First Father's Day in the Valley of Suck

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How soon we begin to lose heart on the journey of grief.  How quickly it tempts and tries our resolve to keep the memory of the one we lost alive.

But how can they be alive still?  They are dead.  There, I said it again.  This word we dread to speak, this word I dread to say from my lips or to place on this page.  As I write I read and it rips me apart the full weight of what I am saying and what it means.  Heather is gone.  In the wake of the loss, I do fear; am terrified even; I will lose the memories of the one I loved and replace them with some romanticized, twisted, and lame version of who she was.  

Heather was real.  As real and authentic as I could ever hope to be.  She was full of beauty and soul with both wit and wisdom to cut to the heart of the matter and cut me down to size when I needed it the most.  She never intended to shame me and never did but she was called upon to sharpen me.  I could never match her insight and intellect.  Nor could I match the sacrifices she made for her children.  For me.  I need to write this because someday, I hope, her children will read these words and know more fully the reality.  Today is Father’s Day, the first holiday without the one who gave me the gift of being a father and guided me gently on the path.

As real as anything was her faith and her desire was to pass it on in her children.  I am terrified by the way she lived and loved God and experienced God’s grace.  We were so different in this.  She already knew well her giftedness and the ways of her Lord.  Me, I always stumbled about, never giving up hope and watching her love for Jesus grow daily and the fruits of the Spirit blossom.  Her children saw it, and like me, I think they too were amazed.

At her graveside, CeCe, her spiritual director observed that as Heather’s body deteriorated under the onslaught of cancer, her spirit grew stronger, in gentle hues and tones.  She did not want to lose any moment and fought tooth and nail for her faculties with a fortitude only written about in fictitious fantasies.  But she was no fantasy and I know I have been entrusted not to create one.  

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Now that she is gone, I have only in passing glanced into one journal she left behind.  In those few sentences, I hear her voice again and realize how little I truly knew her.  Yet she knew me and her kids and loved us so well and with such abandon that my previous description of my love for her seems so shallow.  

This Father’s Day, I hurt because my children hurt.  They have expressed and are expressing the dreaded world and pain of the valley of suck in the form of grief and the first waves which will call into question all faith, hope and love, she and I sought to instill in them.  These can be cruel monsters in the darkness of the valley...

denial.

anger.

bargaining.

depression.

acceptance.

God will have to answer for this.  God will be the one held to account in their hearts and mind.  It may occur in your life too.  

When asked what keeps me going, my response was two-fold: my children and a burning desire to wrestle with God.  I cannot expect my children to understand what this means yet. I am holding God to account for what his role is. But I'm not sure what that is. In the wrestling, I am doing it for me. I am doing it for them and her memory in their lives.  Doug Thrasher noted well and rightly in his sermon during Heather’s memorial that God did not take Heather but God did receive it.  He is right and it needs to be said.  Death was not the desire God had for us.  It is an interloper; part of the tragic love story between God and us.  Death is an antagonist of a most vile sort.

Here in the valley of suck, everything IS twisted and tainted.  Our hopes, our dreams, our joy, our love, and even our faith, is sucked at like a dementor from the world of Harry Potter.  Only again, it is no fiction for even our fiction is based on fact.  

In his last moment, Jesus does not back away from God as his Father.  Luke shares with us that Jesus, “...calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father,  into your hands I  commit my spirit!” And having said this  he breathed his last (Luke 23:46).”  The other gospels all indicate there is a releasing of his mortal body and a trust God will receive his spirit; not that God has taken it.

I cannot take the steps of faith for my children any more than I could substitute my life for Heather’s, a life far more worthy than my own.  God did not need Heather in heaven for if God was here, with us, if God is Emmanuel, then God already had her, held her, and loved her.  No.  Death was not the will of God nor is it God’s will now, not that I can comprehend.  God sent Jesus because God’s will is life.  Though the valley of death, the valley of suck drained life from the mortal body of Heather, it did not and could not touch the spirit which made her...her.

On Sunday, one week ago, Heather crossed from the Grey Havens to the Undying Lands.  Today, I continue on in the valley of suck; looking after, loving on, and leading forward a family God loves even if God does not do as I wish.  


2 comments:

Larry said...

My cousin, Karen Glass, directed me to your blog. It turns out we have a lot in common. My beautiful wife, Anna, also raced to the finished line just 2 days before your wife. She was overcome by bile duct cancer. Like your wife, she fought with all her heart. She was so strong and so wise and so much better than me in every way, and just 6 days before she went to Jesus she asked me to call the family around and pray because she was ready to be with him. The next day when moving into hospice care she had a vision of heavenly angels all around her bed. She told my daughter the place was like heaven. Due to my wife's illness she had an extremely high bilirubin score. According to the hospice doctor she had never seen anyone in 40 years of medicine who had her high numbers who was still conscious. My wife, though spent the next two days giving instructions to me, our children and their friends, my brothers all to make sure that her family was properly cared for. She finally was overcome by the disease and was in a coma the last two days of her life. She tried to get me ready to take over the things she does at home, but they are so vast, and I am so completely lost. I am convinced she thought I was a better person than I actually am. Right now, I am just a crushed person with a broken daughter and an angry teenage boy, and I'm just trying to breathe. I am convinced that nothing can separate from the love of Christ Jesus, but that doesn't change the fact that I am hating everyday. I am not wanting time to pass, because that just puts me further away from her. It's been 10 days already; however, I know it will pass, and it some point I will breathe, and my son and daughter will smile, but until then, I just hurt.

Ken Hagler said...

Larry, thank you for sharing where you are and what your wife and you have endured. I suspect there is even more to that story just as there is with our's. Most people will not even know half of the trials your family has been through. Heather was in so much pain when we made it to hospice. One of the things she asked every day was what day it was? On the 12th when, right before I went home for a break, I told her it was Sunday. I somehow knew that was the day. She died just before midnight with me and her kids beside her. Our son made it to her bedside and I said, "We're all here with you," and she took her last breath.

I think what you're feeling is what I have felt and so many others. It is what C.S. Lewis writes in "A Grief Observed," that if you talk to the grieving, ESPECIALLY those who have lost a spouse about religion and the consolation of eternity, then you really don't get the pain. Add children to the mix and it becomes a one-two punch. Praying for you this night. "Lord have mercy, sustain his soul." If you get a chance, e-mail me through my blog.

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