Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day without Dad

Disclaimer: I didn't proof-read this post at all, it's just a stream of thoughts as I'm trying to be open about where I'm at with grief. This is me, as my pastor called it, "digitally bleeding".

Today is Father's Day, the first Father's Day without my Dad. It's a day that people expect me to have lots of feelings, and I do, but I want to clarify that my grief is not deeper or harder on this day, because at the moment, it's hard all the time. In fact, today might be easier than other days because I'm intentionally trying to be careful of my feelings when on other days, the moments might build up without my realizing it. For example, yesterday I went to a Junior Orioles dugout club game with my three youngest sisters - tickets my Dad purchased with the hope of being able to go himself this summer. I think when he bought them, he knew the likelihood that he'd attend the games was slim, but he was hoping he might. So being there without him, I missed him. Working at APL, things have been changing - people retiring, getting new jobs, and other things. Changes that I used to discuss with my Dad regularly. I miss his advice and insight and history with these people, his perspectives on our shared workplace. I miss his general interest in what was going on in my life. My sister told me that in going through his computer files, she found a file called "phone notes" where he had detailed notes from the phone conversations he'd had with each of us. That's how my Dad was - super detail oriented, taking notes in every conversation, thinking on those notes later on and providing new thoughts later.

I'm unsure if it's fair to call what happened to us a "tragedy". We had time with Dad after his diagnosis, longer, statistically speaking, than we were supposed to have. But it still wasn't enough. There were and are still so many things we lost out on. And even though those years were a gift, they were a gift tainted by cancer. I have a hard time pulling from my memory banks a moment not colored by cancer with my dad. I have to go pretty far back to get one, because we've just been dealing with it for that long. And I think that is tragic. That is hard, and it's painful, and while no, it's not a car crash or an unexpected death, it's still earlier than seems fair, Dad's still leaving a big hole behind, and in that sense, I think calling this a tragedy is valid. So, I have lived through a tragedy. Now what? Culturally I feel expected to pick up the pieces and move on. There isn't even a word for me - my mom is a widow, but as she is still alive, I am not yet an orphan - but yet I have experienced this change in my family status. Half-orphaned? Not a thing. And I'm not a little child at home that was left without a caretaker - I'm grown and married and taking care of myself, but yet I have still experienced this tragedy. And I don't know what to do with those feelings. I find myself apologizing for falling apart. It's incredibly inconvenient to find something that makes me miss my dad in the middle of the workday and have to hide my tears there. It's hard on my husband (who has been a champ at supporting me) that his previously optimistic and happy wife sometimes bursts into tears for apparently no reason, or that things will suddenly make her sad that before were totally innocuous. Grief is terribly inconvenient for everyone in present day American society, because we haven't made space for it. Back in the day, women were expected to wear black for months in mourning - not something we do anymore! We have moved past being a culture that grieves, but as a person, I am still mourning my dad - so what do I do? How do I approach his death?

My remaining thoughts on death and this loss are from the perspective of a Christian, so you may want to skip the rest of this post if you're not comfortable with that.

I have been thinking a lot on the concept of heaven, for obvious reasons. I think it is supposed to be comforting to think that I will see my Dad in heaven again. I have a hard time wrapping my head around what that means though. If there is no ain heaven (scripture says that), how will the fact that I'm a product of my parent's marriage be represented? Why should I get to have my relationship with my Dad preserved if my Mom does not? What memories will I have, what memories will Dad have, and how will we relate to one another? I have been talking to other Christians about this and really, the answer is that the Bible isn't as detailed about heaven as it could be. Some of it is left to imagination, some of it I will wonder about for the rest of my life. What I have been told is that what is beautiful here is a reflection of what is there, and our relationships with each other are part of what is beautiful here. Some knowledge of relationships here on earth will be preserved there. But even that I have a hard time thinking about, because my relationship with my Dad has always been colored by both his sin and mine. While I miss my Dad in many positive ways, there are some things I don't miss, some memories of his shortcomings on display. And a Dad with no faults is hard for me to imagine. Yesterday, Ryan and I watched the new Netflix movie, "Set It Up", which had this saying, "Like because, Love despite". You like someone because of their good features and love them despite the bad. They have this and that sinful characteristic, "And yet..." (another line from the movie), you love them. That's the view of love that we have here on earth. Love is caring about someone, accepting them, faults and all. And I don't think that's a bad view of love. I loved my Dad, and he loved me, despite his faults and despite mine. He was open about his own faults and tried to help me correct mine. But the relationship we're promised in heaven is one where we don't have to "love despite" - we will just love, because there will be no faults in the perfect presence of God. And honestly, my earthly self is afraid of that, of what that will be like. I don't understand what it will be like, having always lived in a fallen world, and that doesn't seem comfortable. I think this is part of what everyone fears in death - even those who believe in a life with God after death fear the fact that it is unknown to us. It is promised to be better, but it's not what we know, so we don't want to leave this life.

Another thought I've been having in processing all this is about God's plan for our lives. Christians tend to quote Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:28 about the plans of God, that he works all things together for good and that he knows the plans he has for us. And many of them follow that by saying that they know God has a plan for good for us in all of this and we just can't see it yet, that he foresaw this happening and that somehow this is a part of his perfect plan. I'm going to say I don't think that's true. Not that I don't think God has a plan, not that I don't think God's plan isn't good. I just don't think that God's perfect plan involved my Dad dying when he did. I can't believe that God's perfect plan involved leaving my sister Isabel, who is nine, without a Dad (or any of the rest of us, but her most of all being so little). Cancer and my Dad's resulting death from it have to be a result of the fallen world, not a perfect one. The perfect world would have been one where Adam and Eve didn't sin, where we all lived together without death, without illness, what heaven will ultimately be. I have to believe that God is sad for us, that he didn't want this. I'm not doubting that he saw it long ago but I have to believe he didn't choose it because why would a good god allow this? This is something I'm still grappling with, so this probably isn't as coherent as it could be, but do you get my point? God didn't give man free will wanting him to choose to eat the forbidden fruit. He gave it out of love and continued to provide love even after we ate the fruit, but the perfect plan would have been to not eat it at all. And the resulting experiences of death of our loved ones is not what he intended.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Dear Sweet Sixteen Emily

Each year since I was 13, on my birthday I have written a letter to myself one, five, or ten years in the future (or all three, depending on how much time I have on that particular birthday). 

Read this post from 2015 for my reply to my 13 year old self at 23: 

I'm choosing to reply to my sixteen year old self today as well, because she asked me to. 

Dear Sweet Sixteen -
You have such confidence, starting your letter with "no matter what happens, it's the way God intended it to be". That was far easier to say at sixteen in your tragedy free life. How could you know that in ten years, you'd lose your beloved Daddy? You couldn't possibly have predicted that, but I can tell you that confidence in God's control will serve you well over the next ten years, and know that God can handle it when you don't know if that's true - he's still around in those moments too.

You ask if I remember my friend Bethany from high school. Yes, little Em, I not only remember her, but her mom, who drives you home so often and challenges your thinking in a polite but firm manner, also passed out of this life in the past year. And I have held onto her friendship because she has seen much of the same grief I've seen and is there when we need her, and has poured her life in to mine as I have poured ours into hers. We went to different colleges and she traveled all over the world, but something has held us together, and she sent me postcards from all over the world and I honestly couldn't be more grateful for the friendship that we have.

You talk about love, and the "brilliant feelings" that certain young men give you when they walk by, but say that you're "waiting for true love, like Dave and Julie have". First, let me say that Dave and Julie are pretty good examples. They shared their lessons on marriage with me and Ryan when we got married, and one of the lessons was that it won't always be "brilliant feelings", or as Dave said it "there's not always going to be fireworks". Marriage is challenging, but rewarding. It's waking up every day next to the man you promised to support and partner with forever and choosing each day to continue to love and support him, as he chooses to love and support you. So while yes, sometimes he gives me the "brilliant feelings", mostly he's just a good person who takes care of me while I take care of him and we are happy together. (also, why are you so overly poetic? just say it's a crush!)

You ask about all your friends - some have naturally faded away, and that is OK. Some are closer than ever, but I talked about that when I wrote back to us at thirteen. In general, friendships are a two way street - you can put in a lot of effort, and some people just won't put the effort in back. Those people are not worth it, just let them go. The ones that put effort into relationships with you, those are worth it. Like my friend Christina (who you haven't met yet), or Lindsey, who you have - those are relationships that are easy to maintain because you both put in the effort to stay in touch.

In the end you ask about family - our siblings, our cousins, am I living with Mom and Dad - and again, I can't help but see how you take Mom and Dad for granted. You assume I'll still have the choice of being with both of them because why wouldn't I? I'm sure the day you wrote this, you and Dad had lunch or dinner together, just the two of you. I don't get to do that today, and I miss it. As I move forward, I'm going to try not to take Mom for granted.

Enjoy your teens, little Em. Daddy calls you his rosebud - I guess I'm a fully blossomed rose, with some thorns in my life, but mostly a full life, a bright rose.
- Emily at 26

Saturday, May 12, 2018

After Dad's Service

Today was Dad's memorial service. I was dreading it all week, knowing there would be a huge number of people in attendance and that I would feel like I was on display for everyone there. And there were a LOT of people there. And there was a lot of noise and a lot of talking and a lot of people asking how I was and if I was OK and telling me what a great man they thought he was and needing to be thanked for coming. But mostly, it was better than I had anticipated. Those who spoke on his life spoke eloquently on their memories of him and worked to highlight his strengths. And while a few moments of the things that people said caused tears, I was mostly fine. So that was good.

My Uncle Dan wrote a great message in the guest book. Paraphrasing, he said that we can't let this illness be what we remember of David - rather, we have to remember him how he was. This was a good message to read, as it has been especially hard for me to recall anything more than the his final months recently. Not that I don't have other memories, but the reality of the end of his life and what it was like is so much more vivid to me, because of the strain of it, and because of how recently it occurred. So I'm working to remember other things, better things, moments not shadowed by cancer.

I am acutely aware of the lack of his presence some times. When my sister flew in from TN, and we were all in one room, save for Dad, at that moment I felt a keen sense of loss. Yet in other moments, I feel as if nothing has changed, except that I feel a general sense of sadness, a cloud that's with me because I know that my dad is gone, even if I don't miss him in that moment. I can't pinpoint why I'm sad, or what made me sad, I just feel this cloud descend every so often. In the past week, I have thought of a number of things over the days that I would loved to have told him - things about APL, and about what I'm doing there, things about church, and things just about my life in general. But I also don't feel the same heavy weight of grief that I felt watching him in the last two weeks of his life. I feel a sense of peace, and a sense that this grief is different from what I felt before. It's easier to carry around with me. It's more manageable. It will be with me for a long time, perhaps even the rest of my life, but it will be gentler. The crashing waves have mostly passed, for now.