Lament for the Loss of My Dad
I’m taking a short break from my series on 21 Evangelism Lessons for the 21st Century. This blog explains why.
I was driving in my neighborhood recently when I saw a car with some very unusual wheels. I’d never seen such odd shaped tires or such strange connections between wheels and chassis. I thought, “I should call my dad and see if he’s ever seen such a thing.” My father had a long career as an automobile mechanic and loved to talk about cars. He would know what I was looking at and could explain the physics, logistics, and cost of using those kinds of tires.
But I caught myself and realized I could not call my dad. He had died the week before.
A flood of tears clouded my vision and prompted me to pull over to the side of the road to allow the emotions to take their time to wash over me. I’ve decided to not see sorrow or grief as things to avoid. Instead, I want to view them as precious. They show me just how strong a bond I had with my father, how beautiful the ties of family can be, and how full our lives can be as we appreciate all the emotions involved.
My dad was 90 when he passed from this life. I am comforted beyond expression that he came to faith in Yeshua as Messiah late in life. In fact, he may have been past 80 before he came to that realization. He lived a long full life and breathed his last breath with minimal suffering. The fact that the Lord took him so gently and quickly continues to bring a certain kind of bittersweet joy to me and the rest of my immediate family.
I find myself feeling flooded these days – flooded by a wide range of emotions, flooded by so many memories (some which make me smile and some which make me reach for the tissues), and flooded by thoughts of what this experience of grief is all about.
There are so many things I could say. I could recount his life as a survivor of a dysfunctional family long before the word dysfunctional became a cliché. I could retell of his heroism in World War II or his long (66 years!) steadfast marriage to my mom. I could tell you stories of how my dad loved to laugh. (And I bet you’d start laughing when you heard them). Or I could tell you the beautiful story of how, after so many, many years of being angry at God because of all the evil things he had seen in his life, he came to faith in the Savior and saw God transform him into a kinder, happier man who admitted he did not know everything and, more remarkably, he no longer needed to.
But, instead, I want to focus on the unique dynamics of being an adult man who loses his father. I sometimes think we reduce death down to common denominators and, in the process, fail to grieve purposefully. Some non-Christians try to diminish a full appreciation of death because it’s just so hopeless and sad. If I did not have the hope of the gospel, I certainly would avoid the topic of death as much as I could. Some Christians also diminish the complexity and richness of the reality of death by merely wanting to know if the person was “saved.” If so, “there’s nothing to worry about.” On some level, that’s true but it fails to consider the complex nature of being human. (Why would the Bible have so many lament psalms and lengthy descriptions of the pain of losing someone to death if “all that matters” is whether someone is in heaven or hell?)
I’ve been greatly helped by grief counselor Helen Fitzgerald’s The Mourning Handbook. What a great collection of practical suggestions Fitzgerald has compiled for anyone facing the loss of someone they knew and loved.
The most helpful chapter for me was the one entitled, “Differences that Matter” where she shines a light on the distinct experiences of death in a wide variety of situations – loss of a child, sibling, parent, friend, etc. whether suddenly, after a prolonged illness, and so many other variables. Sadly, she admits, “little has been written on adult child grief,” the very experience I currently wade through.
Fitzgerald primed the pump for me by considering that when a grown adult loses a parent, several factors could be in play:
– It feels like the loss of your childhood. “Who else cares that you teethed on a certain chair in your home except your mom or your dad” (p. 143). In my case, I could ask, “Who else wants to know what kind of car I rented recently when I was out of town or who else wants to discuss how smooth the ride was?”
– It is the loss of unconditional love. “Parents often provide a kind of love that is not duplicated elsewhere in our lives.” (143). Even if there are some sources of unconditional love, they’re not the same or as lifelong as what we receive from a parent. Of course, no parent provides such “unconditional” love all the time. But if there ever has been someone “always on my side” caring deeply about every detail of my life (even to the point of asking how my gas mileage has been), it was my father.
– It can feel like “the loss of a certain sense of security.” I find myself envisioning a roof being lifted off of me. I’ve moved to the top floor of some building and discovered there’s no protection from the outside world. I’m now “the oldest generation” to a certain extent.
I could go on. And, in fact, I will – but not in a blog. Some processing needs to be as private and as individual as the loss it’s grieving. I still want to dig into the distinct issues related to being a man who loses his father, a music lover who grows in appreciation for a father who always had music on in the background, and someone who loves to laugh for more reasons than finding some things funny. And I’d really like to figure out what kind of tires that car had.