It has been five years since I said goodbye to my father for the last time. He passed away after a short, yet torturous battle with leukemia. That year I gave birth to my daughter, and two days later my dad went into the hospital. He was there for a month before the doctors could even figure out what was wrong. By then, it was too late for the treatments to really be effective. He tried. He really fought. Ultimately, it was too aggressive to control.
I miss my dad every single day. So much. I wish he was here to see my kids grow up. I wish he could have seen the house that my husband and I finally settled into, and could have spent at least one Christmas with us here. I wish he could surprise me and take me to lunch like he used to. I wish we could still laugh together. He had an awesome laugh. I miss hearing him sing and play the guitar. I miss how he used to check in on me, but tried not to make a big deal of it. I just miss him.
Losing a parent was life-changing. Someone who was a daily part of my life for my entire life disappeared. It almost doesn’t feel real. There are still days where I will think, “I can’t wait to tell Dad about that,” and then I realize that I can’t. There are days when the sorrow is suffocating. There are days when the emptiness feels infinite. Then there are days when I am completely at peace, remembering my dad as the incredible man he was and all of the wonderful times we had together. Time does not heal the heart. It just makes us a little more numb to the pain each day. The pain is still there though. It doesn’t go away.
I wrote the following a couple years after my dad passed away…
It was a Wednesday morning in September. I awoke to the soft, yet panicked tapping on the bedroom door as a pale light peeked in from behind the thin window curtain. My mom had come downstairs to tell me that the hospice called and said they thought my dad had a stroke during the night and that though he was still alive, he wasn’t responding or waking up. I skipped showering, threw my hair back in a ponytail, slipped on a pair of jeans and drove my mom to the hospital.
We got to the hospice and walked into my dad’s room. He was sleeping. His mouth was open and his breathing was heavy, loud, and rhythmic. The nurse talked over his sounds, explaining that he had not woken that morning since they first checked on him. My anxious mother listened, but I stood there in a daze as I sought to truly comprehend what the nurse was trying to prepare us for.
The nurse left the room. My mom talked to my dad for a bit and then said she was going to go grab something to drink or something to eat from the cafeteria. At last. Finally for the first time during this 4-month ordeal I was alone with my father. No mom, no brother, no husband, no children. Just me and my dad. Unlike a screenplay would have it, I didn’t have any regrets or apologies and I didn’t need him to have any for me. My dad and I had a great relationship and even if we were ever in disagreement, we understood each other. I didn’t have anything to tell him other than that I loved him. So, I sang. I sang “Give Me Faith” because it was fresh in my mind, a new song recently added to our worship team’s repertoire.
“Give me faith to trust what you say;
That you’re good and your love is great.
I’m broken inside. I give you my life.”
Thinking back upon that moment, I can’t tell you which of my fathers I was actually singing to. My dad lay there as the words squeaked out of my mouth, like I was singing them on his behalf so he would hold onto his faith as he was about to embrace eternity. Even though I was hardly audible, my soul cried out to my Father in Heaven with the plea to give me faith because I knew that soon my dad would be in His presence and no longer in mine. It was an honest and beautifully vulnerable moment and I’ll never forget it.
My dad died later that morning. My brother was in the room with him as his breathing slowed and as he was finally released from this excruciatingly horrible disease. I had gone home to grab the shower that I had skipped earlier that morning. I got the call from my brother. I remember trying to tell him that I was just going to shower really quick and then I would head straight back to the hospice and… He cut me off. He said, “Dad died,” and he began to cry as he told me the details.
I don’t remember much about the rest of that day. I remember going back to the hospice and a lot of hugs and tears. I remember how calm everyone seemed. I think the calmness could be attributed to the fact that ultimately we all knew where Dad was and that he was no longer suffering. My dad stepped into eternity on September 14th, 2011.
I still cannot fathom how people can do this without faith, without hope, and without belief in the one true God. Perhaps that is why death is so scary to some people and why grief has the power to numb us, paralyze us, suffocate us, and consume us. My worldly self would like to think that I go on for my husband, for my children, for my mother, and in a sense I do. There’s no doubt in my mind that God gave me the dearest people in my life for many reasons. But more so, I go on because I have hope. I’m able to let this devastating circumstance be a temporary trial rather than never ending sorrow.
I pleaded with God that day to shield my spirit and strengthen my faith so that I wouldn’t be crushed by the pain that I knew would accompany my father’s passing. He graciously protected me that day and continues to be my rock. I have a Savior who I love and who loves me and who rejoices with me on my best days and comforts me through my worst. As I reflect on one of the most heartbreaking days of my life, I can’t help but pray for those who haven’t accepted His love.
A piece of my heart has been lost for 5 years. No more lunches, no check-ins, no visits with Grandpa. The laughter has faded. The guitar has been put away. The song is over. Those mournful days come and go. There are days when I am nothing but angry at God. I’m bitter and resentful. I think that’s an ordinary component of grief. I haven’t lost my hope though. There is peace in the midst of the pain. There is comfort found in faith.
It hasn’t changed for me.
In loving memory of my Dad, Stephen K. Clarke
1951 – 2011