Remembering Dad: Navigating the First Year Without Him

My brother posted this picture of our dad on Facebook on what would have been his 87th birthday.  Dad passed away on January 1 and it still doesn’t seem quite real that he’s gone. Friends who have lost loved ones have told me the “firsts” are the hardest. The first birthday without Dad, the first Father’s Day with no dad to buy a card for, and then my recent birthday, the first one in my whole life without talking with Dad have been difficult milestones.

I remember my birthday last year. Dad was living in a dementia care facility. The day seemed empty. I felt sad because I hadn’t talked with him. My husband Randy who’s always coming up with practical solutions said, “Why don’t you call him?” What a great idea!

The person who answered the phone at Dungeness Courte was more than happy to locate my dad and put him on the phone. It took a while, but I finally heard his familiar voice which I mentally tried to  record. “Hi, honey.”

“Dad, I had to call you. It’s my birthday.”

“Oh yes,” he chuckled. “I think I had something to do with that!”

Dad was always joking. I smiled as I realized that not even dementia could rob him of his sense of humor.

On his birthday in June, I decided to walk the mile or so to our small town to enjoy the flags waving from each business. Dad was born on Flag Day. Growing up, he thought the flags flew in his honor. I snapped a few pictures. Then I walked to the bakery and bought blueberry muffins for Randy and me. Dad would have approved. He loved anything baked with blueberries. My heart felt glad that I’d taken this time to remember him.

Now it’s November. Glorious fall colors fade to brown. Trees are bereft of leaves. A raw chill penetrates the air. As I turned the calendar page today, a pang shot through me. It’s almost a year since I was with Dad.

I know that grieving involves feeling the sadness of losing someone who was such an important part of my life. I also know that celebrating the blessing of having a wonderful father is comforting and even healing.  

I believe Dad and I will have a beautiful reunion someday. I will hear his familiar voice again. “Hi, honey. Welcome home.”

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7:17

How are you coping with the loss of a loved one?

 

 

Raise the White Flag!

I called my homeless brother yesterday. I only wanted to say that I love him. He couldn’t hear that. He thought I was trying to intervene, judging him. He told me his life is miserable, the party’s over–not that there ever was a party, I thought. I tried to interject hope into his hopeless comments.

You don’t have to do this alone, I said. But he couldn’t hear me in his deafness to allow anyone to help him. I’m going to recover on my own, he insisted. I don’t need anyone to help me.

My heart aches for him. I’ve walked this road before with my husband, Randy, as he struggled to find freedom from his addiction to alcohol. And as I struggled to let go, to finally admit there wasn’t anything I could do to fix or change him. 

It’s funny how we think we have the power to help someone else choose life over an addiction or other destructive behaviors. Fear got in the way of my ability to surrender my husband. I believed I had the power to decide for him. I thought if I let go of Randy, he would die. That’s a scary place to put ourselves in–and rather presumptuous. Do I really think I have that kind of power? Hm…I don’t think so. I am thankful there is One who has all power–and that one isn’t me!

Surrender!

There comes a time when we need to raise the white flag. We not only surrender our loved ones, but we also surrender ourselves to the Lord. We let go so God can work in our lives and theirs. We let go so we can be free from the anxiety that is destroying us. By surrendering, we choose a way that brings life to us–and possibly to our loved ones as well.

There are no pretenses or illusions about any noble efforts to save someone you love. This is rock-bottom where the rubber sole meets the road. You admit that what you’ve been doing isn’t working. You don’t have what it takes to motivate another person  to change their behavior. Only God can do that. Finally you give your impossible situation to God.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, they describe surrender in three steps:

  1. I can’t do it.
  2. God can.
  3. I will let Him.

There’s something powerful about recognizing we can’t do what needs to be done in our own strength. This might sound depressing. If we can’t do anything…who can? Ah…that’s the very place God wants us to be. He doesn’t need us, really. He has access to infinite resources. Sometimes the most we can do is simply get out of the way. We intentionally let go of our loved ones. This doesn’t mean we abandon them or stop loving them. Instead, we lovingly entrust them to Jesus. He loves them more than we can imagine. What better place for them to be! The Lord knows every detail about them. He even knows every hair on their heads. He loves them with an everlasting love. Our love pales in comparison.

Author Jan Johnson says it well: 

Letting go is both too simple and too difficult. It looks like weakness instead of strength, like losing instead of gaining, and it is. As we relinquish control and admit weaknesses, we remember who we are and why we’re here…This need to control is rooted in fear, but I need to do the thing that is rooted in faith–surrender.  

Once again, I find myself in a place of letting go. This time I know it’s the very best for me and for the brother I love so dearly. 

Is there a situation in your life where you need to surrender?

 

A Holy Comfort for Our Grief

There are times when you know you’ve encountered a holy experience. Two weeks ago, on a Friday evening, friends gathered to remember our friend Melissa. She lost her agonizing battle with depression and took her life on a Saturday morning in early December.

We who knew her have reeled with shock and grief over her tragic loss at only 38-years old. A service was held in the new community where she and her family had relocated in October. Several close friends felt it was important to honor Melissa here, where she had made her home for at least a decade.

About two dozen of us sat in a large circle in the church fellowship hall. A slide show flashed pictures of Melissa and her family. We each told how we had come to know and love her. We cried and even laughed together, remembering the happy times. 

What could we have done differently? How could we have helped her through those dark times? Questions hung in the stillness. But each person spoke comfort where answers are hard to find. God is faithful, no matter what our circumstances, one close friend reminded. She talked about how Melissa’s new church, a group of people who barely knew them, had rallied to support the grieving family. Another friend mentioned that Melissa’s oldest son’s teacher had also lost her mother to suicide when she was a child. God is certainly with those who are brokenhearted–even when we are at a loss to understand.

We held hands, sang a song together, and prayed for God to do what none of us can–to bring healing, peace, and comfort to all who grieve. Melissa’s close friends had packed up all of her clothing and brought it to the church. Please take something, they urged. Her husband wanted it that way. When I walked into the hall and saw the tables of neatly folded and sorted clothing, I broke into tears. How could I take anything? I saw Melissa in so many of those garments. Then I sensed that it would be wrong not to take something. I picked up a raspberry colored top and instinctively held it close. Her friends had given me a precious gift.

A favorite place

Maybe you’re walking through a season of grief, wondering how you’ll make it through the next moment, not to mention a lifetime. I pray you’ll know God’s faithfulness and be comforted, just as we were on a cold, January night. 

 

   

Blessed are Those who Mourn

I’ve heard it said there’s a point in time when we become a parent to our parents. I know this in my head. My heart doesn’t want to accept this role reversal. I’m only too aware that we’re all aging. Years have passed by in a blink. I’m resisting. I want to be the child, not the responsible grown-up.

My parents are in their mid-80’s and both are facing health issues. My father was diagnosed with Pick’s Syndrome(a form of dementia) about six years ago. The disease has progressed slowly, but steadily, without compromise. My self-assured Dad whom I’ve loved and always counted on is slipping away. I came across a letter he wrote me before dementia took its toll. Dad, I miss you!

My mom has been his primary caregiver and she’s understandably exhausted. Taking care of dad has been grueling. Once there was a season to focus on marriage, children, careers, social events, being part of a church family. Then one day you wake up to a parade of doctors appointments, pill-taking, cleaning up incontinence messes and washing soiled linens and clothing. It’s painful to watch your parents struggling. We’ve asked the typical questions: What should we do? How can we help? Is it time for Dad to be in a nursing facility? Lord, please give us wisdom, strength, courage.

My friend Sarah lost both her parents during the past two years. She has been a source of comfort and strength. Last weekend, we enjoyed an oasis of rest and refreshment. A new friend I met in May at the Northwest Christian Writers Renewal invited me to come visit and bring a friend. So I did. Little did I know how Divinely appointed our weekend would be.

Sarah asked if I minded visiting her parents’ grave with her. The cemetery was located in a nearby town. First we stopped at Joanne Fabrics to pick out silk flowers. We found the perfect bouquet of pink azaleas–60% off. Sarah

commented on how her parents always liked a good bargain. It felt good to laugh.

We stood together looking at the simple headstone with two names carved in granite. A photo of a young obviously-in-love couple made me smile and cry at the same time. I cried for myself, pre-grieving the loss of my parents. But feeling more strength to step into the caring role God has for me in this season of life.

I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.Philippians 4:13