Monday, March 16, 2015

Dear Bob...five years later

Five years ago, less one month, I wrote a letter to Bob giving him an update.  Now five years later, I wish to do the same:

Five years ago this week, you left this earth for heaven.  I was 41 years old, Hannah was 16 years old, Noah was 15 years old.  I'm 46 now (not much change) but Hannah is now 21, almost 22 years old.  Noah is 20 years old.  And they have changed so much. 

Do you see them?  Do you get a chance to check in?  Any windows in heaven from which to peer down and check things out?

Hannah is graduating from Calvin in a few months.  You wanted her to go there, while I still was holding a bit of a grudge and wanting her to experience a broader mindset.  You would be proud of her.  She has a triple major.  I know, I know, a high achiever...and you aren't surprised.  We saw that in her before she turned two years old.  Psychology, Social Work, and French are her majors.  She already talks and acts like a social worker.  She is putting in 400 hours for her internship, as well as working two jobs, and still keeping her grades up high enough to continue to be blessed with scholarships.  She will take one extra semester in France this fall to finish her third major.  But Hannah has been sad since you left.  Five years of sad is a long time.  She has been tired since you left.  She wonders whether God hears her.  She misses you so - your wisdom and your counsel.  She is sad to be graduating without you being present.  I miss her happiness, her freedom, her spontaneity.  I often wonder what you would say to her if you were here.  I often feel inadequate to walk her through these tough days.  I have to remind myself that she is God's child and He is forming and shaping her through challenges to fulfill the purpose for which she was created.

Noah is a junior, with one year left at Calvin.  You would be proud of him too - of course, that might be easy as he is like you in many ways. He is sensitive and compassionate.  He is a good listener and may have a gift of counsel.  Just the other day, as he made his way home for spring break (and I am not there to welcome him but am in Kenya), I sent him a message on Facebook letting him know that I would put money in his account so that he could order a pizza and get some soda that night.  His response was, "Mom, you don't have to feel guilty about not being here, yknow."  Sometimes he is too smart for his own good.  He is an RA this year at Calvin; last year he was the floor chaplain.  He has put so much of himself into this work, willing to give up privacy and so much time to serve the young men on his floor.  He has put more time and priority into being an RA than into his classes.  He really has only one more semester at Calvin as he will take his last semester in Washington DC while he sorts out how to get into foreign service work.  While he may not appreciate the institutional church (which he reminds me that you struggled with as well), his faith seems to be deepening.  Oh yeah - and he finally dyed his hair blue.  He told his dorm that if they raised $1500 for charity, he would dye it blue for interim.  That made for some interesting conversations as he had lunch with the new Calvin President, as well as the former leader of NATO.  
You can kinda see the blue hair.

Your mom just had surgery in Grand Rapids.  The one year anniversary of Keith's death just passed recently.  She seems to be doing well, with lots of help from Don and Caroline, as well as Denny.

As for me, I'm adjusting to being married again.  You told me that you hoped I would marry again if you ever died, and that you hoped it would be someone who loved me well.  I can assure you that that is the case with Michael.  Our friendship and our love grows deeper every day.  That doesn't negate my love for you and what I miss about you in my life.  I miss our ministry together.  I miss our coffee time in the morning processing life.  I miss your silly songs.  I miss your cooking.  I miss your ministry to so many people.  I miss how confident you made me feel in our ministry as you encouraged and spurred me onward.  So many little and big things are missed.  And we still mention you almost daily at the house - you continue to be wrapped in and through who Hannah, Noah and I are. 

At your memorial service, we sang "When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise, than when we first begun."  I wonder how that feels for you.  It seems so long since you left.  It seems so long since I've heard your voice.  I'm thankful for the videos we have to remind me.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says this about loss to which I say, "Amen!"

"There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve -- even in pain -- the authentic relationship. Further more, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.”

Hannah also makes it a yearly tradition to write a letter to her dad.  She agreed to let me share a portion of it on this blog:

Hi Daddy,

I can't believe it has been five years.  My life has changed so much but sometimes it does not seem real.  Sometimes I think it hasn't fully registered with me that you are really gone.  Sometimes I think I see you on Calvin's campus or a customer will come into work and for a second I will see you before I realize its not you.  In those moments there is a part of me that is hoping that this was all some elaborate scheme.  You and mom were going to get a divorce and you did not want to tell us so you faked your death; or you were needed on a top-secret mission to save the world and faked your death so you could do your work.  But the whole time you were looking out for me, just in the shadows so I would not see you except for a glimpse now and then when you forget to be careful until one day when you can come up to me and tell me you love me and are proud of me and tell me you were there the whole time and you were sorry you had to leave for so long.  And I would be so happy to see you, and so angry that you left, but none of it would matter because you were here now.  My mind creates all this in a matter of seconds because you can't actually be gone.  I won't actually have to go through the rest of my life without you.  That can't be.  And then, with a jolt, I am brought back to reality.  Sometimes it takes a lot of strength to bring myself back.  Sometimes it takes a lot of strength not to crumble when I have to face reality again...

...A couple months ago, one of my professors who you knew told me that you would be so proud of me; I hope so.  I know a lot of people tell me that- they tell me how proud you would be, what an amazing man you were, how they see some of you in me.  I hope that is true too.  And as much as their words are important and touching to me, it will never be you saying it to me.  You will never congratulate me on getting through college.  You won’t be there when I go to France and have a crises and just need some advice.  You won’t be there when I get my first social work job and cry because it is so emotionally taxing.  You won’t be there to comfort me when I wonder if I am cut out for social work or to get me through rough situations when I do not know how I can continue without breaking.  You won’t be there when I get through graduate school.  You won’t be there when I discover a job that I am passionate about.  You won’t be there when I am dating someone and don’t know whether or not to say ‘yes’ to his proposal.  You won’t be there to vet the guy and make sure his intentions are good.  You won’t be there when I say yes to celebrate with tears because your little girl is getting married.  You won’t be there to give me away.  You won’t be there when we have our first fight and I don’t know what to do.  You won’t be there for all the good times or all the bad times.  You’re just gone.  And there are days when I just cannot accept that and there are other days when I can barely remember a time when I was not a girl who lost her father.  Sometimes I am scared I will lose your voice entirely.  Then I remember all the blogs you wrote and the videos we have of you and I praise God for modern technology that allows me to still hold on to you as much as I can.   

So why am I writing it?  Am I really that delusional?  Do I think that God has a big screen in heaven that allows you to read what I write to you?  Or do I think you are a ghost who follows me around and can read this over my shoulder?  Why write to a person who is gone?  Why write when you can’t hear me or see me or talk to me or hug me or comfort me as I cry?  Am I really still clinging on to the idea that you are really here so tightly?  Do I think that maybe someday you will be able to respond?  Maybe I hope one day to wake up and find a message under my pillow, like when you pretended to be “Selah” my tooth fairy- evidence that while you may be gone, you’re still kind of here. Shouldn’t the shock be over with?  Shouldn’t I have been able to accept your death by now?  Clearly it’s not, since even in this letter I have avoided saying that you are dead.  Cause it just is not possible.  

 In the last five years, I have been picking up those shattered pieces.  I picked them up and put them together, but the result is not the same.  There is a big hole in those plans, because those shattered pieces shattered into ash which we scattered by a tree in Bliss, Michigan as the last physical remnants of the daddy I loved most dearly.  The hole you left can’t be filled.  But, in the last five years, I made the pieces that remained into a new sort of shape and design.  The hole you left is a big part of the design, but it is no longer the whole design.  I have grown and made something of the rest of the pieces that I think will be good, even if it will always be missing something vastly important.  I don’t want time to keep marching forward.  I want time to have stopped on March 19th, 2010, or even before that when I was a little girl and you were my strong father, without worrying about boys and college and my future.  I want my wanting to be effective, but God does not work that way in my experience.  

Anyways Daddy.  I love you so much.  I always will and will always feel your absence keenly.
I love you forever.
I'll like you for always.
As long as I'm living,
My daddy you'll be.