“and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
The month of May brings hopes for warmer temps, budding trees and blooming flowers. It also holds the day we celebrate mothers and remember those who sacrificed their lives for us as well as loved ones who have passed on before us. But for me, the month of May holds another special day-not one most would celebrate or even wish to ever have happen. May holds the anniversary of the man whom I was blessed to call dad’s (His name was Skeet), death. May 15th, 1983 to be exact, is the day that made me half an orphan.
Although it’s been over 30 years, I can still remember many details from that night. Some details are foggy but what still sticks with me is this: My mom woke me up in the middle of the night telling me there had been an accident and my uncle was taking us to the hospital. When we got to the hospital I remember sitting in the waiting room praying to a God I didn’t know asking that it be my grandfather who was hurt, not my daddy because in true 7-year-old logic my grandfather was “old” and I didn’t want God to take my daddy. But then I saw the doctor talk to my mom and I watched her lose all strength in her legs. She was so stricken with grief that she literally collapsed and a wheel chair was brought in for her to sit in. The days that followed were something like this: We moved in with my Aunt and Uncle temporarily (we never returned to the apartment we lived in with my dad.) My mom was catatonic for days. She said nothing, I don’t recall her eating much. She just sat on the couch and stared into space. I grieved alone. I remember getting a new dress for the funeral. I loved that dress. I think I got new black shiny shoes and white bobby socks with lace trim (don’t laugh, it was the early 80’s.) I remember there was a tornado warning a few days before the funeral and I made sure to grab my and my mom’s funeral outfits before heading to the basement because I didn’t want them to be ruined.
The day of the funeral lots of people were there. Lots of tears and sadness filled the room. I remember my dad was buried in a brown polyester suit (again it was the early 80’s.) Thinking back now, I think he would’ve hated that suit and preferred to be buried in one of his button down butterfly collared shirts and nice pair of blue jeans. But my mom chose a suit. I remember what he looked like at the funeral. He looked like he was lifelessly asleep. It was the first dead person I had ever seen. I kissed his nose. That was a shock-dead people don’t feel warm and soft like a live person. I have never touched another dead person again after that.
I sat in a side area of the funeral parlor for the service. I don’t remember what was spoken I just remember looking around and seeing lots of tears. One teenaged boy in particular went through at least a full box of tissues from sobbing. I knew he was my dad’s biological son whom he wasn’t allowed ever see. I have to admit I’ve lived with a guilt of being blessed to have been loved and cared for by this man and his biological son never knew what he was like as a dad. I know it wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t his either but nonetheless there’s still a burden I carry of having such a blessing that his own son was not fortunate to have.
Just a few short months after Skeet died, mom and I moved into a huge home in town that she purchased. It was my most favorite house I have ever lived in. We moved next door to a minister and his family and it didn’t take long for me to form a friendship with the minister’s children. Soon I was invited to their church and that’s where I came to know Jesus as my personal Savior. My mom still went out from time to time but soon, something stirred in her and she felt she wasn’t being a good role model for me so she quit the bar scene altogether. It wasn’t long after I became saved that my mom started attending the church also and she too gave her life to the Lord. For five years we lived in a few homes (the house my mom had bought was just too big for the two of us and we moved around to a few different spots.) We finally ended up in a 1-bedroom apartment upstairs in the house my mom had originally purchased (and later sold to someone else.) My mom started dating a man from our church and they ended up getting married. That man and I had no bond. I wasn’t ready to let go of the dad I had lost and he didn’t know how to father a 12-year-old child. My baby brother, however, was a beautiful produce of that short lived marriage and I am forever grateful for that union because of his birth.
But then it was just my mom, my baby brother and me-and again, we moved around a lot. I had a different address each school year. My mom didn’t have to work when my step-dad died and for some time after because we lived off his life insurance policy. But when that ran out, my mom was jobless and relied on public assistance temporarily. One lesson I learned from that hardship was the value of an education. My mom attended secretarial classes at the local career center, paid for by the government, and was eventually hired by the school as one of their secretaries. She hated being on assistance and took action to ensure that hardship was only temporary. While she was pregnant for my brother, she walked to work (4 miles round trip) just to keep her job and continue to provide for me and him. We walked a lot growing up. We experienced a lot of financial hardship. But through it all, my mom kept persevering and providing for my brother and me.
Can I get real for a minute? Grief is a very challenging thing to deal with and if not dealt with properly can cause years of problems and dysfunction. How do I know? Because I am one who didn’t grieve well and it took its toll on me for far too long. For years after Skeet’s death I was numb for two days in May-the day of his death and the day after. I would tear up and then eventually suppress the sadness because I didn’t want to feel sad. I couldn’t visit his grave without crying so I eventually stopped visiting. I hated to cry. I gave myself a time limit to grieve and after a while I told myself I shouldn’t be sad anymore so I shut down that part of my feelings. I resented my mom too. You see, they were together the night he died and she left the bar early. He was drunk and decided to drive home (like many, many times before) and he caused the car accident. Thankfully, the person he hit suffered only a broken leg and only my step-dad’s life was taken. I am not thankful he died but thankful no other lives were lost in what could’ve been a preventable accident.
I have dealt with anger issues and lived a very long life feeling half of me was missing. I also felt like I was robbed of the only security I had ever known. I had times I was angry with God too. I couldn’t understand why He would take my daddy away from and allow me to grow up without a father. I strayed from the church in my 20’s because of my anger with God and felt I had been force fed the Bible for far too long. During my bar days, I would get into near fist fights with people who had been drinking and were going to drive home. I was a designated driver for many years and honestly didn’t even have my first alcoholic beverage until I was 23. I was even controlling with my first real relationship because I was afraid to lose him. Having something so tragic and out of my control happen to me at such a young age put me into a tailspin of always being in control, expecting the worst and never really enjoying the happy times because I vowed I would never feel that out of control or lost again.
It took years to learn that I am not in control of anything but my own response or reaction to the curve balls life throws at me. It took years to recognize that God is in control and He does what He wants, when He wants to whom He wants because He is God and He can do that. It also took me years to truly believe that all things work together for His glory Romans 8:28)-even the worst tragedies of our lives. And it literally took 30 years for me to feel free from the burden of grief. In fact-it was almost 30 years to the day of his death that I found myself at the same funeral home surrounded by the same family and at the same cemetery honoring the life of his great aunt. After her graveside services and I said my goodbyes to his family, I mustered up the courage to walk over to his grave site. While standing there, I found myself talking to the stone as if he was there in person. I suddenly heard a whisper in the wind say, “I’m sorry.” And I felt my whole heart whisper back, “I forgive you.” It was that moment all the grief, sadness, resentment and anger was finally released. I walked to my car with a tear stained face and heart full of freedom.
Last fall I found myself traveling to the town I lived in when Skeet had died. It was for my son’s football game. While driving home my children and I drove past the place I lived at the time of his death. Suddenly floods of memories came back that I hadn’t thought of since I was a small child. Good, strong happy memories. As I was telling the kids many wonderful stories, I began to cry. Only this time, I didn’t suppress it. I let myself tear up and feel the sadness that never truly goes away. You see, when you live the rest of your life missing half of yourself, no matter how fully healed you are, there’s a sadness that will never go away. I have learned that that is truly ok. God can fill us up and He can make us whole. But even God knows what it feels like to be grief stricken and feel like half of you is missing. So I believe He fully understands the emptiness we forever feel when someone we deeply loved is taken from us so suddenly.
Although Skeet was only my dad for nearly 5 short years, he impacted my life tremendously and his death forever changed me. One thing that came from such a loss is this-I am living proof that God is near to the broken hearted (Psalm 34:18), that He turns our mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11) and that He makes beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3.) A life changing tragedy is what led me to Him and continued circumstances beyond my control, including other moments of heartache and grief continue to keep me close to Him. Tomorrow is another anniversary of the day my life was forever turned upside down. But because of God’s healing touch and His perfect love for me, I will face tomorrow with joy in my heart and gratitude for the years I did have with Skeet instead of focusing on the years I have lived without Him. God is always faithful to His promises-especially the promise of healing (Isaiah 53:5) and to bind up the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1.)
God calls us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18.) This doesn’t mean I have to thank Him for taking my daddy away from me. What this does mean is that I can choose to be thankful for the years I had with him and for all the ways God protected, provided and loved me unconditionally in the years I have lived on since Skeet was called home to Jesus. It also means I can thank God for His faithfulness in the promise that He is our Heavenly Father and is especially faithful in being the One true Father to the fatherless. (Psalm 68:5)