Firsts

My father died in May of this year. It wasn’t unexpected.  He had cancer, and by the time they found it, there wasn’t much that could be done in terms of a cure. We had less than a year left together before he died. I was holding his hand at that sacred moment when his soul took leave of his body and he stepped into eternity.   I could feel the presence of God in that small hospice room.  There was no struggle.. no fight for once in daddy’s life. His eyes were fixed on something that we could not see.  And at the moment of his death, a single tear fell from his eye.  I can’t say with certainty why that happened, but I believe he was seeing something very beautiful.  The peace in that room was palpable. Supernatural.  It was something my father had never experienced in his life here on earth. I believe that it was a tender gift from his Creator.  It broke my heart in the most beautiful way.

I spent many days in my father’s hospice room before he passed.  Some days we talked endlessly.  Others were spent in a comfortable silence between father and daughter.

I’m not sure that he ever came to terms with his death before the moment that it happened.  He fought for each breath until he took his last one.  But what I do know is that he made his peace with God.  I came into his room one night, and he was a little agitated.  “Angie, people keep coming in here praying for me.  Am I going to die?”  Seem strange to some that he hadn’t realized it before this moment, but if you truly knew him, you would understand.  Pete was a fighter, and he would not “go gentle into that good night.”

But the moment had come when difficult truths had to be spoken.  I told him that I loved him with all of my heart. And I told him that he was dying. My father had spent years running from God, but that night, he turned around and came face-to-face with his Creator. All of the distance my father had put between him and the Lord disappeared with his earnest prayer. He poured out his hurts, his heart, to the Lord.  It was a sacred moment and I was blessed to be there to bear witness to it.  A few short weeks later, he died.  After years of suffering from post-war trauma, my Nam vet father had finally made it home.

Losing him has really turned my life upside down.  I’ve cried alot, and I’m sure that I’ll cry more as the years pass on.  I don’t believe that “time heals all wounds.”  But I know that Jesus does.  That’s the hope that I cling to.

Since my father died, there have been many painful “firsts”.  I bought my first car without daddy’s input.  And drove it to my house instead of driving it over to his.  I took my first trip back up to Lynchburg and couldn’t call him to let him know that I’d arrived safely.  The list of “firsts” is growing daily.  It made me sad at first to realize all of the things I’ll do without him now.  But I’m not sad about it anymore.  That list is a testimony to all of the things we did together while he was alive. To the love that we shared. To the love that still exists between us.  For all of our troubles, in the end, that love is what we are left with.  And I am thankful for that.

While I was in Lynchburg, another anniversary came and went without commentary.  In part because I couldn’t let myself think about it too much or I wouldn’t have been able to get through the week’s work.  Mostly because the grief is still, some days, so fresh in my heart.  This year was my daughter’s first birthday after daddy’s death, but really she would be twenty-five this year.  My father grieved Brenna’s death so deeply here on earth, but his grief over losing her has passed.  Was she in the room with us waiting for him when he took that last slow breath?  I cannot say.  It is a mystery. But I can hope. And I can trust in the goodness of God and know that whatever my father is experiencing is far more beautiful than our human hearts can even fathom.

Daddy’s nickname “Grumps” was given to him in anticipation of Brenna’s birth. I had a t-shirt made with the name printed on it and presented it to him with much fanfare.  He was so excited to welcome his new granddaughter into the world.  His heart broke on the day that she died.  We buried my baby in a small grave in our hometown of Hogansville.  My father now rests beside her.

I believe that daddy is experiencing many  “firsts” as well.  Seeing Brenna again for the first time would have delighted him to the core of his being. But seeing Jesus…the Savior who gave it all for him.. I can only imagine.

For me, I cling to the truth that I know. Death is not the end.  The pain of loss will never leave me entirely while I’m alive, but by grace, I will learn to live with the hurt.  I know that there are still hard days ahead, but I fix my eyes on Christ and put one foot in front of the other.  Everyday. In that, I honor Christ and my father.  Until we meet again.

 

 

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