***Warning, this is a LONG post.
Six years ago today our lives took a sharp turn and changed very suddenly. I was 20 years old. It was three and a half weeks before our wedding, and Matt and I were out doing some shopping, picking up odds and ends for our new apartment. It was a pretty normal day. We had dinner at Matt’s parents’ house and then later that night Matt took me home (I still lived with my parents). We got to my house at about 10:00 pm and started unloading stuff into the garage and then came back inside at 10:30. My mom was pacing around upstairs and before I had the chance to talk to her the phone rang. It was the phone call that you never ever want to get. My mom answered.
Someone from Loma Linda Hospital was calling to tell us that my dad was at the hospital and we needed to come right away. Since I hadn’t yet talked to my mom, I didn’t know that my dad had never come home from work, which was why she was pacing the hall nervously when I walked inside. My mom asked the man on the phone what was wrong with my dad, but the man on the phone said he couldn’t give any details, and told her to come to the ER.
Me, my mom and my brother hopped into Matt’s car and he drove us to the hospital. You can imagine that car ride. We were nerve wracked, wondering what could be wrong with my dad and praying it wasn’t the worst.
We went into the ER and nervously gave our names and told them we had been summoned. An orderly shuffled us into a room and sat us down. A doctor came in and sat down. I knew from the look on his face that we were about to receive some very bad news. I was still praying it wasn’t what I feared most, that my dad had just been in an accident or something and that everything was going to be okay.
The doctor started talking and I couldn’t believe what he was saying. At 7:30 that evening my dad had been at the gym and collapsed very suddenly while lifting weights. The paramedics arrived only minutes after he collapsed, but it was already too late, he was gone and they couldn’t resuscitate him. They took him to the hospital and a doctor officially pronounced him dead. They weren't sure why he died, they thought it was either a heart attack or a brain aneurysm.
Because my dad had been working out he didn’t have any identification on him. It was all in his locker. It took the gym a couple of hours to figure out which locker was his. They had everyone empty their lockers, then they had to break open the locks of the remaining ones until they found his, which is why they didn’t contact us until 10:30 that night.
We were in the ER… a busy place. People were hustling and bustling around, but for us the world just stopped. We were numb. We were in shock. Our world had just been torn apart. They asked if we wanted to see him, and we said yes. Trembling, we walked into a back room and he was laying on a table. I’ll spare you the details, but he looked horrible and I couldn’t handle it, so I immediately ran from the room. My mom and my brother stayed inside and said goodbye to him.
As I write this I am flooded with the emotions from that night, but I feel like it’s good to think about it sometimes and reflect. I like to keep my feelings and emotions under control and I hate feeling sad, so I don’t often allow myself to think about sad things. I tend to shove them into the back of my mind.
Anyhow, back at the hospital, we didn’t know what to do. Our lives had suddenly been turned upside down and it was the middle of the night. Do we call someone? Just go back home? None of us really felt like we could drive, and we didn’t want to leave because we knew we couldn’t take him with us.
My mom called my dad’s parents (who live in Colorado) from the hospital and told them. Matt called his parents and they immediately came down to be with us. I called Jolene and told her. We didn’t really know what else to do, we were in total shock. It took a little while to get our bearings and wrap our minds around the situation. How could my dad be gone? He was healthy, he was young (only 46), he worked out, he ate healthy, how on earth could he be gone? What about my wedding in four weeks? What about the cruise my parents were booked to go on for their 25th anniversary?
I don’t really remember how much time passed. We eventually got back into Matt’s car and drove back to my mom’s house. It was the middle of the night by this time and we didn’t know what to do. I remember taking a shower when we got home, wishing I could just wash away the pain and the reality of the situation. The four of us crawled into my mom’s bed and cried and slept a little. The hospital kept calling every hour to ask my mom if she wanted to donate my dad’s organs. She was in shock and felt like she couldn’t decide so soon, but they had to know, so they kept calling. Eventually she said yes, and they were actually able to use quite a few things.
Finally morning came. We started calling other family and friends. I remember one of the first people to come over was Dan Harker. He had been driving home from work and Christy told him about my dad, so he came over to be with us. Other people came. My dad’s parents hopped on a plane in Colorado and arrived later that afternoon. The rest of the day was a blur. I just remember people coming over to offer us support and sympathy. People brought food, groceries, cleaned our house, and helped us out. They came and cried with us, prayed with us, and laughed and remembered my dad with us. We were surrounded by loving support and a multitude of prayers. Truly we only made it through that time with God’s grace.
We did get the chance to say goodbye one last time at the funeral home, and my dad looked much better than he had at the hospital. In fact he looked very peaceful, and it seemed as if he could just open his eyes at any moment. I had written my parents a letter that I was having put into our wedding program. I hadn't wanted them to read it beforehand, so my dad didn't get the chance to read it. I read it to him and left it in his hands.
The thing that comforted me most was knowing that my dad, a faithful servant of Christ, was finally at home with the Lord. He didn’t suffer, he didn’t get sick, he just got to go home. The day before he died had been Father’s Day. Matt graduated from college, and we spent the rest of the day together as a family. We had that wonderful gift of a day together which I will always remember. We knew he loved us, and he knew we loved him.
I was so very sad that the Lord had to take him only four weeks before my wedding, but who am I to question His timing? My initial thought was to post pone it, but then I realized that he wouldn’t have wanted that. I am grateful that Matt got to know him for 2 ½ years, and that my dad knew that I was marrying a wonderful man.
We wanted the memorial service to be a happy remembrance of my dad and his life, and it was. Bruce officiated it, and did a great job. We sang praise songs and talked about what a wonderful man he was. My brother and I both spoke about my dad.
Three weeks after his service I got married. My wedding day turned out better than I could have ever imagined. It was truly joyful despite our tremendous loss. We had countless prayers that carried us through that day. My brother walked me down the isle and we lit a candle in remembrance of our dad.
Up until this point I hadn’t really experienced any loss. All of my grandparents were still alive, and no one close to me had ever died. I had always felt awkward and unsure of what to do when someone I knew went through loss. I guess what I learned from this is that you really can’t do anything to take away the pain; all you can do is be there for that person. It felt so good to know that so many people cared and were praying for us. We weren't alone with our pain. People came and cried with us, and remembered my dad with us, they brought food so we wouldn’t have to think about cooking. Those things helped.
I am so proud of my mom and the way she handled it all. She lost the love of her life, her high school sweetheart and husband of 25 years. She was, and still is, so strong. She did what she needed to do to heal. She had to navigate through a lot of unknown territory and take care of all kinds of unfamiliar things. She is an amazing woman and I admire her.
I am proud of my brother as well. He was only a junior in high school when my dad died and he took it really hard. He lost a dad, a role model and a best friend. He managed to continue on and still do well and graduate high school, and then college and is now in grad school and has a full time job as an assistant city planner. He’s become an adult and grows more and more responsible each day.
When my dad left this earth, he left as he came….with nothing. All of his material possessions were left behind. This really caused me to assess my priorities. Even now, when I find myself being too materialistic I remember having to clean out all of my dad’s stuff, and I am reminded that none of this earthy stuff matters. The only thing that matters in the end is what you did to enhance the Kingdom of God, and how you served the Lord. My dad was such a wonderful example of that. He gave selflessly. We didn’t even realize how much he gave away until my mom had to go through all of the finances after he died. He was a Godly husband and father. He taught by example.
One of my favorite memories is what he gave me for Easter one year. He gave me a card and inside wrote about how God had given the ultimate sacrifice by sending his son to earth to die for our sins. He wanted me to remember that and so as his gift to me he forgave a monetary debt I owed him. For some reason that really touched me.
I cannot think of a time where I did not see my dad reading his Bible in the mornings. He led family devotions and he was a faithful prayer warier. He served his family and others before himself. He had a fun sense of humor and loved to laugh. He was an amazing man.
While I was only 20 when my dad died, I am grateful that I got to have those 20 years with him. I got to have him all through my childhood and teen years. I miss him. I wish that he could meet my son and still be a part of our lives. I wish that he could garden with me and see our yard (he loved to garden). I wish that he could see the woman that I’ve become. I wish he could still tease me and get me all riled up. I wish that I could talk to him. Six years have passed and we have definitely healed, but we’ll always miss him.
Cherish your loved ones. Enjoy each precious moment you get to spend with them. Never leave each other angry, because you never know if it’s the last time you’ll see someone. Always tell your loved ones that you love them. I know those things sound so cliche, but they are so true.
Hopefully you aren’t depressed after reading this. I know it was a bit jumbled. I just felt a need to write about it and share for some reason (it's free therapy). I’ve been thinking about my dad and all of this a lot this year, more than in previous ones. I guess it’s a part of the heeling process.