The Anniversary Post (Part III of…)

It’s been a few days since we’ve posted.  Perhaps this is because the next section is difficult for me to write.  It’s hard to articulate grief because articulation requires you to reflect, explore, and communicate in the most clear way available.  Some things are fun to reminisce and explore, but no one really wants to wade back into the deep end of grief especially when you feel that you’ve finally reached a spot you can stand. No matter how many times we edited this, I still don’t think I captured the event enough to fully present it.  Grief is so thick, it would take volumes to describe it.

Only a month and half after we married, Candice’s father John died of diabetic related illness. It was not surprising in that he had been sick for a while, yet it was completely unexpected because he made frequent upswings. Candice was hit hard by John’s death, and dealt with some lingering guilt for some time.  Her relationship with her dad was often a strained one.  Candice had shared with me about how she had wanted to see her dad more often, and how it was hard considering the uncertainties in their past relationship.  

Sometimes the greatest tragedies in life happen in the midst of the most ordinary routines.  One minute you are doing something carefree or routine, and in an instant everything changes.  We were sitting at our friends’ kitchen table laughing and playing a trivia game called Bezzerwizzer.  Will was driving us crazy with his freakish memory when it came to history and political questions.  I suddenly had the impulse to check my phone remembering that the ringer had been off since that morning  I enthusiastically chatted while digging around for it in my purse..  When I found it, I saw 8 missed calls.  I felt surprised but not alarmed.  I started calling each one until I finally reached my aunt Rita.  I caught hesitation in her voice, “Candy, hey.  I was hoping your mom would get a hold of you first, but since you can’t reach her . .  .um . . .your dad was rushed to the hospital this evening. . .  and, um . . . .He didn’t make it.”   Silence fell over me like death as the words sank in.  She continued, “. . . .You’re mother is at the hospital, and I’m on my way there.”  I started to shake a little. My involuntary emotional responses kicked in. I don’t remember what I said in response.  I walked back into the kitchen robotically and numbly announced the news to my husband and our friends.  As the reality began to seep through my mind and body, tears, questions, fears, and “what nows” began to form.

When someone close to you dies like that, the initial feeling is similar to the shock when the power suddenly flicks off. One minute you are enjoying your favorite weekly show, the next you find yourself stunned and feeling your way through the dark.  This emotional darkness set in full force the moment I heard the words “He didn’t make it.” All I could really think about was breathing, and I gave myself purpose by trying to be there for my family.  No matter what your relationship is like, when someone close to you is suddenly gone forever, you feel that empty space on the earth every day.  You never “get over” that empty space, but you do adjust to the emptiness; that’s what makes it easier.  

I don’t really know what I was like on the outside during that time.  Will could probably give you a more accurate description of how it changed my demeanor. He was amazing. I can’t imagine going through that time without him. I felt paralyzed.  Immediately he started taking care of me, and maintained contact and information with friends and family.  Social media and texting don’t come naturally to me.  I went pretty much technologically dark.  Candice was definitely shaken by this, more than anything else that has happened this year. I could tell that she was quite numb and really not sure what she should be feeling. For several weeks she just did, and I think part of her burden was trying to be the strong one for her mom and younger brother, Ben. So, on the outside you could tell it was bothering her, but there were several times that she broke down with me in tears from the pressure because she was so busy doing and not getting the opportunity to really process or grieve. 

I was suddenly thrust into being the support for my new in-law family. I am still amazed by how God was able to almost eliminate my self-centered-ness during this time. There were many people praying, and I am so appreciative of those prayers, because it kept the selfish me in check.

My dad’s funeral was the one where I finally understood the importance of funerals.  I had never before realized the closure it provides to loved ones, a closure that’s desperately needed. My heart aches for families that don’t get that closure for whatever reason.  My dad had suffered a lot in his life.  I have many fun and good memories about him, but he also had a dark side.  He was a Vietnam Veteran and struggled before and after the war with symptoms of mental illness. Depending on when you met him, he could be the nicest man you’ve ever met or he could be angry, dark, withdrawn, violent. I know his life was a struggle.  One of the most appropriate songs played was Johnny Cash’s version of “Peace in the Valley”.  My own grandfather on my dad’s side has also served in Vietnam and had similar affects to his mental stability after the war. While not quite as bi-polar, and frankly at times terrifying, as John was; my grandfather was known for a violent temper and a lack of support for those he loved, while exuding a great public image. It was not until he became a Christian, and when he was dying that he mended things with his family. War makes what is already there worse because of all of the guilt and stress that you have to deal with. But my grandfather and John, both were surrounded by people who loved them, and most of time they were able to convey, in their own way, that they loved as well. It is a mistake to think that anyone, no matter how difficult, is completely bad or that they were incapable of being great people when given the opportunity.

Our teaching pastor at the time, Ken Wilson, expressed the duality of my dad’s life and of all our lives to an extent, with a eulogy on Ecclesiastes 3.  That was a passage my dad often referenced throughout his life.  I was never certain on my dad’s salvation, but I am certain of God who is both merciful and just.  I trust in God for whatever my dad’s eternity may be.  Being that it was a moment of such closure, the funeral was really where the electricity came back on.  The illuminated world was not bright and ethereal, but clear and sober.  After the electricity has been off for a solid duration, you respect it a little more when it comes back on.  You don’t take it for granted as much.  I think this is one reason Christ said it is better to attend funerals.  It keeps you mindful of real priorities. Ken’s sermon could not have been more on target; we all have great hope that no matter how John was many times in life, that God has somehow saved him despite himself; like he does with all of us. I think that Ecclesiastes 3 could describe us all pretty accurately; God does not suffer from dualism (two opposing personalities or natures), but we do. It is helpful to remember that so many of us are enigmas to even those who know us, but we are known completely by God.

Tina, Candice’s mom, came to live with us for awhile and we found ourselves losing our private couple moments in order to help take care of Tina (which is not something we begrudged doing, but I am just describing the reality). Tina had some financial issues that stemmed from the marriage with John that had to be ironed out, and Candice spent a lot of time helping her to get back on her feet. We are glad to say that she is doing well now, is living with Candice’s younger brother, Ben, in her own apartment.

So much more could be said on this topic, and in the future it probably will be said.  I don’t know if Will would agree, but this was our greatest challenge in the first year of marriage.  I feel like we are stronger for having passed through it, and I thank God for sustaining us  I think often of what it must have been like for Will to have his typically lighthearted bride sink into grief.  In some ways it threw off the momentum of our new marriage–our honeymoon felt interrupted by the harsh reality of our mortal state. We were prepared for disagreements over drapes, furniture styles, how to load the dishwasher, and dirty socks being left out.  We were not prepared for loss.  Prepared or not, I thank God for Will who sat up with me at night and talked, carried the weight of grief with me, and didn’t shut down too.  I can’t say it enough: thank you Lord for sustaining us.  Marriage is hard–without God it’s almost impossible to have a healthy marriage.  I think the greatest challenge to our marriage was how to continue once we got passed showing respect for John and helping Tina. We had begun to establish a routine of life, which honestly has not been recovered. John’s death was not just a speed bump, it was a pothole that bends your axle and ruins your tires. We don’t intend for it sound like woe is us for being interrupted by my dad’s death; it’s more like we had to face the reality that WOE IS US FOR WE  ARE ALL INTERRUPTED BY DEATH.  As you will see, we still had many more challenges to fight through without the stability of a normal life.