As some of my readers know, about 3 weeks ago, my father (78) suddenly and shockingly passed away from one moment of heart arrhythmia as he stepped off the treadmill. A few friends asked if I'd post the words that I shared at his service. My words are below. And just a note, "Jude" and "Tommy 4" are my nephews who died in equally shocking accidents in '07 and '11, respectively. However, even if you don't know anything about me, my family or my father, hopefully what's written will somehow help you know something more about Our Father in Heaven.
It is this past April, and I am driving back from Sea Island, GA where I’ve spent a few days with my two best childhood friends. I decide to swing back by through Charlottesville because, frankly, though I’m so often pushing back on each of my parents in different ways (each of us is stubborn in our own sweet southern way), I adore them profoundly.
We are sitting at a candle lit dinner just talking and laughing among ourselves. We all three finish up our meals and find ourselves talking about death. We laugh at ourselves, “This is weird,” I say, “We are this family who talks so freely about death. Who else does that?!” We recount the strangely deep bond that has developed among the three of us having lived together through the deaths of Jude and Tommy 4. “But somehow,” I say, “we are still able to laugh together.” And we shake our heads in collective disbelief. “It really is amazing,” says my mother with a wistful nod, which somehow still says a quiet “no” to the deaths that have come before, far too soon.
And then my dad gets quiet. “I think,” he says, “we can laugh because we all know, our whole family knows, whose we are and where we’re headed.” He says it not with quintessential Daddy humor, but with a settled knowledge whose peacefulness covers and penetrates my skin. Perhaps this is something akin to the pleasure and goodness it is when, as the psalmist says, brothers (or mothers, fathers, and children) dwell together in unity. “…like the precious oil on the head,/ running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron,/ running down on the collar of his robes!” His words soak into us all, into my very skin, and somehow, I know he is right. We know whose we are and where we are headed.
The next morning, before I take off, my parents suggest they pray for me before I go on yet another adventure, this time to Vancouver and then on to Colorado and eventually Oklahoma. And so, at my mother’s prodding and with my dad’s wide-open arms, I go to sit on his lap to be prayed over. Because of all his intestinal struggles, I’m now heavier than he is. I laughingly say to him, “Dad, um, I might crush you.” He quips, “Yes that’s an actual possibility, but for you, I’ll risk it!”
And so I sit in his lap in the same yellow-cushioned kitchen chair he has sat in for seemingly a 100 years. He wraps his arms around me and bends his head into my back, nuzzling his head back and forth a bit, almost like a large and happy Labrador. And then he says so tenderly, “Oh, how I love you. I love you so much. I’m so proud of you. You are the most amazing daughter I could ever have. You mean the world to me.”
He wraps his arms tighter and begins to pray. He tells the Lord “how much I love this girl,” and prays for all the work I have to do and for my safety. There is something in his prayers in the moment that I note is holy, other, something where neither of us is being cute, making quips, or even playing—though that is the stuff we have done best and beautifully and with much joy for 51 years. It is a moment of his pure, fatherly, self-giving love. And I instantly know: “If this is what my father’s love is, OH HOW GREAT must the Love of THE FATHER be.” And with that thought it is as if that same oil of Aaron’s robe flows into me, filling me, flooding me, soothing me. I exhale. Busyness, fundraising, speaking, vision casting, a little fear of a future with aging parents, loneliness, and lots of friends and tons of laughter…. All these things that are in my life feel suddenly carried. Soothed and carried. Not just by my father but by the Father. I exhale from the center of my toes up through my lungs, and my brow unfurrows.
My father has shown me Our Father deeply, tenderly, and as purely as I’ve ever experienced from another human being. And I leave then, and still remain today, a grateful woman who knows she is loved by OUR FATHER in Heaven.
And so to my own earthly father, I say, thank you, I love you, and I shall miss you until I see you again.