Dear Daddy: a letter to my father on the one-year anniversary of his death
What do you do while you wait to find out if your dad is dead? Load the dishwasher. (Note on my iPhone, 11/29/2016).
That was the first strange moment in a year of strange moments.
A year ago today, you drove me to work at 5:30 a.m. It was dark and rainy and I was grumpy. A woman came through the drive-thru around lunchtime asking if she could order and then pick up the food inside, and I let out an exasperated sigh over the headset (as if her request was some great inconvenience), which I regretted as soon as the woman pulled up to the window and I discovered that it was our good friend Janet Morgan. How embarrassing.
The day proceeded as usual, dinner was normal, and afterwards we all went our separate ways. Nothing special. All very ordinary until suddenly not, when Marcus found you down in the basement and someone was shouting for me to call 911 and the police and the ambulance came and took you away, and the most comforting thing our nurse-neighbor could say was, “He’s still warm, so there’s still hope.”
I remember sitting at the dining room table and watching Max load the dishwasher. There was nothing to do but wait, in a surreal, unfamiliar agony. And then we got the call from Mommy, saying that you had died.
What do you do when you find out that your dad is dead?
Max finished loading the dishwasher.
How bizarre. How normal. What else is there to do in a moment when you’re painfully self-aware of your own lack of comprehension?
This has been a year of those moments. A year of doing the next thing, whatever that thing is.
It’s hard to believe that you weren’t here last Christmas or for Thanksgiving last week, because I can easily picture you in the background of every scene, laughing and talking. It’s difficult to imagine that you weren’t at the airport when I left for Jordan or arrived back home, that you didn’t eat Shore Good donuts with us at the beach this summer, that you missed all of our birthdays, and that for a whole year I haven’t heard you come home from work and set your keys on the ledge above the sink or needed to readjust the driver’s seat so that I can reach the pedals when I drive one of the cars.
Max wrote a letter to you recently, and in it he said that he thanks God every night that you were his dad.
This past year I have spent far more time soaking in self-pity than praising God for the years I did have with you. In most moments I don’t know how to come to terms with the fact that the universe of a good, steadfast, loving, holy God could contain so much misery and pain. How do I truly reconcile the state of this world with the character claims of its Creator?
In most moments I don’t know how to come to terms with the fact that the universe of a good, steadfast, loving, holy God could contain so much misery and pain. How do I truly reconcile the state of this world with the character claims of its Creator?
I don’t know.
Your experience was different from mine. In your twenties, you became convinced of these things: the reality of God and the relationship available to you through Jesus. I’m twenty, and it feels as though these pieces of my life that I’ve assumed to be steady and true have been ripped out from underneath me. They aren’t quite so comfortable anymore. There are truths that I want to believe and there are truths that are hard to grasp in my moment-to-moment reality.
Last year, about a week before you died, you read us this prayer from The Valley of Vision at the dinner table:
THOU GREAT I AM,
Fill my mind with elevation and grandeur at the thought of a Being
with whom one day is as a thousand years,
and a thousand years as one day
What is a year, to God? Somehow He was present with me in each moment of this past year, the best moments (bittersweet because you weren’t there) and the worst moments (exacerbated by your absence). This year went by in a blink, and yet I feel like I’ve lived a thousand lives.
A mighty God, who, amidst the lapse of worlds,
and the revolutions of empires,
feels no variableness,
but is glorious in immortality.
This year I’ve become especially aware of the lapse of worlds, and the uncertainty of life. I am glad that my hope is in a God who transcends that lapse and feels no variableness.
May I rejoice that, while men die, the Lord lives;
that, while all creatures are broken reeds,
He is the Rock of Ages, the Fountain of living waters.
Daddy, you have died. The Lord lives. Is that enough for me?
You were a broken reed, an empty cistern, a fading flower, withering grass. Now, you are perfectly restored. And I am far more broken.
Am I willing to cling to the Rock of Ages, to drink from the Fountain of living waters while I wait for the day when I fully see the things that I now know in part, but often find hard to see at all?
Turn my heart from vanity
from uncertainties of the present state,
to an eternal interest in Christ.
Uncertainty is a temporal, messy aspect of this life. There is nowhere to turn, but to Christ.
Let me remember that life is short and unforeseen,
and is only an opportunity for usefulness;
Give me a holy avarice to redeem the time,
to awake at every call to charity and piety,
so that I may feed the hungry,
clothe the naked,
instruct the ignorant,
reclaim the vicious,
forgive the offender,
diffuse the gospel,
show neighborly love to all.
Daddy, you demonstrated a steadiness and purposefulness grounded beyond yourself or even your family. You redeemed your time, you made yourself useful, you taught and forgave and displayed the love of God, while looking to Christ for your sense of fulfillment.
Let me live a life of self-distrust,
dependence on thyself,
"Hold onto the Lord," you wrote to me. I proclaimed it to others. I often fail to actually do it myself. The self-reliance and self-trust to which I grasp always results in misery and dissatisfaction.
But despite my doubts, despite failure, despite deep sadness–the Lord is enough.
I miss you, Daddy, almost more than I can bear. Today is hard, and many of my tomorrows will be too, but I’ll keep on doing the next thing.
And I’ll keep holding on to the Lord.