I know I semi-resigned from NaBloPoMo, but this week's Hmm topic made me want to write. I may have another post in me tomorrow, may not. But I did have something to say today. We are supposed to be writing about loss in light of the recent devastation in California, where so many have lost everything they own. I have never been in a fire or other natural disaster. I have never lost anything of great material value. I don’t know what it would mean to be homeless or without possessions. But I will write about the loss that I do know, that of my father.
I will not forget the day that my Daddy called to tell me that he had cancer. It was July of 2003. I was in grad school in Illinois, farther away from my home than I had ever lived in my life. My husband and I had been married only a year. I remember that it was dark. I remember that I was so thankful for my husband’s arms holding me. I remember that one of my high school friends and one of the most amazing Christian women I know called me immediately after receiving my e-mail to pray with me. I remember immediately going online to find out all I could about multiple myeloma. I remember not sleeping much. And I remember more than anything not wanting to lose my Daddy.
My Dad was a doctor, a fantastic doctor, who never missed work for illness. He was so fit and chiseled that, in his late forties, he still put fear in the hearts of all of my guy friends in high school. But he was nothing to be afraid of, really. My Dad was a quiet man because he was shy, not because he wanted to be intimidating. My girl friends in high school knew this, and many of them called him “Dad” because they loved him so much. He was a good man, not perfect, but good. And I was his girl. We were (still are) two of a kind.
My Daddy’s battle with cancer lasted for a little over three years, and I think the loss and grief came slowly for all of us over the course of those years. When he died last September, however, it was rather sudden. He had been relatively healthy for the months before that, and the doctors were optimistic about an experimental drug that he had just started. We went home for Labor Day weekend, and I could tell something was wrong. His normally sharp mind was lapsing. He forgot that he had watched the football game with me that weekend. And he slowly became more and more delirious. Anyone who has been near someone dying of cancer knows that it is not pretty. That was the most difficult week of my life, and I don’t want to chronicle it here. I can relive it in bits and pieces, but not all at once.
Instead of focusing on the loss of my Daddy, which has been the hardest loss of my life. I want to write about what I have gained from his illness and death. The most tangible and beautiful things that our family gained from my Daddy’s illness are three beautiful children. My niece was born in May of 2004, and Calvin followed in August. Hobbes was born a year and a half later. I’m pretty sure that my brother and I would not have talked our spouses into trying for children that soon if not for my dad’s illness. I treasure the memories of my Dad being PopPop to my boys. Having grandchildren opened him up so much and made him smile more than I had seen him smile in my whole life before that. He taught Calvin one of his first words, “golf.” And Calvin still loves to watch and play golf to this day. I think he has his PopPop’s skill at the game. While I would love to have my Daddy back, I am so thankful for the light that my niece and sons bring to our family.
I gained less tangible gifts from my Dad’s death, too. During the three years that my father battled cancer, the thing that I dreaded most was his death. I was sure I could not face it, that I could not be there when it happened, that I could not see my strong, capable, intelligent Daddy slowly decline. I’m not saying that being there was easy, but it was a sacred time, a time when the veil between the temporal and the eternal was removed. As my Dad’s mind and body, the things that he had relied on to succeed in life, began to fail, his soul began to shine through. I could see him the way his Father saw him, flaws and raw beauty and all, the things that are now perfected in the Father’s presence.
As I have processed my Daddy’s death and grieved my loss, the Holy Spirit has granted me the most amazing assurance of eternity. I thought that the days and weeks and months after my Dad’s death would be ones of darkness and depression. I sink so easily into that state. But they were not. Instead of drowning in sadness, I found myself experiencing peace and joy, not happiness, really, but joy in the assurance of the truth. This past Easter was one of the greatest of my life. The realities of the resurrection, of Christ’s trampling down of death, and of His coming again to establish his new creation were so vivid. I will see my Daddy again. We will walk in our mountains again. He will play golf with Calvin and football with Hobbes. I cannot explain the difference except to say that I once knew about eternity and now I know of it. That is a gift that infuses all of my life.
This gift of eternal perspective spills over into the lives of my children. My children can learn now not to be afraid of death, to be sad, yes, but not afraid. Calvin often comments that he can’t wait for Jesus to come back and bring PopPop. He talks about Jesus and PopPop playing golf in heaven. I can tell Hobbes stories about a man he won’t remember but who is every bit as alive to us now as he was when he was with us on earth. My children will not grow up without one grandfather. They will grow up with the realization that their PopPop is more alive than even they are, just far away for now.
It is true, what the apostle Paul says:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
Oh, Death, where is your victory?
Oh, Death, where is your sting?
1 Corinthians 15:54-55
Go read the whole chapter. It’s a good one!