has evolved. Maybe I have evolved. I have found a deep gratefulness inside of me that I loved him, and that I was loved by him. That gratitude has helped conquer the enormity of the loss. The Hebrew proverb resonates with me that says, “Say not in grief he is no more, but live in thankfulness that he was.”
In my loss and in my grief, I see the hand of God so mightily. I say all the time, I have no idea how people survive this life without God. I have seen Him rebuild my heart and open me up to love again. I have seen Him heal my wounds that were so raw. There is a deafening chorus of alleluias from those of us who have mourned when we see God creating something new inside of us.
The words of Winston Churchill speak my heart to those who also grieve, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
So much has changed since my father stepped into eternity. And so much newness has been born. I will love him every day until we are reunited again and I will live each day thankful for his love and his life.
Rest in peace Daddy, what a gift of hope to know you are safely in the arms of Jesus today.
Until we meet again…