He had been seeing a little boy’s head floating above the door in the hotel room. And they had flown in an airplane they piloted across the mountain to attend Sadie’s wedding in our backyard. Both of these stories gave us something to chuckle about at the reception. Grammy drives a respectable Buick, and there are no airports on the mountain.
Daddy enjoyed his own tale as much as anyone else about little Tommy with the black hair–“I kinda liked him!”–and how exciting the plane ride had been, seeing the view above the mountain as more spectacular than any he’d ever seen while standing on it.
Daddy had said he was living for Sadie’s wedding. Once he arrived, I realized how true that statement was, and what a labor of love it was for Grammy to get him there. All that was left of his 6’4”, 250 pound self was a shrunken and stooped 5’11”, 170 pounds. His double knee replacements two years before got him around at home with a walker, but not so well that he refused the golf cart we’d lined up for him.
The wedding site was a little clearing in the woods near our home, crudely cut out only weeks before and justifying the sign on the path that cautioned, “Uneven path. Please watch your step.” It’s placement on a wedding path felt like more than a warning. It felt like wisdom. And considering the days that followed, even prophecy.
Daddy’s cancer had laid low for years, but this year had gotten aggressive, giving him reason to see a pain management doctor. Hallucinations were an unwelcome side effect of his medication.
When Grammy reported the month after the wedding that she’d taken Daddy off his pain med and that he was doing “aspirin therapy” instead, I was alarmed. I swallowed and struggled to keep my voice even over the phone, “Aspirin? As in regular over-the-counter aspirin?”
“Yes. The hallucinations were scaring me. I wanted My Darling Man back.” My Darling Man, often shortened to simply MDM, was her nickname for Daddy ever since they’d married 27 years before. We’d heard the story of how they’d met and fallen in love at least once every year since.
After they married, they moved to Florida and bought a small yacht, The Second Chance, a symbol of their joy in having a second chance to find happily-ever-after, their first chances both failing.
I understood that losing Daddy’s good company and replacing it with a round-the-clock napper was hard on her, but I didn’t understand how he could live with stage four prostate cancer on aspirin alone.
“Should you be telling someone, like his doctor, maybe?” I asked, hoping to hear that someone else had been involved in the aspirin decision.
“We have a follow-up appointment Wednesday. I’m gonna tell them that I don’t think they know what they’re doing. That pain patch did absolutely nothing for him. He said he couldn’t even tell he had one.”
Berating myself for not calling sooner, I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to be in Florida for that appointment, so I hopped in my car and drove south.
“Precious girl, you have no idea how happy you’ve made me! I can’t believe you’re here!” Daddy’s bent arms pulsed at the elbows, as if he were a clay Wallace saying, “Cheese, Gromit!” He was sitting in his chair in the den, and he turned the volume down on the TV when I walked in.
Struggling to stand, he pushed up stiffly on his chair arms and then grabbed hold of me to steady himself. This effort to give me a real hug touched me, and I teared up as I hugged him back. “I’m so glad to see you, too, Daddy. Look at you standing up on your new knees!”
Daddy reached back to find his chair before collapsing into it with a shout. He paused a moment to let it pass, and said, “And don’t forget, I’m also sporting a hip replacement with metal rod extending clear down my thigh! I get around pretty good for an old man without any testosterone or muscle!” Daddy slapped his leg and chuckled as if he were teasing, but what he’d said was true.
Therapy for prostate cancer involved taking a drug that stopped testosterone production, cutting off the cancer’s food supply and slowing down its growth. But the side effect was a significant loss of muscle mass, reducing Daddy to skin and bones, and making getting around on his replacement joints arduous. The slow down had been short lived, too; the cancer was growing again.
He looked at me with twinkling eyes and said, softly, “My, my, E-babe. Have I told you I love you so?”
“Not in the last ten minutes, Daddy, but I did just get here. What’s new?” I looked around at the family photos on every horizontal surface, Grammy’s hand picked piles of shells, their lighthouse collection. Grammy was part mermaid.
“You always were a sassy piece of baggage,” he said, laughing out loud, but there was that sharp yell again at the edge of it.
“Daddy, what’s going on? Where are you in pain?”
“I can’t help it, Baby Girl. It rises up in me and is out there before I can snatch it back in. Humiliates me to be a grown man, crying out like a baby.”
“You’ve got stage 4 cancer. And you’re taking aspirin. Go ahead and yell.”
Grammy came in with snacks—strawberry yogurt for Daddy and Diet Chek Cherry Coke for me. She fed him with a spoon, laughing and dancing around for him in the way he loved. “You gotta love this ole’ broad,” he joked, indicating her with his thumb. “I know I do.” After the last spoonful, she swiped the inside of the yogurt cup with her forefinger and stuck it in his mouth. Her love for him and her thriftiness perfectly paired in that gesture, both of which had drawn him to her like a pig to the trough.
“I’m going to the dollar store for trash food,” she announced on her way out the door. “Your Daddy will need help getting to the bathroom. Here’s his urinal,” and she picked it up and hung it on the magazine rack next to his chair. “He can handle this much. But if there’s more, he will direct you. Call me if you want anything special,” and she was gone. I chose not to think about what “more” might mean in the bathroom.
“Daddy, I’m worried about how much pain you’re having.”
“Cancer’s in my spine now they say, and I’m feeling it in my low back. When I’m just sitting here in my chair like I am right now, I’m not feeling much pain. It’s when I change position, like getting up and down.”
He looked at me directly, his eyes shining in the old way, eager to communicate the same message he’d been communicating my entire life, only more intensely in the last few years, “Have I told you how I love you so?”
“Yes, Daddy,” I looked down as I spoke, embarrassed to look at his unfiltered adoration. “Same song, same verse. I get it.”
“Am I making you uncomfortable?” he asked. “I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. It’s just…”
“I know. You don’t want to leave without being sure I know. And I know. Thank you. But when you say it so often, it scares me, like you’re about to die on me right there where you’re sitting in your khaki pants and plaid shirt.”
“I’ve been sifting through lots of things in my life lately,” he continued, as if he were checking things off a legal pad. “I’ve been thinking about my parents. About your mother. About how much pain I’ve caused her. About how sorry I am. You know, Grammy and I really, truly love her. Do you think we should call her and tell her that?”
“Put yourself in her shoes. It’d probably just piss her off, you know?”
“Too soon old, too late schmart?” I nodded, and we laughed.
“You’ve been thinking about your parents?”
“Yes. About how much they loved me. Nanny was devoted to me, you know, no one was ever good enough. She used to sneak supper up to me whenever Pop sent me to bed without it.”
“Talk about a mixed message.”
“Now, that woman could cook. Her brownies were so good, they made my teeth hurt.” I remembered those brownies from childhood, and my jaws tingled in response.
Then he changed directions. “Ah, me…do you know when I was just a little fella, Pop would sit me in front of the saddle on his horse? I have a photo of us around here somewhere. I was so proud, riding with him. Proud, too, that he was a chaplain in the Army. He used to pull me onto his lap and teach me my letters,” Daddy’s voice broke. “It still touches me so.”
“I didn’t realize he was tender, Daddy. I’ve just heard stories about how often you got punished, over nothing.”
“As a military man, he had high standards, and he expected a lot from me. He spanked me for playing cards, which was gambling to him. And for lots of other things. Once for being late to supper. And I got a regular lickin’ on Sunday in case I’d gotten away with something during the week and not been punished.”
“I remember once when I was 13, he was all worked up about something, and he pulled his belt out of his pants. I can still hear the sound it made, ‘thwack, thwack, thwack,’ as it snaked through the loops. When Pop pulled his arm back to hit me, I reached up and grabbed it and pinned it down against his body without thinking. I was nearly as strong as he was by then, and I’d caught him by surprise. I looked him in the eye and said, ‘You’re not going to do that to me anymore, Pop. I’m done with the belt.’ He never spanked me after that. But I’m ashamed now remembering. It was disrespectful.”
“To who? Daddy, you were brave.”
His eyebrows raised in surprise. “I was brave?”
“Well, I think so. And spanked? You call that a spanking? Daddy, you were beaten by Pop. I think what he was doing was child abuse. Whipping you on Sunday whether you needed it or not? You were right to make him stop,” Daddy was silent. “Child abuse, Daddy. That was child abuse.”
“It relieves me to have your perspective,” he said. “I’d never thought of it that way. I’ve felt badly about what I did ever since that day.”
“Well, there’s one thing certain as far as I’m concerned: you weren’t disrespectful to stop him. You were self respecting and self protecting. And you were respecting him, too, not to allow him to treat you that way.”
”How was it respectful?”
”Stopping him said you wouldn’t settle for less than his best treatment of you. You knew he was too good a man to continue to behave that way. You did yourselves both a favor.”
“In any event, it was sometime after that when Pop got sick. He never lived with us again. I’ve blamed myself. As an adult, I understand there was more going on than I knew. But at the time, I thought I’d broken him somehow. I felt guilty.”
“He wasn’t healthy, Daddy. He had issues that had nothing to do with you. He saw some pretty gruesome combat on that carrier in WWI, right?”
“Yeah, and he was a chaplain which meant he went through it without a weapon. Had to be terrifying.”
“Mama thought there were were darker forces at work that explained why he stopped talking and just sat in his room all day. But she couldn’t be certain. Of course, we’ll never really know what troubled him, but it didn’t help matters that Nanny had her vagina sewn up rather than have a hysterectomy. Drove him crazy is my take on it, and that sure had nothing to do with you. ‘But I’m probably telling you more than I know.’”
Daddy laughed. He loved it when we used his catch phrases in conversation. “But I’m probably telling you more than I know” was one of them. He chuckled, “Now there’s a story! That’d drive a man to drink, at the least.”
“Speaking of drink, do you want something from the fridge?” I said getting up.
Daddy ignored my question, lost in thought, “You know, I wanted so badly to be a preacher for his sake, to follow in his footsteps and make him proud, but I just couldn’t warm up to the idea. You know, I think God’s been disappointed with me ever since.”
“What?” I said, settling back down
“Because I wasn’t a preacher like my father was and his father before him, I know my father was disappointed. And I think God’s been disappointed in me, too.” His eyes were studying the napkin in his lap.
“Daddy, that’s impossible. For one thing, practically speaking, you’ve been giving money to two seminaries and at least one Christian college for more than 30 years, am I right? How many pastors do you think your money has helped support?” He shrugged his shoulders. “I imagine there are dozens,” I said. “What do you think God thinks about that?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never thought about it.”
“Well, think about it. And think about this, too. What you do isn’t what makes you right with God, is it?”
“Hell, after all I’ve done, I could never pay it back. I ain’t got enough time!”
“You and me both, Daddy. And that’s not what God’s about, anyway. It’s what Jesus has done that makes God say, ‘Well done, John.'”
“I know that’s good Presbyterian doctrine. But it doesn’t change the feeling I have.”
“I get that. So what kind of father are you?”
“I’ve failed at a lot of things, but what I’m most proud of are you kids. Maybe I’ve done Ok as a father?”
“Do you remember you wanted me to move to New York after college and work as a writer with New York Life where you worked? It wasn’t what I wanted to do, though, and I got married and taught school instead.”
“I do remember that. I thought it’d be fun to ride the commuter train to New York City everyday together.”
“So here’s what I want to know: have I been a disappointment to you?”
“Of course not!”
“Ok, then here’s the six million dollar question: are you more compassionate and understanding with me than God is with you? Are you a better father than God is?”
Daddy let out a deep sigh, like he’d just set down something heavy and needed to catch his breath.
“Do you really think God wants everybody to preach? I mean, somebody’s gotta make the money, right? I think he looks at you and says, ‘You figured it out, John. I made you to make lots of money so you could give it away and you did.’ But that’s not why he says ‘attaboy.’”
“I’m not following you,” he said, his eyebrows furrowed.
“What you do is not what makes you dear. You’re dear to God because you’re his own son. The same reason your sons are dear to you. Do you love them more because they’re pastors?”
“I sure am proud of that. Real proud.”
“But is that why you love them? Is that what delights your heart about them? Or do you love them simply because they’re your sons? Wouldn’t it be silly to think you’d love them more because of what they do rather than because of who they’ve been all their lives—your boys?”
“Yeah, I guess it would. You’re helping me little girl. I’m starting to feel better.”
“When Chuck drove over here recently to watch ‘Bama beat Clemson, were you thrilled to be with him because he’s a preacher? Or because he’s your son?”
Daddy’s face twisted and his voice was quiet. “I’ve been struggling with feeling like a disappointment to God all my life.” He paused, and his mouth worked to gain composure. “I’m gonna enjoy this for a long while, yes I am: God is as pleased with me at least as much as I am with my kids. God loves me at least as much as I love my kids. I don’t know why I didn’t see it like that before.”
“And maybe he loves you a little bit more than that. He is God, after all,” I said, reaching over and squeezing his arm.
“When I was at Vanderbilt, I wanted to go to war but my poor eyesight disqualified me. That was one of the biggest disappointments of my life. I was humiliated not to be able to fight for my country alongside my friends in WWII.”
“I know, Daddy. I’m sorry about that. But your football coach was glad to have you, wasn’t he? There weren’t a whole lot of athletes to choose from…”
“There’s no doubt why I got to play,” he said chuckling. “I’d been pre-med at Vanderbilt. I thought I’d go to med school after college and become a doctor. That would be a profession equal to that of preacher, at least in my family’s eyes. But I didn’t get in. Another disappointment.”
He took a deep breath. “Your mother and I married quickly, and Jack came along right away. There wasn’t money or time to follow a big dream like that, and I started selling candy door-to-door. You think I didn’t feel the sting of that?”
More than 65 years later, I could feel it, too.
“In any event, I learned a lot selling candy; it was probably the best job for me in the long run. I learned to handle my own affairs, and to speak up, and to spend and save carefully, and to work every day all day whether I felt like it or not. Before long, I had a bigger candy route and was outselling everyone. And I realized, I can work hard, and there’s probably other work somewhere else I can do that pays better.”
“You do know how to work hard, Daddy. We all learned that from you.”
“I want to ask you something. Is there anything between us we need to talk about? Is there anything I need to ask your forgiveness for?”
At the end of his life, Daddy was on a mission to make sure he was at peace with everyone in the family he could. He’d already talked to some of the grandchildren. Now he was asking me.
If he’d asked me that question years ago, I’d have gotten into the past and the history we shared. And I’d have needed him to see it exactly the way I did and care the way I wanted him to, and we’d have ended this sweet time together hurt, misunderstood, and disconnected the way we’d always been.
But I’d unloaded my anger when I came to him confessing my own deep, dark secret some time ago. His response was immediate acceptance and forgiveness, so sincere and merciful I was completely undone, and I wept in his arms. When I left, I realized how much I loved him. The bitterness was gone.
“Daddy, we’re good now, aren’t we? We’re friends. Everything from the past is forgiven and gone. My heart is so full of your love.” He sighed and closed his eyes. “Hey, do you remember that Thanksgiving when you wanted to talk to me about your life? You said you wanted me to understand you.”
“Yes, and you wouldn’t let me. You said, ‘Why would I want to listen to you about your life when you’ve never listened to me about mine?’”
“Ouch. Yeah, well, you sure heard that. That’s exactly what I said. I couldn’t reconcile the wonderful man you were with the awful man you had also been. But now I get it. I’m that same wonderful-awful combination myself. I’ve betrayed those I love most, including you.”
We were silent, thinking and feeling for a moment, and something sparked. I said, “When I forgave me, I could forgive you. Or maybe it was when I forgave you, I could forgive me. Or maybe it was when you forgave me, I forgave you. Who’s on first?”
”Second base… But seriously, Daddy, maybe it was all of the above?”
Daddy exhaled slowly, “My, my,” as he often did. “I want to tell you again, but I’m afraid I’m being a silly, old man.”
“You know, you tell me at least 100 times every time I see you. I’m used to it. No big deal,” I pretended to be bored. I looked at my nails, flipped my hair.
“E-babe, do you know how dearly I love you? How happy I am to see you sitting right here with me?”
“I’m not sure I’ll ever really get it, Daddy. But thank you for telling me again and again.”
“I need to go to the john. Help me up, will you?” I stood up in front of him, and we locked our hands around each other’s forearms. Leaning back, I heaved him out of his chair and onto his feet as he let loose an involuntary holler. He teetered a moment until I could get his walker in position, and then started walking ahead without me, showing off I thought, and I said, “‘You’d make a good race car driver,’” quoting him.
”’Are we having any fun yet?’” he quipped.
“‘I hope this turns out all right,'” another favorite phrase, all of which pulled laughs from him, and shouts because of the laughs, all the way down the hall.
I walked behind him as he shuffled, hanging onto the belt loop on the back of his pants the way Grammy did in case he started to fall. Once in front of the toilet, we found the potty chair handles, and he lowered himself with a yell to the seat. “I spiraled in on it!” he bragged. “Now leave me be.”
I was glad he didn’t need more help and waited outside the door, but no sooner had I leaned against the wall, than I heard a muffled, “Mary, mother of God,” and then louder, “Eve? Eve!”
“Baby, I hate to bother you, but you’ve sat me down with my pants still covering my ass. I’m sorry, but I’m gonna need some more help.”
It’s humbling to help your aging father manage his belt and zipper and then sliding his pants down, all manner of things flashing around in the process. It’s got to be even more humbling to have your daughter manage them for you, the indignity of it thick and suffocating, like bad gas after chili.
When he was done, it was, “Eve? Eve!” again, and we reversed the entire process and made it back to his chair, all in just under an hour. “‘I think I’ve enjoyed about all of that I can stand,'” I said, quoting him as we settled ourselves back in the den.
Life is hard. And then it gets harder. And I really hadn’t any idea.
Grammy was in the backyard watering when I got up the next morning. Sunlight filtered through the Florida room windows as water splashed, making the canal behind their house look dreamy and skewed. The top over The Second Chance looked flattened I thought as I opened the door and stepped out. “Mornin’ glory! Sleep well?” Grammy was already embracing the day.
“Yeah, hey, what’s going on with your boat?” I said, pointing to the top. Turns out, it really was broken, the aluminum poles bent awkwardly, the shade tarp above the dock roof torn and hanging loose at a corner.
“Water got so high in the canal a while back that the boat slammed into the dock roof. We don’t take it out anymore, but I’d still like to get it fixed. We have so many memories on this boat.”
It had been years since I’d been inside, and I was curious. “Watch your step. She’s not aged well,” Grammy cautioned. A moldy, dank smell came up to meet me as I descended into the cabin. Everything was as it had always been, only considerably more tired and worn. A tattered seat cushion where the bed folded over might have been a meal for rats. The galley, littered with leaves, reeked like the men’s room at a gas station. I needed some air.
After breakfast, we set out for the appointment with the pain doctor. She was a young, forty-something with dark hair and skin, petite and professional. I wondered if she could handle us. We were a tough bunch–the transformed boogie man of my childhood, the beloved woman he left my mother for, and the prodigal daughter who was thankful to feel only thankful.
Grammy wasted no time telling her that the pain medication didn’t work, and that after trying it for an entire week, she had taken Daddy off of it and had been giving him aspirin instead.
“Do you understand me, that the cancer he has is in its final stage and is the most severe kind of pain we treat? And am I understanding you, that you are attempting to manage this unbearable pain with nothing stronger than aspirin?” The doctor’s calm tone and demeanor underscored the difficult message, as if by flat-lining she was actually highlighting.
Grammy was rattled and looked at Daddy for support. He seemed to be studying his socks. Grammy turned back to the doctor who then addressed Daddy, “Mr. D, what is your pain level at present?”
Daddy looked at Grammy, who jumped right in, “He always says it’s about a 2 or 3 when we’re somewhere like this, but it’s not a 2 or 3. He yells with the pain at home. When you ask him when he’s not moving, he’s not feeling much.
“Mr. D., is that about right?”
“Yes,” he replied meekly, looking up. “It’s about a 2 right now.”
“But when you’re moving, what is it?”
The expression on Daddy’s face looked like nothing I’d ever seen on him before. In fact his whole meek-and-mild demeanor was unfamiliar. And troubling. This was the boogie man I’d once prayed would never come home again? It reminded me of the way children look who have lost heart, the ones who aren’t getting the puppy they’re begging for at the pet store. I wasn’t sure what all was going on, but one thing I knew: my daddy was suffering. “Then it’s a 10,” he said quietly. My heart squeezed.
Grammy looked stricken. She turned to the doctor, “I don’t know what else can be done. Your pain management isn’t helping. It’s pain MIS-management if you ask me! My Darling Man is suffering, and we can’t seem to get any help!”
“Let me see if I can explain how this medication works,” the doctor began. “You start with a patch that’s a very low dose. That’s as far as you got, I assume?” Grammy nodded. “Over a few weeks, we work up to higher dosages of medication with subsequent patches. It’s a gradual process. People are more likely to have unacceptable side effects like lethargy and hallucinations if we start out with the big guns. With a gradually increasing dosage, we find that patients’ bodies have time to adjust and side effects are minimal.”
Was that the Hallelujah Chorus? I felt as if the heavens opened and good news poured down on us right there among the tongue depressors and blue gloves, the good news we all wanted to hear: there was a pain management program that would work for Daddy. And if properly administered, it would be effective with minimal side effects.
We all wanted the same thing, for Daddy to be as comfortable as possible. Grammy didn’t say it, but I knew she was heartsick about his suffering and angry that this information hadn’t been made clear at their first appointment. She was no tormentor.
The doctor didn’t say it, but I knew she was undone that her patient had not had adequate pain care under her watch. She was no incompetent.
Daddy didn’t say it, but I knew he was exhausted from fighting the pain and thankful it would eventually be managed. He was no martyr. Whose fault was it? It didn’t matter. We had figured it out and we had something better. We had hope.
It was time for me to leave. I had plans to be at my brother’s house that afternoon. As much as I’d enjoyed being with them, I was also incredibly sad. I didn’t think I could bear another day.
Daddy worked hard to stand up to see me off, swaying a bit until he had the walker bar firmly in hand. He reached for my hand and squeezed tightly, and leaning down to my ear, whispered, “You have always been my precious girl, but this visit has touched my heart so. Thank you for coming. Thank you, dearest, precious girl. I wish I could beg you to stay one more day.”
And then loudly so Grammy could hear, “Have I told you today how much I love you?” Looking at Grammy, he said, “and how much I love this woman?”
“Not near enough!” we chimed in together. Daddy beamed.
I hugged him one last time at the door, “You have been a wonderful father, a loving husband, a good man. My favorite thing about you is your repentance and faith. Thank you for that inheritance. I’m rich because of you.”
That was the last time I saw him alive. My brothers and I had plans to meet in Florida to celebrate his birthday in August, two months later. We thought it might be his last and we didn’t want to miss it.
I was packed and pulling out of the driveway to go when I got the call, “Eve, this is your father’s nurse. I’m calling to say your father has passed. Grammy says to please come.”
My brothers arrived before me and were planning the memorial service that was to be held at Grammy and Daddy’s church in Pensacola. He had made Chuck promise to preach, and it was understood that Jack would speak.
As the little sister, I had always deferred to my brothers, but I wanted to stand up and speak with them about Daddy’s life. I wanted to tell the truth about him, and I wanted to tell the truth about me. After all the heartache over all the years, I was finally at peace with him. And I wanted to share it.
I read this aloud at his service:
“Five years ago, we were driving to Massachusetts for grandson John the IV’s wedding. At age 85, Daddy was still insisting on driving everywhere, even though the eyesight in his good eye—his only eye—was going bad.
“Grammy was cheerful and supportive as navigator, calming him after he occasionally rained down curses on New York drivers. I was paying close attention that day because I was terrified. Daddy narrowly missed hitting a guard rail. He changed lanes without checking for oncoming cars first. Jesus help!
“I remember this ride clearly, partly because I journaled about it in the back seat when I wasn’t watching my life flash before my eyes, but mainly because of what Daddy said to me when we stopped for gas.
“’The gas attendant inside was rude,’ he said as he got in the car. ‘Eve, I want to tell you something. I’m not going to be a bitter, old man—the kind of man who complains and is angry about getting old and about all the things I’m losing. And let me tell you, I’m losing a lot. I used to run my company and now, even the gas station guy is disrespectful. Probably the hardest thing I’m losing is the respect of my society. It’s hard to be old. And there’s nothing I can do about it, except to choose how I will do it–with grace or without it.’
“The next Father’s Day, I wrote to him,
“’Things you have taught me: how to tell time, how to write a check, how to walk out of a restaurant with too-slow service just as your food is coming out of the kitchen on trays You. Can. See, how to save money, how to spend wisely, how and when to make a case for an allowance raise factoring in inflation since 1941, how not to clean out your own gutters on a ladder in your 80’s (Daddy had learned that lesson the hard way).
“’Things you are still teaching me: how to hope and start over, how to give more than you get, how to live in the face of regret, how to live in the face of cancer, in the face of aging knees, in the face of a body gone lean and then just mainly gone, in the loss of sight, in the loss of strength, in the loss of family, in the loss of friends, in the loss of power and prestige, in the loss of ability, agility, mobility, in the loss of working in your own yard (wait, I don’t think you mind that loss so much).
“’But for all the losses, Daddy, there’s no loss of faith or hope or love. No. In fact, these things, the things that really matter in a life, are thriving in yours. As your body begins to fail, it gives me great courage and comfort to see your soul and spirit rising, your heart gaining stature and strength, holding fast to the truths you believe: God is in control. He is good. I am His. I can trust Him in life. I can trust Him with death. It is well with my soul.
“Daddy was an old man–he would have been 90 last Sunday had he lived a few more hours–but he was not a bitter old man. In fact, I’d say he was quite the opposite. During my childhood he had been a distracted father, like many other fathers–too busy climbing the corporate ladder to climb trees.
“But retirement brought a slower pace and a sweetness to his life. Marrying Grammy sure helped. He was so soft and sweet, as a matter of fact, he sometimes annoyed the heck out of me, telling me every time I saw him how much he loved me and how proud he was of me.
“’I love you E-baby.’ ‘Do you know how much I love you?’ ‘Have I been a good father?’ ‘Is there anything that’s come between us that we need to talk about?’ We had many heart-to-hearts the last few years of his life. Daddy had always been a great talker. He became a great listener, too.
“He seemed to me to be a life-sized zoom lens, focused in on the one thing he most wanted to leave behind for me–the truth of his love. There were times when I felt embarrassed by his fervent persistence in telling me–often times several times a day, or several times an hour.
“This was not the preoccupied-with-work daddy of my childhood. This was a preoccupied-with-love daddy who had the end of his life portioned out to him in months. And then weeks.
“Daddy wasn’t perfect. He’d be the first to tell you he’d been wrong and done some things he regretted, some things I wasted a lot of years being angry and bitter about. But he did at least one thing right. And to me, it was the most important thing of all: my Daddy loved me.
“When I got the call Saturday that he had died, I had a kind of epiphany: my Daddy loves me, I thought. He’s gone, but wow! I can still feel his love.
“What an inheritance love is. Even death cannot diminish it. ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.’
“Daddy, you nailed it.
“Do you know how I love you so?”
After the funeral, we met back at Grammy’s. She was talking about getting someone to haul off The Second Chance.
With Daddy gone, there wasn’t any point keeping it. She was hoping she could find the right person to give it to, who would fix it up and love it as they had.
Was there a second chance for The Second Chance?
In the end, she had to pay a service to haul it off at a cost of $3,000. Reality is rough. And second chances are expensive and hard to come by.
I’d rejected the chance to be Daddy’s confidante that Thanksgiving years before. I wasn’t ready. But I felt privileged to have had our recent heart-to-heart. It was my second chance to connect with him in a way he needed, and in a way I needed, too.
But it was costly.
There was the surrendering of pride and the humbling of repentance. There was the blood and death and resurrection of the One who enabled us. And there was the lavish luxury of forgiveness and grace. Now that he’s gone, there’s only joy and love left behind.
I’m so glad we invested in it together.