On the eve of anniversary of the day we found out about my dad's diagnosis, I still can't quite comprehend everything that happened over the last year. One year ago today, I still thought my dad would live to his 90's, like his parents before him. He would be at my kids birthday parties, school plays, graduations, weddings, and maybe even be around for the birth of their kids. He was full of life, full of joy, and full of eccentricities. A year ago I didn't think about death.
The next day, everything changed. I wrote in my journal, "At 32, I'm not supposed to be imagining what my dad's funeral might be like." In an email to a friend, I wrote, "As much as I try, however, I feel that I have no choice but to completely busy myself with other things. Any time I think about this (including now, writing this email), I find my emotional wall crumbling, and I transform into a weeping young boy who just wants his daddy to feel better."
Fast forward through the many great memories -- we went down nearly every other weekend between June and October, with another 4-5 trips through the end of the year. It fluctuated between attempts at making memories, to slipping into a mundane routine, and back again. Holidays were exceptionally surreal as with each passing one, we were both thankful to have him around, and anxious to make it as best as possible (climaxing in Christmas, which caused me so much anxiety that I ended up spending Christmas Eve in bed the whole day with a "stomach bug").
And yet, despite that whole journey, none of us were prepared for what God had for us that last week. When we went down the weekend before as a family (to essentially say goodbye), I was able to share with him what I felt I needed to, and tie as proper of a bow on our father-son relationship as I thought I could -- not knowing if that "was it," but also preparing myself for that to be the last time I saw him. When two nights after returning home, I received a phone call from mom telling me that the doctor thought his death was "imminent," I was grateful for the time we had a few days prior, and took my time getting down there the next morning, almost half hoping he would have passed by the time I got down, so that I wouldn't have to deal with what I was picturing as a fairly traumatic event.
I arrived to the familiar greeting of around a dozen people in my folks' family room -- all eager to love me, embrace me, and just live life with us for the foreseeable future. This was community at its core definition. Upon seeing me, Papa's face lit up -- proclaiming that he couldn't believe he not only got to see me again, but twice in a week (a moment I will have trouble ever forgetting).
What followed was a supernatural "retreat" of sorts over the next few days, where we all went back and forth between community with papa on his death bed, and community with the wonderful folks that kept us company downstairs. We all shared stories, insights, laughs, tears, joy, sorrow, blessings, and hope. I was able to spend time reading The Word with papa (which of course he exhorted on, even hours before his death). We were able to share in communion. We were able to receive a blessing from him. He and I had conversations that, while I don't know if I would've otherwise felt something "missing" without them, are certain to stick with me my whole life.
When he finally passed on Saturday, he was able to do so with his family (whom we don't believe had been together without spouses or kids in over 17 years) and his pastor... we were praying for him, reading scripture to him, singing to him, and generally ushering him along to meet Jesus face to face. There was nothing traumatic; nothing grotesque; nothing mortifying. God was THERE, comforting us, and assuring us that papa was in good hands -- the Maker's hands.
And yet. Here we are, 3 months later... and he's not here with us. Mom has mostly moved out of the President's house back into her [amazingly beautifully] renovated house. Last time I was down, mom let me go through his office and closet -- so now there are a number of his iron-free dress shirts in my regular rotation, and I've been using one of his many pairs of headphones. I have an NIV Daily Study Bible with his name embossed on the cover.
...And a piece of paper that reads, "Dear Chip and Jack: Be a gentleman and a scholar, and don't forget whose you are. Love, Papa" that my wife so wonderfully asked my dad to write for me... which was the last item on his "to do" list before he died...
Grief comes and goes (for example, I was fine writing this until that last paragraph just nailed me). It's really not fair, but I suppose death hardly is.
Despite all of that... GOD IS SO GOOD. I look back at all of the blessings of this past year (and way beyond) and can't even number the examples of God's faithfulness in just my short life alone. I live each day with the reminders of this faithfulness, and it's so much easier to just simple "choose the way of trust and joy" (like someone wise once said). I look at my exceptional wife, my adorable children, my amazing house, my unbeatable job, my undeserved account balances, my unwavering friends... and I wonder how I can't imagine not using all of the same adjectives for the love, peace, joy, and comfort that I have from my God.