I felt my body slump down the wall until I was supported by the floor. I was empty. I was hollow. Tears streamed with no sound and my gaze was past the strangers getting off the elevator. Something told me I should care that I was in public, but I didn’t. All I cared about was that my father was gone.
36 hours before I had opened an email from a friend. It was one of those links that circulates as an inspirational-feel good story about a little boy who had lost his calf. He called into a radio station to share his grief and his revelation that God understands our loss. I called my dad immediately. He was in a Pennsylvania hospital for surgery and I knew I was going to lose him. I just knew.
I talked only briefly with him, but told him I needed him to get better. His response, “I’m working on it, but the food here is really bad.” I told him I would call him later and he said he loved me. It was the last time we spoke.
My father had air pockets in his lungs and one burst after our call. As the nurses rushed in to help him, he told them to call his daughter in GA. While my father gasped to breathe, his breath was used to connect with me. When they called I knew he wouldn’t recover. I heard the nurse pass along my words, “She said she loves you.” He nodded his head, yes. He was put on a ventilator and I hung up the phone playing the events over and over in my mind.
“I’m not ready.” I just kept saying, “I’m not ready. I’m not ready. I’m not ready.” I couldn’t imagine a world without my father. I didn’t know how the world would continue to spin or air would become breath. I didn’t know a world without my father and didn’t want to.
I flew to PA on the first flight out, October 10, my husband’s birthday. I leaned my head against the window of the airplane and for several hours I willed my father to hang on to life until I could get there.
My father on the right while serving in the Navy.
I walked into his hospital room and stood by his side. The beeping of the machines, the wires, the faces of family members. I couldn’t find the words, so I used ones I had heard him say many times. John 14:2 “In my Father’s house there are many mansions. If it were not true, I would have told you. I go now and prepare one for you.” I held his hand and thanked him for needing no more words. I thanked him for the understanding between us that even if we’d had 30 more years, none of them would be needed to explain just how much we loved one another.
I left for the night and realized letting go wasn’t about my own suffering, but his. I did not have peace about living without my father. But I did have peace about him no longer living. This was the end of his life, and the beginning of mine without him.
The next morning after calling the hospital for an update, I sat in an upholstered chair in the living room where my father was raised. I noticed the window framing the bold colors of the fall leaves the north is known for. My Aunt Barb toasted cinnamon bread and the smell was warm and comforting. On what I knew would be the last day in this life with my father, I noticed the beauty that continued to exist. I was going to be okay.
My father came to Georgia in 2004 when my first son, Teague, was born.
My aunt drove me back to the hospital where my husband and son met us after a two day drive. They were there with me as my father took his last breath. While I held his hand and cried. The day after the celebration of my husband’s birth. I experienced my father’s death.
How do you just leave the hospital? How do you walk away from loss and move on to the next steps in your own life when theirs ended? So, I slumped down the wall in front of the elevator preparing myself for a life without my father. I couldn’t leave. Until I did.
There was more sadness than I could even articulate. And there were stories. There was an abundance of family. There were pink stripe cookies from Ecklof’s bakery. (If you know, you know.)
We cleaned out my father’s apartment and in a small plastic trash can with a flip top lid were random dollar bills. In the locked leather briefcase we found letters we wrote when we were children, his Naval paperwork, and pictures of his kids and grandkids. His money was in the trash can and his prized possessions were in a briefcase.
I learned over the passing days one of the most lasting lessons since learning to let go. “It won’t always feel like it does now.”
I have shared this lesson with a friend at the viewing for her mother. I have shared this lesson with a mother after her third consecutive miscarriage. I have shared this lesson with the child navigating her parent’s divorce. These words, this lesson, is one that helped me through the hardest parts of my marriage. I let go of my father’s physical presence, but his lessons remain.
I can’t compare my pain to yours. I can’t understand your personal experience of hardship, uncertainty, or loss. I can assure you that I have endured my own and speak to you with an abundance of love and compassion when I tell you, “Whatever you are facing, whatever you are going through. It won’t always feel like it does now.”
We’re in this together.