I wondered how October would feel when it came around this year.
Your absence is always felt on the 5th. I spent the day wondering what we would have done to celebrate your birthday. You were not a man of celebrations. I can’t seem to recall even one birthday celebration for you. I’m sure we had them, but perhaps your lack of enthusiasm keeps anything from standing out in my mind. So what would have been your 71st birthday passed and was fairly uneventful.
Sunday marks 16 years you have been gone. A few years back I began wondering what this landmark would feel like. This year, Dad, is the year that marks you being gone for half of my life. I am 32. You have been gone 16 years.
I learned not to be afraid of death. I learned that lesson at a young age and you were my teacher. I can’t recall whose funeral it was, but I vividly remember you making me touch the dead body. I wasn’t resistant, just curious. When I felt the cold, unnatural skin, you explained that the soul had left the body, and that the soul is the essence of a human. What was left was a shell, nothing more.
“What’s the worst they can do? KILL ME?”
I heard this line so many times during your sermons and lessons. It was often in reference to passages about persecution. Even as a young girl, I could come up with things worse than being killed. But I knew what you meant. You didn’t fear death and your fearlessness made you a hero to me, strong and courageous.
Do you remember the day I came into the ICU alone? You had suffered beyond comprehension. Every organ seemed to be failing after the bone marrow transplant. Mom was spent. The future was unclear. Prayers were rising up as a continual vapor on your behalf, but the suffering seemed never-ending. It was rare for me to have a moment alone with you.
Do you remember what I said?
I spoke truth from my heart. The words came easily.
“It’s okay, Dad. You can go. I will be okay.”
I wasn’t afraid of death. I was only afraid of my life after your death.
People have called me morbid. As a student of sociology, I took classes like sociology of death and dying. I can talk openly about my own mortality.
I recognize on a daily basis that my future is unknown. I could live into my 90’s like your dad. I could die of cancer at 55 like you did. My life could end Thursday on my commute to work. My life is a vapor. Your death taught me that.
I don’t see this as a problem. I see this as a gift, Dad. A gift you gave to me until you breathed your last breath.
In recognizing that my every breath is numbered, I choose every day to live.
When you came to the end of your life, you had lived more than most live in a lifetime. You loved well, had a beautiful family, a successful career, traveled the world and were adventurous. Most importantly, you spent your life for the Kingdom of God. You built a church, poured yourself into making disciples, loved and studied the Word of God, prayed without ceasing, and knew the Savior.
You knew Him all the way to your final breath. You trusted Him with your future until the moment He called you home.
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes….” (James 4:13-14)
I’m not afraid of death, but I am afraid of not living. When I come to the end, I want to breathe my last breath having spent myself tirelessly and completely for Kingdom purposes. I want to know my Savior personally. I want the Word to live and breathe through me. I want to be like you, Dad.
So this month I celebrate your birth and life, mourn your death, and celebrate your resurrection into eternal life.
And through it all, I miss you.