How long until I stop looking at the calendar and seeing a significant date? How long until I stop using the phrase “This day last week… this day last month… this day last year… this day 21 years ago today…”.
On this morning one month ago, my world changed. It was the morning that Dad began his journey of leaving us — departing toward his eternal Home — departing to God. Just the night before, I had celebrated my 45th birthday with my husband and three children. I was surrounded by family, and my joy was full. Overall, life was good. Not to pretend we don’t have our issues and our struggles and our messiness and our end-of-our-rope moments (often)… but I had not yet experienced grief like this, of the kind that I now hold. I have carried unexpected and overwhelming grief for others, which spilled over into grief of my own, but losing a parent is a new journey for me. I have joined a ‘club’ for which so many of us have already been paying dues. So looking at a snapshot of this moment in time, four weeks ago last night, makes me want to crawl into my skin and stay there. Willing the morning after to never happen —
or rather, to happen differently.
On February 23rd, like clockwork, I had received a phone call from my parents earlier in the afternoon, singing “Happy Birthday”, as they do every year ~ a fun tradition from my Mom and Dad. I laughed and grinned ear-to-ear as I listened to them sing. My Mom’s pretty ‘choir’ voice, and then my Dad’s voice — singing off-key as he always has, but singing from his heart (and most likely, with a little urging from my Mom). In a way, though, I now regret that I picked up the phone. Their song would have gone to voicemail, and their sweet voices would be saved forever — the last time they sang together. If only I would have lingered on the phone longer with them that afternoon… had I only known.
I have friends who have suffered the unspeakable tragedy of losing a child–infants through young adults. I just cannot even go there in my mind, and I know that it is ONLY by the grace of God and the prayers of His people that those who have suffered such loss are able to rise from bed each morning. I have friends who have unexpectedly lost spouses–long before anyone ever imagined. And there are those whom we know or read about far too often–who because of a diagnosis–will be leaving this earth long before they or their loved ones ever planned.
And then of course I have friends who have lost parents–some early in their youth, and some more recently, as adults. Losing a parent is a natural course of life. I know this. And I am so grateful for my own father’s 75 years of living an abundant, faithful life. But in my grief, I am learning that just because the loss of my father is a natural course of life, that it is still grief — and that it is normal for me to grieve as if it’s the gaping whole that it feels to be right now.
The two dove that were building their nest on the ledge right outside my kitchen window are gone now. When I wrote about them in March forth, I was so hopeful that I would be able to witness the new life that would be brought forth from them. I got so excited when they would fly near the window, then land right before me. I watched the male gather twigs for the female, then lay them on the ledge for her to twist together. He would perch there on the ledge and call to her, “I am at the nest, waiting for you… with a gift.” But the dove have not returned to my window this week. I listen daily for their coos, calling to one another. But now it is like they just disappeared into thin air. Then it dawned on me last night: Maybe God sent the dove to me just for those few days, as a reminder:
“In your mourning, I am still here.
See, I am doing a new thing.
I am giving you a visible sign for now…
and even though soon my sign will be gone from your limited sight, do not lose your hope.
Trust in Me.”
In a way, those two dove are like Faith. I know the dove are somewhere out there, most likely quite near. If I saw the ‘Big Picture’, I am sure I would be surprised at just how close they are. And even though I can no longer see or hear them, I believe in them. For I have seen them and felt their Peace.
As I write, it is Maundy Thursday — the day we pause to remember the Last Supper of Jesus and his Disciples together. “It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” (John 13:1) It is during this Passover meal that Jesus gave his followers the final commandment, or mandate:
“Love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love
During the meal, the Lord washed and dried the feet of his friends — setting the beautiful example of the Master as the servant. Then Jesus revealed his Father’s plan — of which they could not fully understand: “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.” And then their friend and Lord continued, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” ~ from John 13
I trust this plan, especially now. This Easter will mark the fourth Sunday since my father followed where his Lord led, and I know that Dad is now in full fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And so those of us who grieve are left asking the question, “How long?” until we are called to follow the footsteps of loved ones who have marched forth before us. And until we are called to follow, we will honor the journey that they walked while on this earth. It is what they would want us to do.
So on Sunday as I stand in the light of the Sanctuary, I will breathe in the perfume of the white lilies, the majestic sound of the brass, and in the hope — and the promise — and the truth — of The Resurrection of Jesus Christ. And I am fairly certain that I will be singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus with tears streaming down my face. Salty tears of grief, but more valuable than that… sweet tears of unspeakable Joy. For He Himself promised it:
“So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice,
and no one will take away your joy.”
~ John 16:22