Father’s Day is going to be different for me this year because my dad is not here. Obvious stated.
It’s been said that you don’t truly grow up until your parents are gone. I would agree. My sister and I were blessed by aunts, uncles and “surrogate” moms to help guide us through the details of my father’s recent death—an act of mercy that prevented us from wading those first days of adult orphan-hood alone.
I wish I could say that the last days and hours of his life were full of heart-tugging moments. I wish I could tell you that we said all those things long unspoken. I could tell you that we all gathered around him, knowing the end was near, realizing the weight of each moment, laying bare our collective and individual hearts. The reality is that we didn’t have a clue we were watching a man knocking on Heaven’s door. Our last conversations were about the Masters’ tournament, the Atlanta Braves, his dogs and how he wanted us to bring him his Sunday paper. I thought, “why does he care what’s on sale at Kohl’s this week?”
Life kind of works that way, doesn’t it? I mean, if we went through life thinking someone could die any second, wouldn’t we miss…life? Perhaps life isn’t meant to be a series of ultra-dramatic, poignant moments. Maybe it’s just supposed to be real. It’s when they’re gone that you wish every moment carried eternal meaning. But healthy people don’t always conduct their relationships with the eternal in mind. We do it like human beings. Flawed. Susceptible to hurt and exhaustion and tempers and mood swings. Shielded, in some way, from the reality that life isn’t forever. That at any moment, any of us could die. Maybe that is part of God’s blessing of life—that we get to live it as humans often oblivious to our mortality. That was obvious from how he left his house—his morning coffee cup from days before still in the sink; unopened mail on the table; the medications he hated taking strewn on the counter; a stray honeybun, perhaps meant for the road, but left behind.
Our biggest blessing during this storm is the memory of the night before my dad died. Our pastor stopped by to visit late in the evening. Visiting hours were almost over and I could tell he was ready to sleep. We all chatted for a bit, his signature flair for gab still intact. She offered to pray and as we gathered ‘round his bed, I watched him—eyes closed, I believed he’d drifted off to sleep. Then, as she began to say the Lord’s Prayer, he followed. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard it prayed with more confidence than he did on that night. An outpouring of faith through labored breaths, it seemed as if he were actually talking to God rather than simply reciting a prayer he’d known since youth. I wondered later if he knew he was in the last hours of his life and if that prayer had taken on a meaning like it never had before. Could a faith like that be possible in ordinary times? In his life, he taught us how to live in color; in death, he taught us how to die. For all its suddenness, we’re so blessed that he didn’t leave us wondering where he was going.
Father’s Day will be different this year because, 7 weeks ago, I was able to hear my own father pray to his as he crossed over to the other side; looking back, it was a lesson in how none of us are ever truly “fatherless.” As long as I live, I know I will count it among the most precious moments of my life.
Happy Father’s Day.