Grief, Uncategorized

Birthdays in Heaven

img_5265Today is my dad’s 70th birthday. It’s a little different for our family now that he is celebrating birthdays in heaven. We celebrate his birthday by knowing that he is finally able to eat all the ice cream he desires and maybe even partaking in one of his favorite past times: playing a little baseball with some of the greats that have gone before him. If there are rocks to skip in heaven, that may be where you will find my dad. I would like to think that skipping rocks in heaven would be somewhere on a beautiful shoreline filled with he most perfectly shiny smooth pebbles. Just one easy flick of the wrist and that pebble would glide across the top of that majestic water finding it’s resting place at the bottom of the crystal blue shallows. Or perhaps he is blissfully waiting along the waters edge of some sort of heavenly tropical beach, with the bottoms of his jeans cuffed just perfectly so not to get them wet. “Meet me at the beach” is what he would tell my mom before he passed away. I guess he wanted my mom to know where to find him when she entered through the pearly gates, I can’t think of a better meeting place. If he were here, he would start the day by making a larger than life batch of pancakes for the grandkids… pancakes were about the only culinary delights he would attempt in the kitchen. Cooking was not his thing, but his “flapjacks” would make the grandkids come running and demanding more. The last several years, we ended his birthday by taking in a Tide’s game, it was his favorite past time. He was a darn good ball player in his younger days, but his last few birthdays spent at the ball field were a terrible struggle for him because of the ALS. I remember as a very young girl watching him play slow pitch with the ball the size of a grapefruit. I could never figure out how in the world you could ever catch that thing, it was ginormous! The last year that he was able to make it to Harbor Park Stadium proved to be an enormously challenging outing for his tired and withering body.
As we have just recently passed the 1 year mark of his passing and celebrate his birthday today, I have been reflecting so heavily on precious memories that are more valuable than any rare jewel. I’ve been reflecting on grief, trying to process his last seven years on this earth. And I’ve been reflecting on what it means to move on, to continue this life without someone you love so dearly.
Grief is a funny thing. I thought when my dad passed on that we would have a sense of relief, that we would start the process of living our lives again. Picking up where were left off so to speak. But it hasn’t been like that. I guess I thought we had grieved so much over the years and had faced so much loss that possibly those days of sadness were coming to an end. I was wrong. There is so much to process these days that my head spins much of the time. Now that my dad’s suffering has stopped, we are relieved…but now what? The sadness that blanketed our family during the first several months after his passing was brutal. There were glimpses of hope and happiness that surprised me and caught me off guard at times. I remember being so thankful for those moments that reminded me of that strange thing called “happiness”. On the other hand, some days brought much heaviness and sorrow; trying to wade through and process the many questions felt overwhelming. Why did we feel so isolated and alone for so much of those seven years? How long will we carry this heavy baggage of this terrible loss? There were many wrestling matches with God during the last couple years of my dad’s life. Trying to come to terms with the “whys” but realizing it’s really about the “why nots?” Now I wrestle to overcome bitterness and overwhelming sadness that come in terrible surges like the powerful but frightening waves of an angry ocean.
Oftentimes, while in the midst of our trial, I was embarrassed of my sadness and felt apologetic for my feelings. I don’t anymore. I would find myself in places where I should have felt loved, accepted and safe with my emotions. Instead, I would feel judged, misunderstood or even disregarded. People would look at me funny, or not look at me at all which was even more painful. I still feel that way much of the time, I really wish is didn’t. I tried to bury my grief after my dad passed away, wanting to magically move on and live a normal life again. I didn’t understand that although we’ve been through a never-ending tsunami of suffering, now there’s a different kind of grief period.
But today is my dad’s first birthday in heaven…. so what do I do now? I know that my dad would not want me to stay this way, so I won’t. I know that my dad would want me to love people, so I will. My relationship with God is much more vibrant and pure than it was just a few months/years ago. Somehow when God seemed silent and absent in our situation, He was somehow the most present. He was working His greatest, most refining work I could have ever imagined. I don’t fully understand the theology behind it, but I just know, “His ways are higher”. To go through something like this and not be changed for the better would be calamitous. Thankfully I feel that my senses are much more attuned to those struggling, when I look into someone’s eyes I want to know their story. I want to know their struggle, their pain, or how they overcame or how I can come alongside them in their journey to provide support. Although I have many setbacks as I try to traverse grief, bitterness and loss… I also know that a new day is coming when things will get easier, life will get sweeter and the world’s colors will come back in all their fullness. I also know that one day I will be sitting on the beach with my dad, or maybe watching him play slow pitch again… I will search for the perfect pebble on the heavenly shores of majestic rivers and partake of the calorie free / fat free deliciously fluffy pancakes. Until then, I will keep living, I will stay on my journey that Christ has set before me and I will go to Cracker Barrel on my dad’s birthday and order the highest stack of “flapjacks” they have on the menu.

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