"This is yet another one of life's many opportunities." As it was with every challenge that presented itself, this is how Dad approached the news of the cancer that would claim his life within 12 months, according to the doctor's prognosis. I was numb, I was stunned - we all were! At 69, Dad was a vibrant, healthy man - how can this be? My mind and heart just couldn't wrap itself around the reality that he was being taken from us or how I was supposed to cope. By fortune and blessing, grief of this magnitude had remained an unknown to me, but that was about to quickly change. Oh, God, help me to have Dad's courageous perspective and see this, too, as another one of life's opportunities from which to learn and grow! You know I love You and am called according to Your purpose, but this, Lord, this will take a miracle for You to remain true to Your Word as found in Romans 8:28, "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."
During the four too-short months of Dad's illness, beyond the constant outpouring of care and kindness of friends and loved ones near and far that was a gift we will never, ever forget and will be forever grateful for, my mom, two sisters and I lived to do whatever we could to be a support to him so he knew without a single doubt he was not alone in this. I cannot count the times Dad expressed his amazement and appreciation for all we did for him and the only tears he shed in my presence came while we sat side-by-side on the living room couch when he confessed he wasn't ready to go because he hadn't helped enough people. So few are as blessed as I to be able to call a man like this, in my sister's own words of remembrance, "a 'crawl up in your lap' kind of daddy" making it possible to believe that You, Heavenly Father, are that same kind of daddy. If Your lap is free, I think I need to crawl in now...
For Dad it was a blessing twelve months were turned to four as they were wrought with agonizing physical pain for him and wrenching emotional pain for us as we just couldn't do enough to give him the comfort and reprieve we wanted so desperately to give. Although unconscious, his final hours saw him through a very real struggle only he and his Maker could see and I couldn't help but think of the scripture in Matthew 18:18, "Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." ... he was doing some very necessary binding and loosing to get ready for his journey Home. By the morning that held his final breath on this side of Heaven, though, Dad was lying peacefully, with no more evident struggles, ready to go Home. In the comfort of his home and with Mom, my sisters and me right by his side, he did just that.
As was Dad's wish, we had a memorial service that was a celebration of his life complete with a few jokes, even, in honor of his contagious sense of humor and the laughter we had all shared throughout the years. We had spent our lives learning to know him by heart for such a time as this. One by one, as so many before us have done for those they have loved and lost, we spoke from our hearts as we remembered Dad to the company of many, gathered there to remember him, too. The service was followed by an ice-cream social, well, because he really loved ice-cream and more importantly the company of many! How very fitting.
Grief and mourning, it turns out, never ends, but Dad was right, it is a valuable opportunity - but only if you allow it to be so. It is a process and, like any living being, unique in its own way to everyone who embraces it. Like a bittersweet friend, it changes and grows as you change and grow alongside it. During the early days of mourning, finding it so much worse when alone, with memories that haunt and Dad's absence torturous as if my heart had been savagely ripped from my body, wanting nothing more than to preserve my heart because that is where the memories truly lie. Despite the bitter tears that came in a relentless consuming flood, I never wanted to forget. My husband and children so gracious to relieve me of many day-to-day burdens to allow me the time necessary to work through this at my own pace, living was literally reduced to mere existence while trying to simply endure until every tomorrow as grief stole precious time. Where is that lesson, Lord? What is the good in all of this? If I am to survive, I have to know!
Surely, as time passed I'd found I had endured to see years of tomorrows and mere existence turned once again to living. The pain lessened and I was able to focus my memories more on Dad's zest for life than the circumstances surounding his death and the memories now bring much more joy than sorrow. I have concluded there is absolutely no better way to lose a loved one so the only solution is to love fully each and every day to avoid any regrets when death takes that special someone from you. As I have dared to look back I can see that, indeed, the Lord was working His miracle in His meticulous, perfect and timely way. He has been and continues to be ever-present throughout this journey of mourning, faithfully teaching that there is life after death, reminding that His Son is the eternal testimony to that saving truth. Having chosen to walk the painful yet healing steps of mourning, I relish the wisdom learned and bask in the blessing of its glory!
"It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart." Ecclesiastes 7:2