Two Years…Again

Today marks the two year anniversary of my dad’s death. Time keeps passing by, there’s just no stopping it. I can’t really say whether or not it actually feels like two years have passed.

It was such a wearisome process that brought us to April 17th, 2013. Many times I thought the day would have arrived much sooner. Many times I wished that the day would have arrived sooner, if I’m brutally honest. It’s not that I wanted my dad to die, it’s just that there are times when what we might call “living” doesn’t really equate to a really good definition of that. While he wasn’t taken by something like Alzheimer’s or ALS or some other devastating disease, depression and heartache can take their own toll on the human soul. And that’s just what they did.

In many of the same ways that I have begun to see the growth that has come out of the death of my mom, I’ve started to see the same thing with my dad’s death. Relationships within the family that had been strained or non-existent have been reborn and restored. What might have seemed impossible or improbable has actually become real and existent. Who am I to doubt what God can do with broken and dead things….or people, for that matter?!

There are certain things that I’ve done that might seem weird to people. I still keep my parents’ phone numbers in my phone. It’s not like they still belong to them or that I can actually pick up the phone and call them. They won’t answer if I did and the people who belong to those numbers might think me crazy if I did, nothing new for me though. I’ve left voicemail messages on my phone from them as well. It brings me comfort to hear those voices. There’s something about hearing my dad say, “I love you very much” in a message. It’s as if all of the weakness that I was seeing was stripped away, even if for a moment, and I was left with a glimpse of what used to be.

I still want to pick up the phone and call them both. I still want to share things with my dad, to get his insights, to hear his voice, but I can’t. Nothing can replace him, just as nothing can replace my mom. They’re gone, not forgotten, and there still remains hope.

While some people have seen my sharing of thoughts as possibly exhibiting bitterness or anger, I can honestly say that those emotions haven’t really been strong within me. Sure, there is remorse in lost moments and maybe some regret as well. The regrets are more selfish though, I wish that I knew more about this or that, they don’t have anything to do with what I did or how I treated my parents. I wouldn’t take back anything. There’s nothing that I wish I had said or done. I feel like they left with things in as good of a place as any for us. Still doesn’t change the fact that I still wish for them to be here, to share more moments with me and my family.

Two years have come and gone and my heart still continues to ache. On these days, it’s almost as if the pain is palpable, that I can touch it and feel it more than other days. I imagine that no matter what anniversary it is that I’m remembering, those days will always give way to a fresh feeling to that grief and loss, as if it had just happened. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, unless I let myself get swallowed up by the moment. Feeling pain can sometimes help us remember that we’re human and that we’re alive.

I love you, Dad. I miss you every day. I can’t wait to see you once again.

Striking Gold – Director’s Cut

I’ve asked 2 good friends and loyal readers to share their favorite blog posts.  Over the next few months, I will be sharing their thoughts and insights that they have shared with me regarding some of these posts.  I hope that what they share will add some new insights to some of my previous posts.

[Wanda writes: As I am getting older and my mortality is hitting me in the face, I realize how important it is to make memories and “moments in time” for loved ones to cherish. There is not enough wealth in the world to compare to sharing a sunset with someone you love – whether your children, parents or good friends. When we make memories, we never really leave our loved ones. Hopefully, the most important part of who we are remains intact, to be shared for generations.]

I knew it for years before she died, but since her death and since going through boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff, it has been officially confirmed: my mom saved everything. No joke. When I say “everything,” I mean it. I have report cards from elementary school, newspaper clippings for when I was on the honor roll in high school, drawings that I did in art class while in kindergarten, and a sundry of other mementos from my early life and childhood.

What’s been really funny to me is to see how some of these mementos have acted like mental dominos, triggering memories of other mementos which trigger memories of others and others and others beyond that. I can get lost in the memories that are conjured up by the smallest of trinkets or even the faintest of smells.

I found a tape of me singing that I knew existed but wasn’t quite sure where. My mom had played it for me over and over again as I was growing up. When I found it after looking high and low, I played it for my kids, who were getting quite a kick out of hearing their dad sing songs like “The Monkees” theme song, “Jesus Loves Me,” “The Odd Couple” theme song, and a few others.

It’s simply amazing to me how these things have the power of transporting me to a different time and place. That seems to be the power of our senses, all five of them, they can take us away to a place and time far away. With a simple sound or smell or word even, we can find ourselves dreaming about something that happened long ago.

I mentioned to someone the other day that I kept a bottle of my father’s cologne and my mother’s perfume right next to my sink in the bathroom. On occasion, when I’m feeling particularly nostalgic, I will reach down and pick up one of the bottles, put it up to my nose, close my eyes, and take a deep breath in. When smelling my father’s cologne, the day that it usually takes me to was a day when my father was in the rehab facility where he eventually died. I had realized how much of a creature of habit he was when he would get upset with me for not giving him specifics about when I would be arriving to pick him up. Smelling my mother’s perfume brings me back to Sunday mornings in church, sitting next to her, sometimes holding her hand, always feeling safe and secure with her by my side. It reminds me of how the house smelled when she was getting ready on all of those Sunday mornings.

One day, I told my dad exactly when I would be there to visit him and when I got there, I walked into his room to find him dressed nicely with a shirt and tie on. I searched my memory to try to figure out whether I was forgetting something. Did we have an appointment with an attorney or someone else that had slipped my mind? I didn’t think so. So, I said to him, “Why are you all dressed up, Dad?” He just looked up at me with a big smile and said, “My son was coming to visit me.” Cue the lump in my throat. What a special day it was and that’s the day that my brain conjures up every time that I take a deep breath of his cologne.

It’s ironic that things like homemade tapes and bottles of cologne might be considered “gold.” Many people might be looking around for the things that have monetary value, but those things pale in comparison to what I’ve found. These are the things from which memories are made. There is no price that could be attached to them, their value is priceless.

It certainly makes me think through what it is that I am leaving for my children. I hope that memories like these are the things that they value above everything else. When we spend time with those we love, we embed that time into our memories, creating moments that we can call up from our memory banks when we want them or need them. Those are the gifts to me and I am so grateful to have had them.

Cutting the Turkey…and Other Responsibilities

2014-06-08 18.56.19Last week, I pulled out my dad’s 8mm projector so that I could show my kids some old home movies (although I guess I should call it my projector since my dad’s not here anymore). There were so many to choose from, I decided that we would watch the ones labeled “Disney World” since we’re taking a trip there in a few months.

We settled into my sons’ room to watch the film. I had hung a white sheet down from the top bunk of the bunk beds so that we had something to project the film on. As the film rolled, my kids were somewhat fascinated by the images that were projected on the sheet before them. The only sound that they heard, other than their own laughter, was the sound of the chuck-a chuck-a chuck-a of the projector as it whirled around and around, displaying images from nearly forty years ago.

In its infancy, Disney World looked different than it does today and the people in the images looked different too. As I watched images of myself, my brother, and others in my family roll across the screen/sheet, I began to smile as I remembered spending evenings with my mom, dad, and brother watching these same images so many years before. We would laugh and joke about what we saw and enjoy time together. Dad was always the one who would load the camera, forbidding anyone else from touching it. He was the keeper of the films, so to speak.

As my family sat on the floor taking in all of the images flashing before them, I was struck by a stunning realization: I was now the keeper of the films, I was in charge, the torch had been passed. I found myself reacting to my kids in a similar fashion to the way that my father had reacted to me and my brother when we were their age. I found myself so consumed with the responsibility of feeding the film into the projector, of being careful with the fragile film, of making sure that the presentation was as clear as possible and that everyone was paying attention. Yes, the torch had been passed.

When I go through certain holidays now, I fondly recall memories of yesterday, when my mom and dad were both still around. I remember the traditions that we celebrated, some of which have been passed on and others which were put away like the boxes of ornaments after the Christmas tree’s been taken down. Now, it’s my responsibility to pass on the torch. Whether I liked it or not, the torch has been passed to me, it doesn’t matter that I think it was passed prematurely. It doesn’t matter that I wish Dad could still do all of these things. It doesn’t matter that I can’t get back yesterday. What matters is that there is still today and possibly tomorrow.

I remember Dad cutting the turkey on Christmas. He would use the electric knife that my mother had been preserving in the box in which it had come, keeping it just like new like so many in her generation. I remember how carefully and delicately he would slice that turkey. Now it’s my turn, the knife’s in my hands and I’m the one who gets to cut the turkey, I’m the one who gets to let my kids see just how to do it. I might not do it the same way, and I might not even do it in such a way that Dad would approve if he were still here, but it’s my way and it’s my turn to pay it forward, to pass it on.

In this day and age when kids are consumed with things that flash and beep, things that shoot and use WiFi, there is something lost every day among the things that used to be. Somehow, we need to pass the torch, we need to carry on traditions. Some of them will stick, others won’t. We can’t be so consumed with what’s being passed on so much as the process of passing. Teaching kids to fish with a hook and a worm. Helping them ride their bike without training wheels. Setting up a sprinkler in the yard on a sweltering hot day. Teaching them how to watch movies that are as old as their dad.

When we take time to do these things, we make memories. They might not like everything that they learn, they’ll wade through it all themselves, but what a privilege to share it together with your kids. After all, they won’t stay kids forever.

Daddy’s Banjo

There’s something to buying brand new instruments, the look, the feel, the smell of them.  But there’s also something to inheriting instruments.  They might not always be the greatest quality and they might not always sound as good as your other instruments, but there’s something nostalgic about playing an instrument owned by someone you love, almost as if you can somehow connect with them through time.2013-05-26 11.54.17

My dad was a pastor for many years and spent the majority of his time pastoring the church and caring for all of the people within it.  He didn’t have a whole lot of hobbies.  In fact, one of the fears that I had when he neared retirement was that there was nothing for him to look forward to, all of the things that he had done were taken away from him and there was nothing left in which to invest other than what may have seemed secondary to him.

Years before his retirement, before it was even in sight, my mom, my brother, and I decided to buy Dad a banjo.  He loved to sing and had once played guitar and clarinet, but he had expressed an interest in playing the banjo years earlier.  I had remembered that wish and decided to see if we could introduce him to a new hobby.  We bought him the banjo, friends from church got him some lessons, and he was on his way.

He had a few lessons, but I never heard him play.  I guess in my mind, I secretly wished that we could “jam” together, him on banjo and me on guitar.  Sadly, that never happened.

When he started getting sicker, I decided to take most of the valuable things out of his house and keep them with me.  Among those things was the banjo that we had bought him.  It saddened me that he had really never had the chance to play it, but I figured that I might get some use out of it.

I picked it up here and there, but never really gave it the time that I needed to give it…..until last week.  We had an opportunity as a church to do an evening of music at a local coffeehouse.  It’s such a cool place where we have been having staff meeting and it reminds me of Asheville, a place that my wife and I grew to love in our brief time there.  Very earthy and organic feel.

With the success of Mumford and Sons, many bands have tried to emulate their sound and there was a song that I had grown fond of that just seemed like it was screaming for a banjo.  I decided to introduce it among some of the other songs that we would play that night, and I decided to play Dad’s banjo on it.

I dusted the banjo off, did some minor work to it, and figured out how to play what I needed to play.  Off I went.  It seemed appropriate that the first song played by that banjo in public would be called “Build Your Kingdom Here.”  That was my dad’s heart, to see the Kingdom of God built, and he gave his life for that, fully devoted and committed to the furtherance of God’s Kingdom.  Here are the words for the song, and below is a recording of us doing the song.

So grateful for my dad and all that I learned from him.  Sad that he wasn’t able to enjoy the banjo, but glad that I was able to honor him and the God he served his entire life with this song.

The Best Day

There aren’t a whole lot of days in the last 2 years that I can recall with fondness.  I can probably count on 2 hands all of them.  More to the point, there aren’t a whole lot of days and experiences with my dad that I can recall with fondness in the last 2 years of his life, specifically after my mom died.  It’s not because I didn’t love him or because things were miserable, it’s just that they were hard and difficult to deal with.  It’s hard to see someone who was once joyous and vibrant become a shell of who they once were.IMG_2635

It’s funny to me what triggers the memory.  After my dad died, I took a bottle of his cologne and put it right on my bathroom sink.  On days when I want to remember him, I pick that bottle up and breathe in deeply and images of him fill my mind.  I am carried away to a different place and time where for even a brief few moments, things seem to stand still and I am able to bask in the moment and the memory.

Usually, a sniff of his cologne brings me back to what I would classify as one of the best days that I had with him in the past year.  As his health declined over the past few years, I realized that his aversion to change was exacerbated with everything else that he was dealing with.  He was a man who liked a schedule and a routine and he had let me know that throughout my lifetime with him.  In fact, when I failed to allow him to live into that schedule or routine, he was pretty quick to let me know that as well.

One time, I had told him that I would be there to visit him the next morning and forgot to specify what time I would be there.  He got up at about 5AM and got ready and then waited about 5 hours until I finally got there.  Needless to say, he was not incredibly enthused about my timing that day.

But on that best day, he knew that I was coming and I had been fairly specific about what time I would be there.  Having worked in engineering for nearly a decade, my ability to estimate things has not considerably diminished, so I’m pretty good at coming up with times.  That’s just what I did that day, I got there right when I had told him that I would get there.

Walking down the hallway towards his room, I was silently bracing myself.  So many times I had made this journey and had prepared myself for what I would face when I came face to face with my dad.  How was he doing mentally?  How was he doing emotionally?  Was his depression going to make him clam up during our entire visit?  Would we be able to talk about much at all?  I had no idea and so my expectations began to be lowered with every subsequent visit.  I didn’t want to be disappointed, but more importantly, I did not want to push him into conversations that he was not ready or willing to have.  I wanted to simply enjoy spending time with my dad.

So, it was with great surprise what I found when I opened that door.  As the door slowly swung open, there was my dad with his finely ironed shirt and pants (thanks, Aunt Audrey) wearing a tie.  He was cleanly shaven and his hair was combed.  He did not look disheveled, how I had found him so many times before.  As our eyes met, a smile covered his face from ear to ear.  What was this?

I leaned down and kissed him and told him that it was good to see him.  He continued to smile and told me it was good to see me too.  I scrolled back through my memory to see if I had forgotten an important appointment that we might have scheduled.  Nothing was coming to mind.  I was thinking that maybe I had come underdressed for a special occasion, but I had no idea what that occasion might have been.

I looked at my dad and said, “Why are you all dressed up?”  Without missing a beat, he simply looked up at me with that beaming smile and said, “My son was coming to visit!”  Well, you probably could have knocked me over with a feather at that moment and it would not have taken much more than a Hallmark commercial to turn on the waterworks of tears from my eyes.  In that moment, I made a memory, I burned it upon my brain.

It’s that memory that I go back to the majority of the times that I put that bottle of Polo cologne up to my nose.  I close my eyes and picture my father with that great, big smile, looking up to me in his neatly pressed and put together outfit.  To be honest, I can’t remember a whole heck of a lot of that day after that.  I don’t remember whether or not we had a great day or not.  I’m pretty sure that we ate lunch at Panera, but don’t quote me on it.  All I know is that for one brief moment, I saw a glimpse of the dad that I had seen so many times before and that I had so desperately hoped to find every time that I returned.

When I smell that cologne, I see his smile, I hear his voice, and I can almost feel his breath and embrace.  I know he’s not here, but I also know where he is, and that thought brings me great comfort.  He’s smiling, he’s strong, and he’s probably singing, and he’s probably having his best day EVER.

A Picture’s Worth A Thousand Words

Yesterday was the first Father’s Day without my dad.  It was met with mixed emotions.  Of course, I am glad that he isn’t suffering through all that he was experiencing in the last few years, but selfishly, I was certainly missing him tremendously.  Although we were supposed to go to Williamsburg to spend the afternoon with my family over there, it was too much for me to deal with as I continued to navigate through my own grief and emotion.dad and dylan - fair

As I spent time on the computer yesterday afternoon, I came to it while the screen saver was on, showing pictures from our hard drive.  A picture popped up of my dad and my oldest son on a ride at a carnival.  The one drawback of this kind of screensaver is that it’s hard to locate the picture that you just saw, at least for me.  I don’t know of a way to easily get to it unless you have a pretty good idea when it was taken, which I kind of did.  So, I went on a search.

After a few minutes, success, I found it.  I did a little editing to get a close-up view of the two of them together.  The faces of the both of them tell a story.  My son’s face has a look of sheer delight.  He looks overjoyed to be on the ride.  His mouth is a gape as they ride this simple, little roller coaster.   He was barely 3 years old and everything he experienced was new and different, the first time.  I’m sure this was one of those times.

My dad’s face tells a different story.  As I looked closer at his face, I realized that I had seen that look a thousand times before.  It was one of those faces that said, “I’m going to pretend that I am enjoying myself, but inside, I’m scared as hell.”  Not everybody who knew my dad knew that face, but I had seen it enough and I knew him well enough to be able to decipher that those were most likely his emotions.  He wasn’t big on moving rides, especially adventurous ones.  I can’t quite remember why I wasn’t with him that day other than the fact that I might have been taking a nap at their house.  Regardless, he was elected to take the ride with his grandson, and he did it.

It might not seem like a big deal, but for him, anything that was different or scary was a challenge.  Dad didn’t like change and as much as he had once had dreams of being a pilot, heights and roller coasters were not his forte.  He preferred to stand with both feet firmly planted on the ground with as little jerky movement as possible.  This was a big deal for him to make the sacrifice for his grandson, and the day that it happened, I missed it.

In fact, the picture was taken nearly four years ago, and it was only yesterday that I discovered it.  How appropriate though, to discover it on Father’s Day, the first one without him.  It was also appropriate that my dad and his grandson were together.  You see, while my son struggles some times to try new things, he’s come a long way in his six and a half years.  He assesses the situation and then decides whether it’s worth the risk.  If it’s not, he just won’t try it, until his mom and I prod him along.

Once upon a time, my dad was six and a half years old.  Once upon a time, he encountered adventures and risky situations and had to make the decision as to whether or not to jump in or to turn away and be safe.  His father, however, was not around much (and eventually at all) for him to prod and push my dad to embrace that sense of adventure.  Eventually, Dad learned to embrace the safety of the familiar.  Eventually, Dad learned that risk was scary and not something to be bothered with, it was too uncomfortable, too unknown, too unfamiliar.

I don’t think that I can really blame him.  He did what he knew best to do, just as I have done, and just as my children will do.  What will I teach them?  Will I teach them to risk?  It’s better to try and fail than never to have tried at all.  Much better to get into the ring and get knocked out than to simply give instructions from the outside without ever having experienced it yourself.  Most of our lessons are learned not from our accomplishments but from the failures that lead up to the accomplishments.

As I look at my kids, I realize the influence that I have on them, not only by what I say and do but also by what I don’t say and don’t do.  Sins of commission and sins of omission.  What am I leaving out?  What am I neglecting to do that will make a difference?

All that from a picture?  Yup.  They say that a picture’s worth a thousand words.  Next time you look at a picture, see what you can get out of it.

Watching

2013-05-31 20.07.35This past weekend, I was in St. Paul, Minnesota for my seminary commencement.  Although I had received my degree a few months ago, they only held commencement once a year and the journey to get to the end was too significant for me to have missed it.  I wanted to see friends and faculty and have a celebration with my family, who was incredibly supportive throughout the entire journey.

In the midst of it all, there were two people missing from the festivities.  My mom and dad, both of whom were so influential in me being there that day, in more ways than one.  Growing up the son of a pastor, I didn’t expect that I would have gone to seminary or into full-time ministry, but God had other plans.  After 9 years in engineering, I felt the tug of the Holy Spirit and I have not looked back in the more than 7 years since I made the decision.

My mom and I always had a special relationship.  She was always so encouraging to and supportive of me.  Whenever I would update her on my progress through seminary, she would always marvel at my accomplishments.  Isn’t that what any mother should be doing with their children?  Nevertheless, it always made me feel so special.  She would claim Luke 1:14 over me, “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth.”  She even wrote it out in calligraphy and framed it for my desk.

The day that my mom died, among the many other heartbreaking things for me was that she, who had played such an influential role in my spiritual formation, would not be physically present to see me graduate from seminary.  I had no idea that I would lose my dad less than two years later as well so that neither of them would be physically present for my graduation.  At least Dad heard me share about receiving my degree since that happened a month or so before he died.

As my family and I made our way out to Minnesota, I knew that the sheer emotion of these moments would overtake me at some point.  After a long day on Friday, my wife and I made our way to the campus to take part in a communion service before the actual commencement took place on Saturday.  We were both tired and road-weary from traveling, but we had committed to each other that we would go and we had friends who had traveled out to be with us who were watching our children.

Communion has always been a special time for me in the remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  The weight and significance of what was accomplished is always enough to bring me to tears if I allow myself to fully engage and participate in the moment.

As we went through the service, I did what I hate people doing in church, I religiously followed the program that had been handed to me, mentally checking off every element of the service as we went.  I noticed a moment during communion where graduates would receive a servant’s towel as a symbol of our commitment to Christ and to his church.

Different faculty members were handing the towels out and praying over graduates as they went up to take communion.  I surveyed the various faculty members, trying to pick out who I thought would be the most appropriate choice for me.  I spotted the professor who had taught the class that I had the week after my mom died.  While there was nothing ground-breaking in the class, the significant events that happened around it made it a special class for me.  It was a week of raw emotion for me and the professor’s heart shined throughout the week.

As she prayed over me and I received the towel, I looked down at what was written on the towel.  It had to be some kind of joke, right?  As I hurried back to my seat, I pulled out my smartphone and looked up the passage to confirm my suspicions.  The exact verses that were cited on the towel were the exact verses that my mother had handwritten and put on her nightstand in the last 6 months of her life.  Isaiah 61:1-3.  How could this be?

Well, that just opened the floodgates for me.  I was a weepy mess from that point onwards, looking heavenward as I had a sneaking suspicion that the “great cloud of witnesses” was indeed watching as we worshipped our Lord that evening.  Among that cloud, I could imagine my mother pointing down at me and saying, “Yup, that’s my son.  I am so proud of him.”

Everything else, for the rest of the weekend, just seemed extra surreal to me.  I tried to slow it all down, but it just didn’t work.  I felt as if heaven had come down and touched earth in that moment.

While I don’t like to fall into the western mindset that God is our genie who, when the bottle is rubbed, grants us all of our wishes, I have had too much experience in my own life to think that he is not concerned with some of the intimate details of our lives.  Friday night was just more confirmation of that to me.  While I hadn’t prayed for any signs from heaven, God knew my heart and the aching within it as I journeyed through the close of this chapter in my life.  He gave me what I needed, even though I hadn’t asked for it.

Yes, I think Mom and Dad may have been watching.  Having just finished a significant degree in theology, perhaps some might criticize me for adopting theology which seems a bit off-kilter, but again, Hebrews makes reference to the great cloud of witnesses and I can’t help but think that they were watching that night.

Statue

I had to go to the circuit court last week to take care of my dad’s affairs in probate.  The woman who helped me was so kind and caring.  She made small talk with me and the process was much less painful than I had thought it would be.  I thanked her for making it simple and she told me I should thank my dad.

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The process was painless until I got outside.  As I exited the building, an overwhelming feeling of loss came over me.  Every last thing that I do is exactly that, the last thing.  I am taking care of things for my dad for the last time and the gravity of the moment was intense.

Melancholics don’t need glum and dreary days to feel pensive.  It was a beautiful day and the sun was shining.  It had actually been dreary earlier on, but the skies opened up and the sun shone down as I approached Williamsburg (was there a hidden message there for me?).  As I approached my car, I passed a statue of a Native American.  I put some of my stuff in the car and I wanted to stretch the moment out longer.  I wanted to sit in the sunshine, soak it in, sit in my sadness and let it wash over me for a few moments longer.

So, I went over to the statue to read the plaque underneath.  It was Powhatan, whom the plaque said was responsible for the survival of the first settlement at Jamestown (do you think his ancestors might be pissed?).  Here was this statue, life-sized, standing above all who would come within its vicinity.  A man whom we read about in history books, at least if we’re from Virginia.  He played an integral part in survival for many who would go on to take advantage, abuse, and steal from his tribe and many others, or at least pave the way for more to come who would do those things.  But I digress.  Powhatan marks that spot and that statue will be there for a long time.

The contrasting picture was my visit to the cemetery later on.  As I approached the crypt where my parents are laid, the flowers were gone.  There was no evidence that just a week and a half ago that crypt had been opened to receive its second guest.  All that was there was a plate which still hadn’t been completed.  Names.  Dates.  A verse.  A cross.  Praying hands.  A saying.  That’s it.  No statue looming over all who would come near.  No description of what these two people had done.2013-05-02 09.23.16

It seemed a little unjust to me.  I didn’t know Powhatan.  How could I have?  He lived way before my time.  But I did know my mom and dad.  They had an influence on me and on many others.  Could we have said more on that plate than what we did?  Could we have given people a better picture of all that they had done?

Then I began to think, that’s not the job of a grave plate.  That’s my job.  That’s my legacy, actually, it’s their legacy living through me.  I will not forget.  I will remember.  I will live out that legacy and let others know the contributions that they made in my life, and so will others.  A statue is tall and cold, lifeless, unspeaking.  I am living and breathing, proclaiming, exemplifying what was invested into me by my parents.

There is no statue, but there is me, there are my children.  We are the monuments, the memorials of my parents as we live our lives through what they taught me, taught us.  My parents invested into people for the sake of Jesus Christ.  I invest in people for the same reason.  Christ has made a difference in my life, he made a difference in the lives of my parents.  It would be a crime for me not to proclaim something that has had such a significant impact on me.  I am a living legacy.  If you want to know my parents, get to know me.  I can tell you stories, or better yet, I can live out what they passed on to me.  That’s much better than anything a statue can do.Gibson grave plate

Letting Go – Part II

letting-go

The day that my father died, except for an hour or so for lunch, I was with him the whole day.  I knew things weren’t good and that it wouldn’t be long, but I had no idea what the timeline was.  I was numb and probably in disbelief.  It was hard for me to wrap my head around everything that the last few years had held for me and my family.

The pastors that I work with had driven me down to Williamsburg and my wife met us at the facility where dad had been.  She brought our daughter and stayed for a few hours.  After lunch, my fellow pastors left and I had the whole afternoon by myself.  I was expecting that someone might come to visit, but I remained there by myself.  I just continued to love on my father, reading Scripture to him, singing songs over him, and assuring him that we would be fine.  He had done a fine job of raising his two sons and he had fought long enough.  He needed to hear that it was all right to leave us.

Many times throughout that afternoon, I cradled his head in my hands and kissed his head.  I whispered that I loved him in his ear.  I told him how I couldn’t have asked for a better father.  Having been on morphine since that morning, I knew that his consciousness would most likely not return.

Taking a break from reading, singing, and speaking, I decided to write in my journal.  Little did I know how the words that I would write and the prayer that I would utter would come true.

“It’s hard to express how it feels to lose both of your parents before your 40th birthday.  I thought that I would have had so much more time with them, but God had other plans.  When Dad is gone, there will be a finality to things that is seemingly unbearable.  I know God gives strength, but I am taking it moment by moment right now.

It’s so hard because I feel like I’m reliving my life from 2 years ago.  Just watching Dad simply breathing in his bed is reminding me of Mom’s last days.  Lord, please take him quickly.”

It would seem that God answered my prayer as Dad passed within hours of my writing.  Part of me thought that I should have been more careful of what I asked for, but then I realized that this was better.  I didn’t want him to die, but I also didn’t want him to “live” a life like he had been living.  In actuality, what he was experiencing could hardly be called “living.”

One of my prayers after my mom died and as my father’s health began to deteriorate was that Dad not die alone.  He felt so lost and alone when he left Connecticut.  Losing Mom just pushed him further into that darkness and it was hard for me to bear.  With a full-time job, 3 kids and a family, seminary studies, and various other things happening in my life, it was hard for me to spend as much time with Dad as I wanted.  I did what I could, but even when I wasn’t there, I couldn’t help but think about the sad picture in my mind of him being in there all alone.

I know that people die alone every day, but it seemed unbearable for me to think about that happening to Dad.  I couldn’t imagine one of the nurses walking in and finding that he was gone and yet not knowing exactly when he died.  That seemed so harsh, even though I knew it was possible.  But I held out hope that it wouldn’t happen.

When he finally went, it was all so painfully familiar to me.  Just as I had watched my mother’s neck for a sign of a pulse, I watched my father take his final breaths, wondering if each one would be the last one.  When that last breath came and went and I knew that he was gone, I simply sat there for a minute.  I don’t remember exactly what I did, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to think that I might have prayed a prayer of “thanks” to God.  Like I said, it wasn’t because I wanted Dad to die but because I didn’t want his suffering to continue.  Mom suffered for 6 months.  Dad had suffered for far longer.

While there is a sense of relief to me that his suffering is gone, the pain of dragging this out is so fresh.  It’s hard to let go.  It’s hard to break free of the numbness that I feel.  It’s hard to come to grips with the reality that is before me.  Yes, time heals all wounds, but the scars never go away.  They remain, reminding us of the pain that we have experienced, calling out, sometimes screaming, to us not to forget how they go there.

Right now, the bandages of loved ones and friends have covered up those scars, at least temporarily.  Each day, I lift the bandages to reveal what’s underneath.  Each day, I wish that I would lift the bandage and find that it has all been just a dream, but the scars remain.  Each day, I wish that I could just make that one phone call, but realizing that is impossible, I simply reach for my phone to listen to voicemails that I have saved.  Hearing the words “I love you” from both my mom and dad in the form of a voicemail recording will have to suffice for now.

In the meantime, I press on.  Life goes on, people forget, but I refuse to do so.  Mom and Dad have left indelible marks on my life and the lives of so many other people.  I am a living legacy, so may the mark that I leave be just as long-lasting as the ones left on me.