My father passed away the day before my November column came out, and, with his passing, I lost an ardent fan. At 6 feet 2 inches tall and 180 pounds, he’s left a sizeable hole in our family’s life. Yet as sick as he was, it never occurred to me that he would actually die so quickly. He got the diagnosis of mesothelioma in both lungs on Nov. 14, and died peacefully early Friday morning Nov. 21.
It’s a tribute that life goes on, no matter what’s happening to us personally. I have no idea how people without a church family to support them ever get through such a difficult time. We’re overwhelmed by the number of cards the family’s received; the prayers that are under way for us even now; the donations to the mission fund that will help keep our father’s missionaries supported for as long as possible; and the offers of help for “anything, even if it’s just staying away.”
People have said, “Wow, you guys must’ve had a lot to say to each other those last few days.” The truth is, we didn’t; because it already had been said every day he was alive. After receiving the projection of mere days remaining, Mom asked Dad what they were going to do, and he said, “We’ll enjoy the time we have.” And we did.
Part of me would love to crawl into a hole somewhere and shut myself off from the world for awhile, but I know the importance of staying connected. And while I’m not exactly thrilled at facing the New Year without Dad in the picture, I know he’ll never be out of the picture, because a part of him lives on in everyone who knew him.
Little phrases he used in our childhood keep popping out of our mouths: “Enough is enough, said the mayor in a rage …” and “The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of other things.” And there are a million more.
At his celebration of life service, I saw his mannerisms in my brothers and nephew as they took their turns to speak. I’ve seen them in my son, when he did the object lessons in Dad’s Farmington church: left hand in the pocket, right hand for gesturing; casual, but in control.
Right now I feel totally out of control, but I hold on to the lessons I learned from a very good teacher. As a pastor (he always said, “Never call me Reverend. There’s only One Revered One, and that’s the Lord Jesus Christ”), he officiated at many funerals and memorial services throughout his 40 years in ministry. He always ended with these words: “Life is short. Enjoy one another, be kind, appreciate the good things in life, love one another; but, most of all, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Upon hearing of my father’s diagnosis, one of my cousins e-mailed from California and said, “I have no doubt when Uncle Dale gets to heaven, he’ll hear, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’” I’m sure he did; but he’d be the first to say there’s still a lot to do in the here and now. As the New Year approaches, I hope to put his advice into practice.
Time is a precious commodity. It’s also a treasured gift, so I need to share it freely with others, for Matthew tells us in verse 40 of chapter 25, “… Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
Pray more. I miss seeing Dad sitting in his office, elbows propped on his desk, forehead resting on his clasped hands. His prayers were always straight from the heart. While typing some notes from his Bible for one of his Sunday School lessons a couple of months ago, I discovered lists inside the front cover, going back several years, of Supreme Court Justices, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Speakers of the House, etc. I’m sure he prayed for each of them by name on a regular basis.
See the good in people. At the service, one friend said he’d never heard Dad say anything bad about anyone, or anything bad to anyone. He lived Colossians 4:6: “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”
We’ve already passed a few milestones: first Thanksgiving, Mom’s birthday, first Christmas, all “without Dad.” There’ll be more to come, but I’m sure we can face them with aplomb because “… we sorrow not as others who have no hope” (1st Thessalonians 4:13). What a slap in the face to a father whose favorite verse was: “This is the day the Lord hath made; I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24), if we let sorrow blind us to the challenge and treasure God places for us to mine in each new day.
May God richly bless you all, and may you rejoice and be glad in this New Year.
Brenda J. Norris is assistant Sunday school leader and choir director at the West Lubec Methodist Church. She may be reached by firstname.lastname@example.org. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.