Where my hope comes from

For the past ten days, my mind has been everywhere and nowhere. Sometimes I can barely keep thoughts in my head; driving I-75 today I blinked and was suddenly aware that I had traveled miles without really thinking. I’ve spoken to dozens of people and promised phone calls and emails, but unless I get reminders I’ll forget to make those calls or send those emails. I’m not really even capable of doing my favorite things… reading has been tough because I can’t concentrate on the words and I’m having a tough time putting even these words to paper.

At the same time, I’ve been doing a lot of doing. I’ve worked, gone to church, washed clothes, attended bible study, visited Cari’s school for open house, and registered Cari for soccer—all because life has to go on, even though my heart is broken.

My dad died on Wednesday, September 3, after a long battle with COPD.

We had spent the Saturday before together; Stu and I took Cari to see my mom and dad for swimming and a barbeque in honor of the Labor Day weekend. We got to their house in time to watch Virginia play a terrific game against UCLA (my dad even tolerated watching UVA because Louisville wasn’t on). We had a great time playing in the pool, I got some pictures of Cari with my dad, and we ate my favorite meal before we packed up the leftovers to come home.

By Monday, my dad wasn’t feeling well, so he and Mom called hospice for some additional medications. When he wasn’t feeling better by Tuesday, the hospice nurses decided he needed to be transported to the hospice center. I was in pretty regular contact with both my mom and dad on Tuesday, even getting on my dad’s case a little for not advocating for himself. Even though Dad tried to keep our conversation light, I sensed that this visit to the hospice center was different. I found myself crying over dinner with my husband, who seemed to know better what was ahead than I did. We prayed that the end of my dad’s life would be painless, that he wouldn’t suffer, wouldn’t gasp his last breaths, but we had no idea that it would be so soon.

I texted my mom on Wednesday, but didn’t get any response until I spoke to her at about one in the afternoon. She told me then that I needed to get to the hospice center. When I spoke to her again, at about two, she told me that Dad was gone. The nurses had given him some medicine to help him breathe easier, and he had died comfortably in his sleep.

The moment that my mom told me that my dad was gone was one of the hardest moments in my life. Instantly, heavily, I wept. I wept for the pain of losing my dad, for the heartbreak my mom was feeling, for the misery of being an hour away from my mom and knowing she was alone. I remember tearfully apologizing to my mom that we couldn’t be there sooner, that she was alone to deal with the first moments of her own grief.

But in the very next moment, I cried out to my Lord. And I saw the beautiful way that my precious savior had been orchestrating my life, knowing that I would face that moment.

I’ve never considered myself to be someone who was great at her faith. Frankly, my life isn’t very hard. I have a great husband, a beautiful, healthy daughter, a job, a home, and very little to really worry about. Of course there have been challenges, but I can’t recall a time when I’ve seen God reveal himself so powerfully while simultaneously providing intense comfort.

In those first 30 minutes after learning that my dad had died, I understood why I needed to give up teaching AP English this year, why I was only teaching two classes, why I needed to withdraw my name from an opportunity that would take me away from Hudson. God protected me from the stress and pressure I would have felt to endure this loss while trying to impact my students as little as possible. God ensured that I would be surrounded by friends at school who would do anything to help me.

Sometimes it is easy for me to do life by myself, to relegate God to prayer time in the car before work. But even though I’m trying to hang on to control of my own life—desperately but futilely—that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have the control. He’s been beside me the whole time, and I imagine that he has been patiently waiting to reveal this truth: that I would find myself desperately out of control, but that He would protect me.

I cannot imagine how anyone endures this kind of loss without knowing Jesus. I am sad, heavy-hearted, and lonely for my biggest cheerleader, but I have hope because I know Jesus and know that my dad recommitted his life to Jesus in the months before his death. I have hope because even as my illusion of control was shattered, I learned that God would catch me. I have hope because I can see that God has ordained everything in my life, and even though sometimes things are painful, I am able to bring honor to Him. That is my prayer now… that God would find a way to use this sadness to bring honor to Himself, and that I would somehow be able to help someone else who feels this pain.

So as I grieve and heal over the next few days, weeks, and months, I have the comfort of knowing that my God is beside me, and that my dad is in Heaven, finally able to breathe free. I pray that those who are suffering from the loss of my dad can feel this comfort, too.

To my friends and family who are reading this, I say thank you. I’ve seen such an overwhelming outpouring of love in the last two weeks. I have had so many texts and messages that I haven’t been able to keep up with responding. Sweet (and tolerant) friends have helped with Cari with less than an hour’s notice. A great friend joined me for a pedicure and lots of laughs. My boss has been so patient with me not being my normal, hard working and kinda crazy self. Old, dear friends have called and messaged with sweet memories of my dad. Church friends made the drive all the way to Brandon to support me at Dad’s funeral, eating pimento cheese sandwiches and making me laugh. One of my mom’s oldest friends started a random dance party with Cari and me this afternoon. Plus, my sweet husband has done just about everything to make this easier for me; from making sure I eat to making sure the flowers were beautiful. Saying goodbye to my dad has been easier because I’ve felt so much love. Thank you all.

Daddy’s girl

I’m a lucky girl.  I have an incredibly patient, loving husband, a sweet daughter who brings me joy, and sweet kisses, every day, and a set of parents who have shared their best qualities with me.  I’m sure there will be space in this blog to talk about my mom at some point in the future–she’s my best friend, after all–but I want to dedicate some space to my dad.

When I was in high school, a boy made me cry.  I was on a non-date with a boy who had a pretty serious crush on me, and when he found out I wasn’t over another boy, he got mean.  So he drove me home, and I was so mad and hurt, I opened the front door and burst into tears before I knew my dad was waiting up, sitting on the couch, reading some thriller.  I sat next to him and he let me cry and sniffle all over his polo shirt.  In a classic Dad response to my tearfulness, he asked if he needed to get a gun.  He was serious.

I worked as a lifeguard in Lorton, Virginia, about 20 minutes from my home in Alexandria, one summer during high school.  The apartment complex was not exactly the nicest place to live, much less work, but it was good money, and I got lots of hours.  Unfortunately, the clientele wasn’t always the best.  One day, a prospective tenant came to the pool and decided to take interest in a young woman with special needs.  I was protective, as the man was clearly taking advantage.  When I contacted the rental office, they told me to call the police if he showed up again.  When he came back the next day, with trembling fingers, I called 911 for the first time in my life.  My next call was to my mom and dad: both picked up lines in their different spots in the house, and when I haltingly, tearfully told my story, I don’t think my dad even hung up the phone before grabbing the driver from his golf bag and snatching up his keys.  He tore down Telegraph Road in his Pontiac Grand Prix, making the drive in a ridiculously short, ridiculously fast trip.  Fortunately, the police showed up before my dad did or they might have had a messier situation to resolve.  As it was, Dad put the car in park in the middle of the road, got out of the car with his driver in hand, talking to the police with that threatening look of a father whose little girl was upset.

My dad is a lot of things: ornery, loving, generous, sentimental, protective, grouchy.  He picks up the phone whenever I call and tolerates my rambling stories of my daily adventures, only complaining a little that it takes me forever to get to the point.  He’s not perfect: he doesn’t always take my sides in arguments when I want him to and he uses lots of bad words (he’s better about that now that Cari’s around and listening).  But he’s an awesome dad and friend to me, even now.  He cares enough to know weird little details like who my principal was five years ago, and to invest his time showing an interest in my projects like my novel and my blog.

I’m not trying to pretend there haven’t been dark parts of our relationship, too, but those might not be suited for this space.

But my dad is dying.  In 2008, he had to undergo a double bypass (while my mom was in the hospital in need of a quintuple bypass herself… that’s a story for another time).  It took months for my dad to recover from the procedure.  He stayed in ICU for days on the ventilator because his damaged lungs wouldn’t cooperate and start functioning on their own again.  That might be the one of the worst experiences of my life–visiting my sedated dad in ICU, watching as his chest rose and fell artificially, forced, almost erratically, by the ventilator.  When he finally recovered enough to be taken off the ventilator, it was months before he could come home.  He’s never been the same since.  More recently, his health has been deteriorating further, leading his doctors to suggest that he start making preparations.

I’ve known for a long time that Dad wasn’t going to endure forever.  He has never been shy to talk with me about it; even when he wasn’t sick, Dad made sure I knew what his wishes were.  But in 2008, when my parents gave me Power of Attorney, sitting in a bright hospital room the day before my parents went into surgery, the reality of their mortality struck me in a most painful, abrupt way.  I guess I’m lucky to have some warning.  I’m able to value the relationship I have with my dad.  I try not to say things I’ll regret.  I take the time to really talk with him, even if that means sitting in the car long after I’ve gotten home from school.  I read his blog, which is his way of coping with the inevitability of death.  Mostly, I try to cultivate a relationship with him that I can remember when he’s gone.

This one’s a little moody, sorry about that.  Thanks for reading!