grief. the small awkward word seems so inadequate to contain the emotions of loss.
it is defined this way, Grief is a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, and philosophical dimensions.
that is certainly an understatement. certainly multifaceted. the loss of something to which a bond or affection was formed. hmm. indeed.
it is an odd thing to lose the same person twice. especially when that person is a parent. grieving twice in one lifetime for a parent seems harsh and painful but it also seems to confirm the bond and affection that was well formed.
as a six year old little girl, i remember vividly the day my dad left. he cupped my young chin in his large hands and promised me i would be ok. i remember riding for the first time to his new apartment. a residence i would not share with him. my little dress neatly situated across my lap and my younger brother riding along in the back seat. i had no way of knowing that just a couple years later the moving van would pull up to my house and take all my belongings to another state, without my input. i would then grow from a little girl to an adolescent and a young woman several states away from my dad, without contact to him for nearly 10 years.
i would often lay in bed at night during those growing years and mouth the word “dad”. wondering what it would be like to call someone i love by that term. it seemed foreign. i wondered what the man i once called that was actually doing. where was he? did he think about me? about my little brother? about our mom? and if i were to get married one day, who would give me away at that wedding alter? living in a home with a step dad who didn’t want the badge of honor of being called “dad” nor did he deserve it, led me to fantasize often the older i got about the man who did once hold that honor proudly.
one sweet day, that now seems like a lifetime ago, i did get to see my dad again. amusement park fun, too much sugar and an over-sized stuffed animal later and he was gone. returned to his real life as i climbed back in the car with my family to return to ours. the following 2 years were spent on emotional roller coasters without the fun, sugar or stuffed animals as my step dad and mom began to unravel the scarf of their tightly bound baggage. to my great joy but incredible uncertainty, my mom’s husband stepped out of our lives as quickly as he had stepped in. nearly 10 years of my young life wound into memories with a man i never liked. but i gladly shut that door.
my fears came as i packed up and headed 2 hours away to college, leaving my mother and brother to find their way on this new path without me. facing my own insecurities and fears and roller coasters as i stepped out of childhood into adulthood was more than enough for my immature broken mind. i sought security in anything i could find, anyone i could hold to. i felt so alone and so very far from home in every way possible.
often god is working things behind the scenes of our lives that would blow our minds if we could take a peek. how do i know this? because when we finally see the glimpse of it, we are in awe. how did it ever work out this way? i never in 1000 years would have dreamed this to be the outcome. i have said it and thought it no less than 1000 times.
on one side of the state i am settling into this lonely, foggy, and confusing life in a college dorm. while my dad is packing his own belongings and moving to my state, to see my mom, my brother and i. leaving the life he never wanted for the life he wished he had fought for.
part two of their love story began as my dad began to court my mom like a couple of teenagers, with their teenage children witnessing. a cabin in the mountains and much forgiveness spoken. gratitude overwhelmed the grief of that first loss in my heart. he was back and that felt like a complicated gift. how did it ever work out this way?
he moved in, taking his rightful place again as dad and husband. he screened the boys i brought in from college. he laid rules for my brother at home. he began to fight the good fight, the fight for us not against us. we all wrestled out this new life, these new unknown paths. but for the first time we did it together.
my wedding day came, my dad at my side. he gave me away to the man he approved of. he kissed my cheek as the pastor asked “who gives this woman to this man?” his tender response, ” her mother and i do.” oh how many years had i waited and hoped to hear that man say those words.
how did it ever work out this way?
embracing his role as dad, he taught my man more how-to projects than bob villa knows. he doted on his grandbabies as they arrived. he was instantly taken by every little milestone of their young lives. he graciously received every one of the 500 shirts we have him as gifts as if it was better than the last. what do you buy a dad anyway?
the lord had mercy and rolled away the stone that had settled in his heart over the years, uniting him further to my mother, myself and our family.
grandparenting looked good on him. santa 4 you at christmas and santa for them all year. sleepovers for grandchildren and extra money for no reason. he played the part as if he was designed for it, so well.
the love story continued as they took a leap, packing up a home, selling a house and taking off out west. camping, traveling and adventure. living out the dream they never in 1000 years thought they would. soaking in the sights, songs and memories. his happiest joys and the sweetest treasures were nestled into those years, no doubt. postcards and phone calls. they were well missed, but cheered on. how did it ever work out this way?
the years came to a rolling stop as they drifted from that season to the next. selling the rv and moving back near by. catching up where they had left off. grandparenting again became the name of the game. my dad took on the mantle of driver as he whisked my boys to and from classes, each for a full school year. enjoying every minute. eating lunches together. overpaying them for junk food treat purchases and building memories that cannot be erased. solid memories constructed as i got spoiled by late mornings knowing my boys were in great hands. such a treasure. such a treasure to know his joy was in those thursday mornings. he certainly loved well. and he was certainly loved well.
nothing could have prepared us for the following year.
the 2nd semester of driving the youngest to classes came to a close and the firstborn graduated high school. no sooner was the tassel turned than that the plane flew him off to his second trip to haiti, as our home of 12 years and all of its memories were packed up and loaded onto 2 large moving vans. the job was set, the new place found and we closed the door on a well loved home for the last time.
leaving mom and dad felt temporary. we won’t be too far away, and soon they would follow. but man can make plans but god is the one who orders our steps. the end of summer came with a sweet birthday celebration and the sun set on a beautiful season none of us were ready to part with.
the diagnosis came, not as the blow i thought it would, but i did have to sit down. we made haste to sit by his side in that hospital room. not knowing what would come, assuming the worst hoping for the best, in that room and back in our new town as a storm raged closer and closer to the home we had just unpacked. we ran from one storm right into another. we sat in a holding pattern watching his face each day and the news each night. what would be the outcome of these, the greatest storms we had ever dreamed of. how did it ever work out this way?
the false sense of security that followed as we so gratefully brought him home and went home to a house that was mostly intact, it had an odd way of drawing attention to the distance. the scars in the town were obvious and sad. the effects of the storm left things displaced and not the same as they were. the scars on my dad began to come to the surface as the effects of chemo began to have their way. we tried to remember normal. we tried to replay normal. i think in a lot of ways the year had caused us to forget normal and even how to get back to it. it seemed illusive.
we made hopeful plans. tentative plans. still forgetting that man makes the plans but god orders the steps.
the call came. bags were packed before thoughts ran clearly. driving to his bedside. holding his large hand and seeing the light dance in his blue eyes when i came in the room. so grateful for the familiarity he had become in my life. the bonding moments. hi daddy, speaking the words like the little girl i became around him. hi baby, the usual, familiar response. as we left the ER that day, he winked to me and blew a kiss as i blew one back and closed the curtain behind me. this storm was moving in fast.
calls were placed, reconciliation made. forgiveness given. many presents in the present. we each held his hands in turn as we cried tears of loss and gratitude. having known and loved a man who was bigger than life. how did it ever work out this way?
3 days. to say goodbye to a life well lived. much life lived in 68 years, 109 days. many live more years but much less life. why are you crying, baby? i will miss you, dad. patting my knee with his large hand and you will be ok, as you will be there soon too.
now he waits by the door for his bride. and i know i will again see the great man i called dad. blue eyes shining.
till then the grief comes. like the waves of the shore, some strong, some gentle.
words flood my mind as memories spill over into tears and i continue trying to find normal.