My Dad

***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.

This picture was taken the day before he passed, at Matt's graduation. It was also Father's Day, and it was the last day we spent together.

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.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite pictures of my dad. He was not fond of cats and loved to tease my cat Roland. This picture makes me laugh and reminds me of how silly and fun he could be.


Christina said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kelly said…
What a beautiful post Jess. Your dad would be very proud at what a wonderful wife and mom you have become!
Rhonda said…
Wow Jess. I can't believe it has been 6 years. I am crying reading this post. Bruce and I soooo looked to your parents as examples of how we wanted to be as parents. You are one blessed girl to have had Alan Walters as your dad. And I know he would be soooo proud of who you are as a wife and mom, just like he was of who you were as a daughter.
krista said…
Ahhh Jess, thank you for sharing your heart with your blog readers. You did a beautiful job of telling the story and I felt like I knew your dad. What an amazing man and daddy. He would be so proud of you as a Mom and wife. I am so sorry that you had to lose him way too early, from an earthly perspective. Thank you for sharing with us!
Heather Hekman said…
Jessica, thanks for sharing about the loss of your dad. I remember he and your mom being such a neat couple and am so glad that your mom has continued to cling to God (and you and your brother have also). I know he'd be proud of you just like your mom is. It will be neat to see what qualities Ethan has that remind you of your dad.
Christy said…
I was thinking about you on father day and about how much we loved your dad. Your family has always been near and dear to our hearts. I hope that when I am gone that I make an ounce of the impact that your dad made on people. And the best part is, he passed it on through you and your brother cause you guys are amazing as well. I love you friend.
Tawny said…
What an amazing post about your Dad and how you have been such a strong, amazing woman through it all. I was quiet teary-eyed, but all the while being so inspired by your strength. Ethan might not get to meet him, but he will surely know how much he was loved and what amazing Dad he was to you and your brother. I agree that last picture is a great memory to have! My heart and prayers are with you.
Bonnie said…
Dear Jessica,

I am a friend of Heather's, and I've been reading your blog for awhile now. I thought that this was a lovely tribute to your father - he sounds like such a wonderful man! Thank you for opening your heart and sharing your memories with us.

I also have a comment that is completely unrelated to this son did not take a bottle at all either, but now he loves diluted juice in a cup! I know that each baby is different, but I did want to share that there is hope that Ethan will take a cup or bottle sometime, and hopefully it will be soon for you. :)

Take care, and God bless.
Jessica said…
Thanks Bonnie. Ethan has actually just started to drink diluted juice from a sippy cup! I'm excited and hoping he keeps drinking more and more :)
Mom and Dad H. said…
Ah, Jess, thank you for sharing your heart and thoughts. I wish we could have known your Dad better, what we did know we admired. Your Dad was special as is your Mom and brother, we love your family so much. Your loving words about your Dad just make us so proud of you and the mother and wife you have become to our grandson and son, we know you love the Lord and trust Him in everything and that is a great blessing to us and your family. We love you!
Linds said…
Hi there,

I'm a friend of Kelly's and just wanted to say how touching this blog was. I was in tears as I read it. You seem like such a wonderful friend, wife, and mother. I think your Dad would be really proud of you.

I just had to give my dad a call yesterday to tell him how much I love him. Thanks for this blog, it was a good reminder to tell the ones in our lives that we love them
Anonymous said…
Jess, what a sweet post. I'm at work right now and it simply brought tears to my eyes. Your dad was an amazing man. I remember as little kids we'd spend so much time together that little quarrels would erupt every now and then. One instance in particular, probably something to do with the game 'sorry' (could we have played it more?) but I just remember your dad coming in and treating me like a daughter and in a sweet gentile manner somehow eased the situation and we were probably all laughing about 5 minutes later. I remember he was such a hard worker and your parents were so kind and generous to me and my family.

I especially loved the part you wrote about how our job here on earth is to expand God's kingdom. How true!

What a blessing this was to me today. Remembering a man of God who today is with his Heavenly Father! Something to aspire to!

Love Ya! Give your mom a hug from me!
-Melissa Mollner
christy p said…
What an amazing post and tribute to your father. 46 is just SO hubby is turning 45 this scary. My heart hurts for your family.
The Keilers said…
Cried through the entire thing. My favorite memories with your family were Sunday afternoon lunches & coffee talks with your mom about your dad. I'd love coming home from church helping your mom & dad prepare lunch (always homemade bread) and we'd all sit & eat together as a family. That alone impacted my life. But I also remember when you & I would drink coffee in the morning (remember our cinnamon vanilla creamer) & your mom would come in & lend her wisdom, which always centered around what an amazing man she'd found in your daddy & how he had rescued her & modeled the love of Jesus. It touches me to this day. Your dad's legacy lives on through all of the lives he touched. Their marriage set a standard in my life. Thank you for reaching deep inside of yourself & sharing all of this, it was so powerful. ~Crystal
Eileen said…
What an incredibly beautiful message and tribute. Thank you for sharing with us... those who knew him well, knew him a little, or never had the privilege. It is a peek into the heart and soul of an awesome man of God whose influence on those around him was obviously positive, powerful and forever. With love, Eileen
Anonymous said…
Hi honey. I am so proud of you and the woman you have become. What a beautiful tribute to your Dad. He loved you with all his heart. I am grateful, too, that he was able to be a part of your life for 20 years. He truly was a man of God and led our family by example and by his love for the Lord. I will forever be grateful to our church family and friends for the love and care they gave us through that dark time. God is faithful and He will give us strength beyond imagination in our deepest moments of despair. Love, Mom
Kris said…
Dear Jessica,
You don't know me. Tawny is a friend of my daughter Gennifer Hass. She started blogging, and then I started to read all of her friends blogs. I guess I stumbled on yours through Tawny's. I remember asking Genn if she knew you. I told her you reminded me so much of me, as a young woman. I have only read your blog the one time, and today I saw your tribute to your dad. In a word, beautiful! I lost my Dad almost 5 years ago. Although it wasn't as sudden as your dad's passing, my dad was only sick very briefly, and he left us way too young. I am the only girl in a large family, and was exceptionally close to my father. His loss was devastating. He was the architect of our lives, and he is missed every minute of every day. And like you, I know every day, as I soak in our many blessings of life, that he lives on in all of us. Your post will certainly touch many. As did your father's life, and my father's life as well. Life is funny. I hope your Mom is well and has found the strength to go on and love life again.
Kris Grover

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