My father’s life and personality has been my strongest influence, for better and worse. As he grows older, there is joy and sorrow in every visit as I sit surrounded by the bones of my father’s life.
This week I’ve traveled across the nation to visit my father. He is in an assisted living facility now after battling with some memory loss issues for several years and having had a small stroke.
It is emotional for me to watch from afar while he deals with losing the pieces of himself.
I’ve been able to tell he is losing ground in this fight. He used to be a Christian counselor and write computer code, but now can’t often remember how to log onto Facebook or focus long enough to read one of his treasured books, even his Bibles lay untouched.
We’re keeping busy with visiting several times a day, but at night when it’s quiet, the emotions start to overwhelm me.
I’m surrounded by the bones of my father’s life and the ghosts of our family.I'm surrounded by the bones of my father's life and the ghosts of our family past. Click To Tweet
Since his move is relatively recent, I’ve been staying in his now empty home. He left rushed away in an ambulance, so despite being cleaned and prepared for my arrival, it is a bit like visiting hastily evacuated ghost town, pieces of life lay scattered, left abandoned as if he will return any moment.
I found piles of old pictures from before I was born. One of my mother that was particularly beautiful, a college graduation photo, I believe.
Another from when they first were married in which Dad was trying to steal a kiss and mom was playfully pushing him away, laughing.
I don’t remember those people. Carefree and in love, full of laughter. I look at the photo and wonder what they were thinking and feeling. Who were they before we came along?
Would I have been friends with this twenty something military couple? As an army wife myself, now, it’s interesting that my mom started her marriage that way, too.
I know these quiet moments of visiting this silent past are a whisper of my future. Someday soon, I’ll be helping put his life away as we say goodbye on this side of heaven.
Last night, I found piles of letters from him to us. I remembered some of them, but a few were never sent.
I hear his ache to have security in the salvation of his children, for us to know how deeply we were loved, and for us to understand who he was.
In one letter, he addressed a section to each of his daughters. My breath almost caught in my throat when I saw what he wrote. He wrote about my deep understanding of people and growing discernment in Christ, but wrote that I would have to learn, probably through failure and pain, servant leadership, rather than my forcefulness.
God’s been showing me the need to serve, lead by example of humility. And here in this letter, written decades ago, my father saw those same strengths and struggles that I’m finally bringing to God.
Even in this mixture of joy and grief, trying to celebrate the life he has left, while mourning the pieces he has lost, he is still so entwined into my relationship with God.
I don’t know how the rest of his days will play out, but it has been really good for my heart to be here. To see him happily adjusting to this new reality, he is the encourager of the residents, pulling them out of themselves, cajoling smiles, harassing the staff playfully.
I’m learning how to love and honor him as my father in ways that matter to who he is now, but my heart is haunted by the joy and sorrow of who we all used to be while yearning for God’s continued grace in this journey of my father’s life.