How do I grieve the loss of you, Dad? Let me count the ways:
1. I laugh. Not because it’s funny you left us, but because laughter is indeed good medicine. The family sat around one evening before your funeral and hammed it up. We reached into our reservoir of memories, which included your two sons getting shot at by an out of state hunter, an ingrown toenail that refused to heal, the nicknames you gave us kids, the bizarre and sometimes politically incorrect nicknames people gave you throughout the years, and the time you accidentally brought home the wrong horse.
Also, we laughed at the funeral. A lot. The day before the service, we told the preacher about your life, and he reiterated the silly memories we recalled straight from the pulpit. But the laughter didn’t stop there. During the reception, a few people shared their memories that were funny and precious to them. You were a peculiar, funny guy, Dad. But also impressive, strong, and at times, nonsensical. Nobody at the funeral had lack of material to talk about when it came to the life you lived. Like any life, there was bad mixed in with the good. But we chose to appreciate the good and forgive the bad.
When I returned home, I tried to watch funny movies and failed miserably. So I resorted to my favorite show, Last Man Standing. I don’t know if you ever watched LMS, but I think if you did, you liked it.
Last but not least, once I was rested from the funeral trip, I went shopping with a friend. Well, we did shop. But mostly, we talked and laughed hard enough to nearly get ourselves kicked out of a bookstore. I haven’t laughed the I’m-going-to-pee-my-pants laugh in years, which is probably sad. But hey, it cleared my bronchial passages, gave me a flood of endorphins, and emotionally salved me.
2. I look at pictures. This is probably the most painful yet helpful exercise yet. There’s the picture of you and me at my wedding, where we are standing on one of the most beautiful places on earth on a warmer than usual Fall day, waiting for the ceremony to start. I think we were waiting for Shaun’s not-so-punctual Aunt Cynthia to arrive, which she eventually did, just as the ceremony ended. You are looking smug. I am looking bored. It’s just a funny picture that says a few thousand words. Then there’s the picture of you bending down in the yard, exactly the way you did in the huge garden we all grew together when I was a kid. I always wondered how you could possibly bend down in that position for any length of time, but you did it. Hour after hour. Day after day. The garden was your baby, and you grew and cared for it which in turn grew and cared for your other three babies. There’s also the picture of you holding up a big fish with a fat, cheesy smile on your face. And one of you as a little boy, which looks similar to the way my little boy looked like at the same age. Your hair is especially similar, and you’d be tickled to know that after showing the picture to Andrew, he is now worried about going bald when he is old.
3. I cry. Whenever the tears come to the surface, I allow them to spill over, which can happen whilst watching a movie that conjures up a memory of you. Or when my good friend, Jonathan, sings Psalm 23 in church. Almost always when I’m so fatigued, I can’t deal with sadness as well. And when I think of the suffering you endured in the weeks and months before your death. I try not to overly think about that. I try to focus on now, and the fact that you are feeling no pain, no grief, no sickness. That you are with your parents, Mom’s parents, the cousins you named your sons after, and others who went on before you. And I try and let that lead me to gratefulness, but it’s a process. The memory of your suffering is not likely on your mind, but I’m still in the here and now, still suffering my own physical maladies, which tends to make a gal empathetic, unfortunately. Empathy is a good thing when it leads to helping others. But there’s no helping to be done where you’re concerned. You’re gone, and I’m sad, and this is my party and I’ll cry if I want to. Eventually, I trust I will party without the tears, but until then, I just let it flow. Which is like Disney’s Let It Go, only different. But not really.
4. I mentally throw my pain at the foot of the cross, while asking the Lord to remove the cup of grief. This is a ritual I began years ago, when I was working through other emotional pain, because it helped me take up Christ’s easier yoke. We’re supposed to do that, you know. Give our griefs and sorrows back to Him who is much more equipped than we are to carry them. But grief, I am finding, is sticky. It’s as if I throw it, and like a boomerang, it comes back. It is my unwelcome, persistent guest, that makes me doubt, as Isaiah says, that He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. I think Okay, Lord. Take my grief. I don’t want it. Really, it’s Your to carry. But however hard I try to cast it off, I still feel pinned. Like a boulder, grief sits on my chest. The Lord is gracious to relieve some of the pressure at times to give me a breath and a rest, but truthfully? I am looking for a removal, not a reprieve.
Does time heal all wounds? My open heart surgery scars tell me no. Physical wounds lose much of their unbecoming appearance, but not all. They heal, but the pain endured to earn the scars changes a person, forever. So when I wonder if emotional scars ever heal, I know the answer is … sorta. I believe at some point, my grief will be lighter. Different. Less painful and ugly. But I don’t believe that on earth, the pain will ever completely subside. I think that’s fool’s talk. But in Heaven? I will be free as you are free, Dad. We will be aware of the pain endured on earth, I think. But it will be overridden by God’s glory and grace.
I’m assuming Jesus’ hands and side are still scarred up, since He offered them to Thomas when Thomas doubted His identity. Physical scars somehow define Him for all eternity. Will it be the same with us? Will your gallbladder removal scar still be there, Dad? Will my open heart surgery scar still be there? Will there be complete healing of emotional scars?
This truth is enough:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. ~Rev. 21:4
5. I read. I’m staying away from most things political, because they remind me of you, and I come up with enough Dad thoughts on my own. Teehee. But I’ve been reading light novels. One was utterly stupid, but I’ve forgiven the author. The other is light and airy, well written and worthy of a read. It creates a normalcy that I crave, especially since your death came in the middle of so many other trials. I also read The Valley of Vision most every day, and my Bible. The Gospels is where I’m centered now, because it helps me recall how Jesus dealt with hurting people. He healed them. He listened to them. He wept with them. He marveled at their faith, however big or small. He defended them. He pitied them. He saved them.
6. I practice thanksgiving. You were always a glass half full kind of guy (actually, you were a glass overflowing guy, even if the glass was clearly bone dry!). Mom was a glass half empty kind of gal. I took after Mom more, so thanksgiving doesn’t come naturally to me. But here I sit, on two acres, in a house that reminds me of the one you raised me in, always fed, always cared for, never thirsty or without a place to lay my head, knowing that my father and my Father are in Heaven having a blessed time together, and someday, I will join them both. What else, pray tell, could I want? When I think with thanks, the boulder doesn’t seem so heavy. This is also a process. The boulder of grief is at times so heavy that one has to simply accept the weight and attempt to suffer well. But I’m grateful this is indeed a process (and all processes end at some point), that lights at the end of tunnels do in fact exist, and that I do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.