I was deeply moved recently at a memorial service for a very Godly husband and father of a guy I work with. It was so inspiring hearing his story. I never met the guy but I left the service feeling like I'd known him all my life. I left feeling challenged to let my faith burn hot white for Christ everyday, to be a better, more intentional father to my kids and to guide, lead, protect and enjoy my beautiful bride.
At the same time I was flooded with a ton of memories of what I was feeling in the days after both my father Jerry (1996) and mother Carol (2001) went to meet Jesus. This year will mark the 15th and 10th anniversaries of their passing so I wanted to share a few thoughts as I look back on those days. What follows is just kind of random thoughts I remember having at that time. I wanted to make sure I wrote these down to preserve them for a time in the future when I make a "Memory Book" for them. If you've ever lost a parent maybe you can identify with some of them:
I don't want this to be my new reality.
I want to be able to call my dad and ask him a question about cars, kids, work, God.
I don't know how to act right now.
Am I supposed to look sad and depressed or when is it OK for me to crack jokes and act goofy like normal?
What am I supposed to feel right now? Actually, I don't feel much of anything. I feel more empty or raw or without any feelings. I used them all up in the last few weeks talking to family and friends.
My head hurts from having so many intentional, deep conversations with people.
I hate it when well-intentioned people drag out all these painful emotions and thoughts because THEY want to keep talking about how THEY are feeling.
I just want life to get back to "normal." I don't want people to look at me and only think about
my dad dying.
I don't want to go back to work that first day after the funeral and memorial service because I don't want to interact with people anymore. I just want my privacy. I want to work through this on my own.
I'm not sure if my wife really understands what I'm feeling—the depth of my thoughts. I don't think I can explain it fully to her.
How am I going to teach my kids about their grandfather/grandmother without them just becoming an afterthought or a picture hanging on the wall? I'm already starting to forget some of the memories I wanted to remember and share with them.
What is my responsibility now with mom now that dad is no longer around? Does she need to see me once a week? Twice a week? Every day?
How do I balance MY family life (wife and kids) with work and the needs of my grieving mom? What's her new normal? What does her future look like? Does she want to remarry? That's weird. Would I want mom to get remarried? I don't think so. Would dad have cared? Not sure.
Are family get-togethers gonna feel hollow and empty when we get together now that dad isn't around? What's that first Thanksgiving or Christmas gonna be like? I don't think I want to know.
I remember thinking that I didn't think I was doing this grieving thing right because I wasn't crying all the time. My dad had an open casket memorial service. I didn't want to look at him. I didn't want to remember him like that—all stiff, and waxy, and lifeless. That wasn't him. I wanted to retain the memories I had of him while he was living.
I remember studying dad's hands in church when I was a kid and my parents made me sit in "big people" church and I was bored stiff. I would lay on his lap, take his wedding ring on and off and just hold and stare at his hands. Those wonderful hands—soft but strong hands with little wrinkles and a bit of dark hair on the edges just like mine.
They told me if I didn't look at his dead body that I might have nightmares and wouldn't get proper "closure". Oh well. Didn't need or want it I guess. I remember thinking my grieving was totally done until about a year later. I don't even remember specifically what it was but I just remember thinking that dad should be at some important family event and he was going to and how cheated I felt and remembered that he never would be at any more important events.
I choked back the tears for a few seconds and then just started to sob out loud. Katie had NEVER seen me do that. Not my thing. Never did it. I remember her holding me tight and asking what was going on and I told her. I remember in that moment feeling the closest to her that I ever had as she comforted me with her words, tears and a long embrace. It was a special moment and I'll never forget it.
I used to have dreams about my dad every few months or so. Usually they would take the form of he was gone (or dead) and then he would just magically show up again and I was so happy and told him how much I missed him and I wanted him to stick around and not leave again. But he always would disappear again for some reason. Or even if he didn't disappear I would wake up and be totally bummed that it was just a dream and not reality; that my dreams couldn't MAKE him come back to life. I haven't had one of those dreams for a while now. But I probably will again someday. I kind of liked having them because it felt like I was keeping dad alive in some small way.
Another feeling I still struggle with is when adults complain about their ailing, dying parent's in their 70's or 80's. I sometimes feel like saying, "Get over it already! Your parents are old. They're supposed to get sick and die when they're that age. My parent's never had the chance. They died 30-40 years before they were "supposed to”. Of course I never actually say that. I just had a real hard time feeling sorry for them. Still do at times. I was robbed of all those years with my parents. Another thing that bothers me is when my peers complain about their parents or in-laws for not being involved enough or being too involved or intrusive in their opinion. I'm not saying some of their issues aren't really but I just can help thinking "you're lucky to still have them. I don't have that option anymore."
So now, the challenge is how to keep the memory of my parent's "alive" for my kids—Grace, Sam, and Nathan. Just the other day my wife was changing my two-year-old son Nathan's diaper when he looked up at the wall in our bedroom at a picture of my dad and said "grandpa Jerry!" That really blessed my heart!
I really want to write a journal of all my memories and get my brothers and sisters to do the same so we have something tangible we can present to our kids to help them get a good picture of who their grandma and grandpa were. That's on my to-do-list for 2011.