Several years ago, I worked as an assistant teacher for elementary school students who did not speak English. One of my tasks was to read to them, and to have them read to me. I would take them on trips to the library often, and while they read, I would find a quiet corner to read my favorite book there, The Invisible Ladder: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poems for Young Readers by Liz Rosenberg.
There was a poem I would often read, The Race by Sharon Olds. I thought is was a perfectly written poem, and I found it fascinating enough to read it over and over again. It was the story of a woman who had just received the devastating news that her father was dying, and she needed to hurry to the hospital if she wanted to see him one last time. In her poem, she takes the readers through the agony she feels as she tries frantically to make the journey, the drive, asking for directions, taking a flight, and finally arriving. As you read it, you can’t help but get so drawn into her emotional state, and somehow you begin to feel as if it is you the one who is running like crazy, trying to catch your breath while hoping and praying you will make it…
I feel like I understand her now.
Last year, I said goodbye to my hero, and my biggest fan; my father. I remember everything about that day. It was April fourteen, and I was in Germany at the time, traveling to the town of Saarland with a team from Abante International. Our job was to spend a weekend with a pastor and his children, who were planting a new church in that town, which is located on the border between Germany and France. We worked with the youth helping to train them on friendship evangelism, and how to become more than just a Sunday experience church. Our team helped them organize and plant their first church service at the local Cine (film) House. They call their church the CineChurch because they meet at this film house.
During the service that morning, I was asked to give a short testimony, and whenever that is asked of me, I always talk about how my father became a Christian by reading his bible, alone in his bedroom. Every time I tell the story, I feel strengthened in my own walk of faith. His testimony has always been a source of inspiration, and every time I get an opportunity to share it, I do it without hesitation. When I finished the story, our team sang what I now believe to be such a fitting song, Your Love Never Fails by Chris McClarney and Anthony Skinner (if you listen to the words you would understand).
As soon as we went back to our seats, My husband preached a very short sermon, and when he sat, he showed me where he had received a text from home. I noticed him texting back and forth when suddenly, he grabbed my hand and rushed me away, as if we were in a Korean Drama, where that sort of thing is common. He kept looking for an unoccupied room, going up and down stairs like a desperate man. He told me to wait by the stairs, and not to move, that he needed to take me somewhere.
Somehow, while I waited there, I remembered that poem, The Race, and I felt anxious, sad and scared, much like the author. My heart beat so hard, I thought it would come right out of my chest. Somehow, I knew what would happen next. After a while, my husband came back, rushing me into the theater, by this time an empty stage and a few volunteers packing up. We sat there in silence for a few seconds, and then held my hand, and looking right into my eyes he told me the words I did not want to hear, “I’m sorry. He’s gone. Your dad is gone…”
To say I have cried a lot would be an understatement. The truth is, a year later, I feel the loss just as fresh and real as that day in Saarland. However, time has been good to me. I am beginning to feel the healing take place, and I am treasuring the memories, not so much for the nostalgic feeling of not being able to make new memories with him, but for their value. I am finding more reasons to celebrate him, and I am smiling through the pain, more often. My father modeled for me a life of great faith. That is a gift I value greatly, therefore, I can say that although saddened and confused at times, and although a bit shaken, my faith in my loving and faithful God continues to be ever so strong. After all, my ways are not His ways, and my thoughts are not His thoughts. He remains forever sovereign.
My family celebrated my father’s passing beautifully. My mother prepared a special evening with close friends and family at her home in Puerto Rico. She prepared comfort foods, and brought out my dad’s pictures, which prompted a good and healthy time of sharing stories about him. My sisters took the day off, some planted a tree in his honor, others took a vacation and got away somewhere quiet, while I did what I usually do, write. Nevertheless, we all managed to celebrate him on our own way.
My husband had something special prepared for me, in order to help me get through the day. Starting early in the morning, He picked me up at the airport, where I had just arrived from Germany (ironically, I was in Germany at this time last year), and took me on a peaceful getaway. He then, prepared an activity for the entirety of April fourteen. I found the first of what would be a number of texts with photos of my father, and leading questions about my relationship with him. This went on all day until the evening. His idea was for me to not to escape the pain, but to embrace, and find beauty in it. It was very thoughtful and truly helpful. His last text read: “I want to encourage you to embrace the pain of the loss. Hold it tight–it will struggle to control you, but hold it tighter. Soon and very soon, it will stop struggling against you. The pain will sigh, take a deep breath and resign itself to your authority. Then you’ll find that it embraces back–and what you once thought was pain, turns out, are precious memories and life lessons to make you smile and be successful.”
What a beautiful message! It encouraged me so deeply…
I can’t hardly believe it has already been a year! Time waits for no one. A year later, I have shed tears, smiled while reminiscing, and encouraged myself in the knowledge that the man I shared so many stories with, is in the arms of a loving God, spending quality time with the one he so passionately believed in. My heart is at peace.