Losing Dad

On a Sunday evening early this September my sister called from California. When she asked me where I was, I knew it was serious. I was home with Carpenter Husband just settling in for the night. Yes, Dad had been sick. In and out of the hospital. Still, the news of his sudden passing came as a shock. For the next several hours, I cried and rocked and rocked and cried, repeating this guttural prayer…Please take care of my Daddy tonight, Lord. Please take care of my Daddy tonight. I finally climbed out of bed around 4am scribbling out words and thoughts in an effort to take the edge off.                                                                      

The mystery of Psalm 116:15 cut through my desperation…Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. I kept repeating those words. Could it be that Dad’s departure is actually a blessing to God? The thought comforted me.

Posthaste, I was on a plane to Mom. First time flying to California where Dad wouldn’t be there on the other end. No point in wearing make up. Too many tears. I turn toward the plane window to try not to disturb the person sitting next to me and journal a note to Dad in Heaven. I tell him it’s O.K. He can be at peace now and relish this time with Jesus. I pinch the silver anchor charm around my neck. A symbol of Hope. Something one would share later that Dad no longer has need of.

Perhaps as a coping mechanism, I begin to brainstorm ideas for a memorial service. It’s a long list. Not sure I want to play at my own Dad’s funeral. I wonder if Cameron would play his accordion? Dad would be so pleased and proud.

My sister and I begin going through some of Dad’s things in the garage. He was very organized. Almost OCD organized, though never officially diagnosed.  We set out to purge and rearrange things, just enough so Mom can pull her car in for safety.

Dad was an accomplished rock climber having climbed both Half Dome and El Capitan as well as forging some first ascents in Joshua Tree, a popular climbing destination in Yucca Valley. Dad was known to have frequently climbed with guys half his age. He was such a rock star.

In addition to years of belaying, repelling, gnarly overhangs, and scabbed up hands, Dad was an avid backpacker. From his first hike at age thirty-nine spanning easily thirty years, he logged more than 14,000 miles. Among his gear were some old plastic bottles and such we decided to set aside for recycling. A yellow bowl caught my eye. Scratched and well worn, it clearly had seen a lot of miles. I placed it in the recycle pile but immediately felt a deep sense of sadness. I told my sister and we agreed we could hold that one back for the time being.

Later, as we began going through Dad’s photo albums I saw why that bowl had tugged at my heart. Photo after photo of Dad’s camp sites showed that little, yellow bowl propped up on a log or a makeshift bench. We even found a shot of him eating from it. You can see where I got my long legs. Such a handsome fellow.

It might sound silly, but I thanked God for the nourishment that yellow bowl provided for Dad all those years. He loved the outdoors. Absorbing the beauty of creation, I think he always felt closest to God on a lonely trail somewhere. On longer trips that required shipping food ahead, we’d send postcards with the words “Hold for thru hiker Mike Anderson” etched along the bottom.

Preparing for a conference this past weekend I sat at the piano to run through some songs. “It Is Well” proved especially difficult. The floodgates burst wide open. Attempting to sing through heavy sobs I refuted, it’s not at all well with my soul, God. Confessing my fragile state to the audience, I explained my reason for choosing “‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus”…at times when things aren’t so well and our feelings get tossed about by life’s most crashing waves, one must take Him at His word. Just to rest upon His promise, just to know thus saith the Lord.

Mom used to tell a story of when Dad was a young boy. Things weren’t always great at home, but there was a Norman Rockwell sort of family down the street. Dad would sometimes escape his own household turmoil to peer through the window during this family’s dinner hour. Sometimes they would invite him in. He wondered what it would be like to be a part of a family like that.

I believe our family helped him realize that dream. While far from perfect, we were blessed indeed with a level of stability, love, respect, and mutual support for one another. As I wrote in my journal to Dad in Heaven (partial excerpt)…You have it all. He has not abandoned you or left you on the outside looking in. You can feast at the table. It’s all yours. And you will get to fully enjoy it, because He will enable you to. You have total fullness. Total joy. In His presence is fullness of joy. When we get time alone with God we will know His nearness, and in so doing, we will be close to you, too. Sweet communion just got sweeter. We all come to the table. We all feast with Jesus. We all take the bread and the cup. This is living. This is everything. Jesus is everything. He is ours and He is yours. We are family. And we are really O.K. Rest in peace, Daddy. It’s finally O.K.

One of the greatest sorrows in all this is Dad never got to hold his great grandson. A pencil doodle of Ollie discovered in his pocket calendar celebrated his birth – “Day 1”. He was so looking forward to finally holding Ollie in person this Thanksgiving. And now we will be holding his memorial service instead. Still, God in His kindness gave us a merciful gift, before we even knew we would need it…

Just five days before Dad passed, at the surprise party for my fiftieth, a friend suggested we FaceTime my parents in California. There I was surrounded by people who love me, holding Ollie close to the screen so Mom and Dad could get a good look at him. After a brief hello to Mom, Dad got most of the camera time – – great grandson and great Grandpa, eye to eye, taking one another in. I’ll never forget Dad’s smile. As bright and wide as this characterization of him my daughter created in tribute. With a sweet, double meaning, she calls it – A Great Grandpa.                                                                                                    

And he was.

They say the depth of one’s grief speaks to the significance of the relationship. I won’t ever need to guess at how much I loved Dad, for this is a significant grief. But, it is a grief held safely in the loving arms of Jesus…the Hope that embraces, the Hope that does not disappoint, the Hope that we know in part, but Dad now knows completely and in full.

Another journal entry from my Springs in the Valley devotional states, “There is no safer place in all the universe in which to leave our loved ones than in the hands of God.” So be it. Like it or not, I must accept this hard thing and cling to Jesus in trust. It helps to know that not only was Dad in Christ, but now he is right there with Him in glory.

And he has finally traded those dusty trails for streets of gold.

Thanks for all the love, Daddy. Happy trails to you…until we meet again.

Your baby girl,

Cheri

Turning Fifty

Stunned awake this morning by a dream that’s been hard to shake. I was swimming with my sister in our parent’s backyard pool, only our parents don’t actually have a pool in their backyard. Nonetheless, there we were enjoying ourselves and, apparently, completely unaware of the time. Once inside the house, like a punch in the gut, it dawned on me that I was now extremely late for a performance. Like it was 7:44pm and I was supposed to be singing from 7-9pm that night. Yikes!

I’ve had other dreams like that through the years. Maybe it’s that deep down panic that I won’t be prepared for an engagement. Or worse yet, I’ll miss it altogether letting everyone down. I can recall several dreams where they’ve already introduced me onto the stage and I’m nowhere near where I need to be to get to the platform on time. Psychoanalyze that.

Anyway, in the dream, I’m frantically checking my phone to see if anyone has tried to contact me, all while calling out for my Mom who was slated to take me to the event, about a forty-five minute drive away. I’m thinking there’s no way I’ll be able to get myself dressed and ready, hair and make-up, and set list. Still, I’m scrambling. Where’s the blow dryer?! I’ll have to do my make up in the car. Where’s my red blouse?! In the dream, it’s a post-Thanksgiving, Christmas event. Why we’re swimming late November, I don’t know. Dreams are weird that way.

Still calling out for Mom, there’s no response. I begin searching throughout the house, but she’s nowhere to be found. Finally, I enter her bedroom and find her near comatose in the bathroom. Eyes closed, white as a ghost, and seemingly incoherent, I thought she was dead. But, as she began to fall sideways I lunged to catch her and her eyes suddenly opened.

And just as a feeling of great relief washed over me I woke up.

Understandably, I was physically shaken by such a nightmarish dream. And try as I might to drift back to sleep, my thoughts were all over the place. Just earlier that day I had told my hubby over lunch that I hoped to have many more years with my parents and how I wished we lived closer. And, strangely, just that morning in church I had pressed down the corner of the bulletin where the fourth verse of “Crown Him With Many Crowns” struck me afresh. Particularly these words…

Crown Him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time…

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. I’m literally just days away from the big 5-0 (got my first piece of mail from the AARP to prove it!). Maybe it’s because I’ve been praying for a grieving family and their son whose years were cut short. Maybe it’s because Dad, not Mom, recently had a week long hospital stay, a bad bout with pneumonia, and subsequent visits to correct his atrial fibrillation (and I made the mistake of googling the life threatening risks of cardiac ablations). Maybe it’s because another friend is now caring for her aging parents; a mother who broke several ribs during a recent fall and a father whose tumble left him battered and bruised simply trying to fetch the mail. Or maybe it’s transitioning into a new role as Grandma (read my previous blog!) and focusing my energies a little closer to home. Perhaps all of these things culminated into a dream that got me thinking about life, the sovereignty of God, and how we spend the brief time we’re given.

For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night (about 3 hrs., Psalm 90:4). Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom (verse 12). My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years…(Proverbs 3:1).

And this one, a new favorite…Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants…the fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you…(Leviticus 25:10 & 11).

Carpenter Husband keeps asking me what I want to do for my fiftieth. I tell him nothing elaborate or expensive. Maybe an intimate gathering with friends and family? A special dinner date, just the two of us? Oh, and I need to remember to ask for chocolate cake. Because chocolate.

All kidding aside, today I’m asking a more important question. How will I spend this fiftieth year of jubilee? O Heavenly Father, Lord of my years, let the lighting of all those candles be a symbol of consecration to You.

And with that, I’ll leave you with your own thoughts and the last part of verse four…

All hail, Redeemer, hail! For Thou has died for me;
Thy praise and glory shall not fail throughout eternity.

Thankful to be born…and born again to live in Christ forevermore. And you can bet I’ll be giving my folks a call.

Ever resting in His Sovereign Care…

Cheri