I’ve written extensively for my county’s newspaper, The Rockdale Citizen, about the hardship and grief associated with motherloss during the holidays and Mother’s Day (read it about it here and here). What about the loss of fathers during Father’s Day?
Grief hits us most profoundly when special occasions occur, especially firsts. This weekend, grief will confront me in a unique way because its my family’s first Father’s Day without Dad.
This thought hit me when I was shopping for Hallmark cards earlier this week. I had to get three instead of four: two for my brothers-in-law and one for my godfather.
I spotted a card that was from a child to “Pop Pop.” That was my children’s nickname for my father.
I looked at the card for a few minutes, wondering whether I should buy it just to have it and put it in my journal. I moved on, picked up another card with peanuts on it for one of my in-laws instead: “Happy Father’s Day from a couple of nuts.”
The trip to the card aisle reminded me just how helpless we all feel after the loss of a loved one.
For my family, personally, it is helplessness in the wake of the tragedy we experienced nearly ten months ago when a irate shooter killed three people, Dad included, in a town hall meeting in Ross, Pennsylvania.
As a result of a powerful firearm, we were rendered powerless and were torn asunder, not only from a great father, but a best friend to many.
Since that time, I have faced many firsts, and I have tried to follow the advice that I give parishioners who are in my situation.
We’ve started new traditions that honor my father, and we have grieved the loss of other traditions.
We acknowledge the loss, and we feel our way through our emotions as they come about. (Daphne Reiley accurately describes grief as a series of waves and undercurrents that ebb and flow each day in A Tapestry of Love.)
We draw encouragement from the Bible.
Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is especially helpful: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope…God will bring with him those who have died” (4:13, 14b).
I know we will be reunited in heaven, but the separation from our loved one feels like hell right now.
Prayer is also helpful, but sometimes falls short. Silence in the presence of God is golden.
Poetry has been the most helpful avenue of healing for me. I’ve picked up Book of Hours by poet, Kevin Young, a professor at Emory University here in Atlanta.
The book balances poetry about his own father’s death (in an accidental shooting while hunting) with the birth of Young’s first child. His poetry is a bluesy, meandering stream of consciousness that expresses the on-again, off-again nature of loss:
“Strange how you keep on dying–not once then over and done with…each morning a sabbath of sundering, then hours still arrive I realize nothing can beg you back.”
It’s helplessness in those lines, but also hope. “I do not want you to be uninformed,” Paul writes, its a timeless lesson echoing in my heart.
But uninformed I am. As Father’s Day creeps up on us, we will stand in darkness yet again. It feels like an old record skipping and repeating the same dirge over and over.
My only solace is that the day falls on a Sunday. My church family will comfort me, as I’m sure church families everywhere will comfort all who those who miss fathers on that special day.
We will celebrate too, because there are plenty of fathers in our midst that make up the difference.
And then there is our Father in heaven. Even when darkness falls, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds” (Psalm 9:1), because God is good (…all of the time; and all of the time…).