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Somehow it doesn’t seem like it’s been 18 years. Sometimes it seems like it was more recent than that. And sometimes it seems like it didn’t really happen at all.
Every year, on August 9, I’m overly aware of the date. It’s not something that shuts me down and keeps me from functioning, but it’s definitely a more reflective day than most.
Summer was winding down and while my brother had just started a soccer camp the day before, we knew the days of sleeping in and being lazy were quickly coming to an end. Tuesday morning, I woke up earlier than any teenager should ever have to wake up during the summer. But, it wasn’t by choice and I’m still not completely sure what exactly it was that roused me. I remember seeing a light on in the hallway and looking at my clock. It was 5:30am. I heard voices, but just thought that mom and dad were getting an early start on the day… until I heard our neighbor’s voice. Al and Cindy were there so I climbed out of bed to see what was going on. When I walked into my parent’s bedroom, my dad was laying in the bed, covers pulled back, his lips slightly blue and he was barely breathing. To see the man that you love more than anything and sometimes fear more than you should was surreal. Cindy was holding his hand and I remember her saying it was clammy. Thinking back, I should have taken his hand from her. I should have hugged him or kissed him on the cheek, or climbed into the bed and held onto him. But I was scared. I was 14. And I had no idea what to do or what was to come.
So I turned and walked into the living room and turned on the computer to play solitaire. I remember the ambulance arriving and a couple of people coming into the house with a stretcher. Not long after that, I realized they were coming down the hallway and as I got up and walked over, the last I saw of my dad were his feet as I shut the door.
Mom left to follow the ambulance and Cindy stayed with us. A couple of hours later, she took my brother to his soccer camp and I was home by myself. As the sun came up, the house felt empty and I’m sure the weight that was there could be felt for blocks away. And even though I knew Jesus at the time, I believed in God and trusted him, I don’t think it crossed my mind to talk to him that morning. Instead, I sat in daddy’s chair and turned on the tv to watch the only thing on… Sisters. Several hours later, when the kitchen door opened and my mom walked in with Randy, our pastor, I knew the answer to my question of how daddy was doing before I even asked it. Mom’s two word response was enough, “He’s gone.”
Because of high blood pressure, being very overweight, and smoking, my dad’s heart couldn’t keep up. So, at 45 years old, his heart stopped.
The rest of that day and the days following are a blur. I remember picking Matt up at soccer camp, but I don’t remember his response. I remember my grandparents and aunt and uncles driving as quickly as they could from Washington, D.C. I remember tons of people coming and going. I remember more food in our fridge than could actually fit in there. I remember some kids that I babysat coming by with their families and just hugging the two little girls. I remember one of my cousins bringing me a dress to wear to the funeral because I didn’t feel like I had anything that would work. I remember needing an escape and going to our neighbor’s house the day of the funeral and watching everyone at our house from their window. I remember a phone call from a substitute that worked with my mom at the junior high school… she told me that I needed to be strong for my mom and brother and to not cry. While I’m sure she had good intentions to encourage me to be there for my family, this is not the best piece of advice to give a 14 year old who just lost her father. (What I’ve realized and learned since that phone call is that death was never meant for this world. That only happened when Adam and Eve decided to disobey God in the garden and sin became a part of our lives on earth. So, yes, it’s MORE than ok to cry and mourn and even be angry when someone dies! We have to go through that. Death doesn’t feel right to us because it was never meant to be. So, we mourn, we work through what happened, and find the strength to keep going from the One who created us.)
I also remember getting ready for bed the night my dad passed away. Mom was in her bathroom washing her face and I walked in or was just standing there watching her and I asked her who was going to give me away at my wedding. She hugged me and we cried. And she said I had a granddad and so many uncles that would love to walk me down the aisle. (Even though my granddaddy passed away a year before I met Ben, my brother honored ME by walking me down the aisle on my wedding day :-))
The three of us, my mom, my brother and I, all slept together that night in my parent’s bed. While the next few days were a blur, I remember realizing just how loved we all were… and to this day, I feel like I haven’t thanked everyone enough for that.
This was Christmas 1987… check out my awesome pink headband!
This was the spring of 1993 (don’t be jealous of my hair, lack of a tan, or the dress).
My dad had a knack of getting to me… he like to call it “teasing” and you can tell by his face he was enjoying it!
We had an interesting relationship, my dad and I. My mom pointed out years after he passed away that we were carbon copies of each other. From looks, to skin tone (the picture above is NOT proof of that), to our eyes, to our personalities, to our humor, to our temperament. So, as you can imagine, we butted heads quite often. We grew up going to church and I know my dad knew the Lord, but he also had his own past that he was trying to compensate for. He loved us so much and he worked so hard in order for us to have things that he didn’t, which included him pushing us in school to do our best. I’m so thankful that he taught me how to check the oil in the car and began to teach me how to drive stick shift (bless him for enduring that!). I’m thankful that he taught me independence early on so that when I graduated college and was on my own for the next 10 years, I would be perfectly fine.
But, because of how he pushed us, there were many days where yelling was more abundant than hugs and encouragement. And the Lord knows I knew how to push some buttons and the limits! Remember that “carbon copy” statement from above…? :-) I knew my dad well because we were so much alike! And because he was my dad, his influence over me was incredible. What I mean by that is that if he was in a bad mood, I withdrew to let him be and to not make things worse. And over the years, I think I continued to withdraw more and more. I’ve always been a people pleaser and an introvert, but looking back, I’m sure much of that is because of what my dad was like. I didn’t want to rock the boat so instead of fighting back, I would run away from the situation. His voice was stronger and louder than mine ever will be and sometimes it was very intimidating.
Now, please don’t get me wrong, I loved my dad very much and we laughed – a lot! I have some incredible memories from family vacations to the beach, telling jokes around the dinner table, and learning to play rummy. I can also still see him sitting in his desk chair at the house just smiling up at me because of whatever silly story or accomplishment I was telling him about. And because I grew in my faith over the years, God pulled me out of my shell and helped me learn Truth. He helped me to see what love really is and He brought me a husband that loves me the way I always wanted my dad to love me… unconditionally*. Yes, Ben and I have tough conversations, and we don’t always agree on everything, but I don’t run away. Ben doesn’t raise his voice (and I don’t raise mine) so there’s nothing to fear or be intimidated by. Ben pushes me in what I believe and everything I do, but it’s because he knows I can do it… just like my dad did. And at this point, the only frustration and disappointment that comes with my failure is all self-imposed. But, I’m working on that too! If I’ve learned anything from my life, from my dad passing away 18 years ago, and from the trials and lessons God has brought me through, it’s that all of these things have done nothing but make me stronger.
And I could never thank my dad, or especially my heavenly Father, enough for that.
*After thinking through this some more, I want to clarify that the only One that can truly love us unconditionally is God and that’s because of (and through) Jesus! After all, my dad was only human… as is Ben (and especially me)!