On the Dark Nights When You are Counting Days and Remembering

It is three weeks ago today that I last talked with my Dad, last heard him speak back. That day blurs into that night, and then it was Friday 2:08 am and he was gone.

My sister, mom, and I had tracked the evening hours on a paper chart, slipping in soluble morphine and attavan pills between Dad’s drying lips, moistening them with a little blue sponge.

“Dad, can I give you some more medicine?” I had asked respectfully, as the hours passed and his sleepiness mounted. His words lessened, and his moments of lucidity stretched further apart.

Pain rippled across his face, and I gripped his hand. “The morphine will help, Dad. It should kick in really soon.”

Friends had driven on dark country roads after rush-hour traffic to stop in and greet him. Dad recognized them and opened his eyes briefly. They stood tall and uncertain beside his bed, searching for a special hymn’s lyrics on their phone before starting in, their voices strong and speaking truth.

“God sent his son, they called him Jesus. He came to love, heal, and forgive. He lived and died to buy my pardon, an empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.”

My dad heard and moved his head, faintly singing along, these truths he has built his life and joy on. My mom, sister, and I joined in, my voice cracking in emotion

“Because he lives, I can face tomorrow, because he lives, all fear is gone.” I swallowed, “…because I know he holds the future, and life is worth the living just because he lives.”

Dad’s two friends sang on, swiping tiny lyrics higher on a touch-screen phone, both men squinting to see in the dim lamp-lit room.

I stopped singing as I saw Dad wince and reach towards his neck and shoulder, then fumble in his side pocket where the meds usually were. Checking the clock, I saw we were close. “Here, Dad. It’s time for your next dose.”

His friends finished the song, and we stepped out to give them privacy as they said good-bye. Nurses had said my Dad was in his last days, and the minutes drizzled away.

In dignity and strength, my Dad lived. In dignity and strength, my Dad died.

We have seen God’s sweet kindnesses taking care of us each day. We have felt the tangible love of friends and family near and far, who have dropped off meals, mailed cards, helped in countless ways, and walked beside us.

We stood tall at Dad’s funerals, so proud to be associated with him, nodding and smiling in joyful pride at the stories friends and colleagues told of him. I gripped podiums tight and spoke in tremulous pride, shuffling papers and describing African night skies. Three special songs rippled out harmonies that explained my Mom and Dad.

I’m finding that grief looks like efficient hours of phone calls and business letters as we confirm the death of a dad.

Grief looks like driving in silence and twice pulling into the driveway with the gas light blinking orange. It looks like staring numbly, moving slowly, and blankly wondering what project I was in the middle of.

Grief feels heavy, makes me exhausted at three pm, and leaves me ready for bed at nine-thirty. Grief for me looks like tears and sobs the first week and a half, and an inexplicable feeling of being “too sad to cry” this week. Time stretches long, and has it only been three weeks? Yet it feels so long since I’ve talked to my Dad.

“This is the first class I’ve taught that I didn’t talk about with my Dad,” I told Mark Monday night as I drove away to teach my college-level Village Schools of the Bible Cover to Cover Bible Survey class. Grief slid down my shoulders to my back. I pictured talks on the back porch with my Dad, and our love for God’s word.

My mom and I had a girls’ sleepover last night at my parents’ house, both of us pulling our Bibles closer. She spoke out verses from Romans chapter five about God gently, beautifully, wielding sorrow to craft beauty and character in us. I scrawled G2 pens fast across notebook paper and talked about the tender love of God who longs to walk beside his people, helping them know him intimately.

I spoke it aloud three weeks ago today, (Thursday morning, October 26th), sitting cross-legged on my Dad’s bed, hugging him in a period of his pain, and breathing out any words that were truth and that would offer hope for both of us.

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. 
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 
The precepts of the Lord are perfect, giving joy to the heart. 
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. 
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. 
The ordinances of the Lord are sure, and altogether righteous. 
They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold. 
They are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb…” 

We had studied them together earlier that autumn, and now they were the only truth I could grab while he was in pain. I alternated between singing songs to him, praying for him, speaking God’s words, and hugging him, or rubbing his back.

In between two dear friends leaving, two pastors arriving, a phone call to hospice triage, and several of us there, I wrapped my arms around my Dad gently, his body so frail and easily broken at the end. I kissed his whiskery face, told him I loved him, and grabbed the only truths I knew.

And I grab them now, and know that God’s heart can be trusted.

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  1. Cheryl Barker on November 17, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    Jennifer, my heart goes out to you so much. I know how hard it is to lose a parent. There's no getting around grief, you just have to wade through it, don't you? And it is such a sad and painful time. So grateful God is showing you his tender love throughout and that you are clinging to him and his Word. You continue to be in my prayers. Sending a hug!

  2. Bill (cycleguy) on November 18, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    Thanks for sharing your grief Jennifer. I am without words except to say I know God's presence is real and will be real through those times.

  3. Leanne Mills on November 25, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    This is such a beautiful post…I cried with you while reading it. Thank you for sharing a life lived boldly for Christ! Josh and Liz told us how beautiful the service for your Dad was. My prayers are with you and your Mom.

  4. Anonymous on February 1, 2018 at 1:54 pm

    Lots of love

  5. Uncle Cal on March 21, 2018 at 7:35 pm

    Such a beautiful post Jenny! Thanks for sharing. Thinking and praying for you, your siblings and mom as you experience the good memories and difficult days in the grieving process of losing a loved one. God bless you!

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