Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. —John 16:22
My dad passed away February 12, 2022 at 86.5 years of age, and I have been struggling to put my thoughts and feelings into words. When my own words fail, I go to poetry. Having endured so much grief, the poem that speaks to my heart in this moment is Mary Oliver’s “Heavy.”
I adapted the poem for my purposes, but you can read the original poem here.
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
I went closer,
and I did not die.
has his hand in this,
Still, I am bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,
is nowhere to be found.
Then I remembered my father:
“It’s not the weight you carry
but how you carry it –
books, bricks, grief –
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it
when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I’ll go about practicing.
One day you’ll notice.
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth.
How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe
also troubled –
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
to which there is no reply.
This poem speaks to me not only because of my own grief, but because as I read it, I thought about the fact that my father had a lot of hurt in his life. To look at him–to even know him–you wouldn’t see it. Every now and then, it would eke out in small ways. He’d tell us about a painful memory from his childhood, a hurt that stung all his life. He wrote in the autobiography he started about being told the word “no” so much that he did not want his wife or children to hear that word. Despite the pain and disappointment he endured, my father found his way to joy. And his very soul was steeped in an infectious joy.
He never forgot those painful moments from his childhood. I believe he carried them with him his whole life, but “it’s not the weight [he] carried, but how [he] carried it, how [he] embraced it, balanced it, carried it when [he] could not, would not put it down.”
He parlayed all of that weight into beautiful gifts for his wife, his children, his grandchildren, and for generations to come.
They’re found in the music he gave us, the Sunday morning listening to everything from jazz to blues to ballads and everything in between that makes much of the stuff churned out nowadays intolerable.
The gifts are in the lessons about grit and hard work and striving for excellence, about making no excuses and owning our mistakes and allowing them to prod us toward growth.
The gifts are in the sometimes uninvited–a little too straightforward–but sound counsel that pushed us to do right and be better.
They’re found in the celebration of the good that life offers in all its forms, in the beauty of a deep, abiding appreciation for life and grace and a recognition that everything we have is gift and grace.
The gifts are in the joy in spite of circumstances.
The gifts are in his many unanswered questions about God and eternity, questions for which he left us to find the answers.
The gifts are found in the love with an answer, the way he loved and did life with our mother, a love not superficially crafted for social media, but one with deep roots and the abiding presence of the Divine. That autobiography I mentioned earlier, doesn’t start with “I was born.” It starts with “I began to live when I married my wife.” While I am incredibly grateful for my father’s joy, I know the love for our mom is the greatest gift he could have given his children. That love–that love with an answer–has made all the difference.
Sleep well, Daddy. We look forward to the “loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God” that will reunite us for eternity.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. –I Thessalonians 4:13-18
Written 2.22.22 for my father’s memorial service. Shared here for those who have asked for copies.