I wrote this post eight years ago today. It came to my mind tonight, when I burst into tears at the dinner table and one of my sons asked me why I'm crying. I'm crying because this is what I do this time of the night on this particular day of the year. I don't pray the same now as I did in this post, but I grieve the same.
I love you, Dad.
This post could just as easily have been called Death. Or Discretion. It's the 7th anniversary of my dad's death today, and all three titles would have taken me in fruitful reflective directions. "Dad" is, of course, the sunny member of the triad, with Death still my enemy and Discretion too much of a preaching topic in this in-your-face-with-my-feelings Facebook world in which we live. Not to mention discretion eludes me at the moment.
So, Dad. Dad! I never expect to get upset just writing the name I called him, and yet here I am tearing up as I type. It catches me off guard because seven years into the journey, Dad functions in my life mostly as memory. With exceptions like this, when by the grace and severe mercy of God Dad is resurrected, if only for a few seconds. Also in dreams when I see him and always know I don't have much time left before he'll leave. And listening to Art Garfunkel or Cat Stevens when "Barbara Allen" or "Morning Has Broken" come on. Or when a new baby is born in our family (and two have been in the past two months) and Dad seems around (or perhaps more accurately, the painful insufficiency of Dad as memory is made clear, and I wonder what he can see where he is, on the other side).
In a way Dad is always resurrected at this time of year, which makes sense. His death anniversary never sneaks up on me, thanks to his cancer journey lasting only 16 days. January 31-February 15 is something like my family's Holy Week, our (two) week journey to the cross. Normal life gets invaded by stark Dad memories, so real I almost forget where I am. Sunday night I was with my kids in the nursery at church and suddenly I was also with the rest of my family around Dad's hospital bed, hearing him courageously agree to the Do Not Resuscitate options. I won't tell you how he looked, just that I saw it, like I was there.
This afternoon I was on the playground watching my kids and it happened again. Suddenly I was also in the hospital, in the ICU waiting room during the nurse's shift change when my Dad died. I wasn't with him when it happened. I was just outside, with my sister and brother and about 20 of our relatives, but they didn't get us there in time. Dad was still waiting for the ice cream he had asked for and we were cordoned outside of the unit while the nurses changed shifts. And just like that his time was up and he died, no ice cream, no good-byes, just a last breath for which only my mom was present. For a long time I was haunted by what he looked like in death, but I can honestly say I don't remember anymore, and I am thankful to have forgotten. I prayed to forget.
But wait, I was supposed to be talking about resurrection. You'll have to excuse me, this always happens. The evening, the 7:29pm as I stare at the clock. It was around now, and every year it hits me around now, after dinner, because it was after dinner that Dad died. We had our Last Supper in the hospital cafeteria while Dad lay upstairs in his hospital bed. Only there was no betrayal, no bitterness, simply the cancer and Dad and an It Is Finished. Finished at 47 years and four months, and I want to wave that in everyone's face every time they ask how long it has been since he's gone. Seven years gone but he was only 47 (blippety-blip) years old.
I want to say it, but I don't. That's where discretion comes in. And for my money, grief is the best teacher of discretion there is. Because you cannot and should not say everything that comes into your mind, not even when you are in pain, not even when the best dad in the world dies. And if you can learn not to say everything and anything that comes into your mind in those circumstances, discretion during the less painful parts of life is a walk in the park.
Dad taught me that too, now that I think about it. Dad chose his words, chose when to speak, and usually chose well. Seven years after he's gone, I remember it again.
Three days ago I prayed through all of this, in my journal, sitting in the nursery. I don't usually share my written prayers, but it would be ridiculous to talk about losing Dad without ending in prayer. It always ends there; it has to end there. God is the great exception to my discretion, the One to whom I turned when Dad died and the One who has faithfully borne me up and borne with my anger and my coveting when I see other people's fathers alive and want mine to be too. So here is that record, a prayer prayed three days before this strange anniversary:
Thank You, Lord, for my dad. Thank You again for the 47 years of his life and the 25 of my own that I was privileged to be his daughter. Thank you that though I remember some things, that memory of Dad in death has been erased--as I prayed it would, though I didn't believe it possible. Thank you that Dad's cancer journey was short. Thank you for the thousand consolations that have come since his death, not the least of which is the Good News of the resurrection for all who believe. And that Dad did believe. I thank you for that. You are my deepest solace, my comfort and my stronghold. Who would I be without You? You are my everything. You are my peace, my joy, my hope, my everything. I love You, Abba. And please let my dad know I love and miss him too.