Monday, 31 July 2017
Wishing for what’s lost
Yesterday, more family arrived and we started the last of the season’s celebrations. This one always leaves me longing because of who is missing.
Grieving my father over the last nearly 11 years has always meant looking back. I’m a fledgling adult again, exploring my personality and purpose, and I still worship him. I’m 21 and he’s the one I want to call when I get the job offer. I’m back in the house I grew up in, sitting on the floor and listening to him read the Christmas story for what I didn’t know was the last time. Then, I’m in the tiny bed on the third floor of that house in a bitterly cold January, waking up and wondering who’s crying, only to realize it’s me. Desperately wishing I could go back, that it wasn’t true, he couldn’t just be gone that fast. Begging God for a dream so I could see him one more time. If I could choose in that moment, I’d have lived in that dream forever.
That’s where our relationship ended, shocking and traumatic. So in my grief, that’s where I stayed, building an altar to what I lost.
As this year’s family gathering approached, for the first time, I imagined him in my life now. Nearly 11 years gone, I wondered if he and my mom, who would have just celebrated 40 years of a great love story, would have moved into a smaller home together, or if they’d held on to the Big Brown House, which would have been filled to bursting with all of us over the holidays. They’d be traveling even more. He would welcome this warmer-than-usual winter because he’d be golfing on the brown, stagnant grass on Christmas Eve.
He would delight in my children. When we tell them Grandpa Dennis is coming over, their faces would light up (especially Owen’s). Perhaps he would be more thoughtful, introspective as the gray around his temples began to spread.
He would still read the Christmas story every year, his gentle cadence dancing over the text almost from memory. Over the years, our big family would have shifted its rhythm slightly with each addition of spouse and grandchild, rather than taking years to find our footing after such a great loss.
It’s a fantasy and not completely accurate, because I would be different if he’d survived. His death changed me, changed my faith, changed my life’s direction, I think. It was simply a sweet early Christmas gift, seeing how he would have fit into my life now, how he would have looked at my children, the subtle ways he would show his pride and love for me. Although my grief still catapults me backward 11 years, seeing him now, and being seen by him, is what I long for.
The holiday season, with family close (or achingly absent) and routines laid aside, we slow enough to feel what’s missing. We turn introspective and wish for the way things could be.
But instead of wishing for what I’ve lost, I’m learning to see the abundance of what I have. I’m giving thanks not only for the blessings, but for how I was shepherded through the valley. I’m discovering how to appreciate what I look like now, emerging on the other side. It’s no longer what’s missing that defines me. Those ashes still stick to my heart and will always be part of me, but miraculously, God has shaped them into something beautiful. Into something that could not have been — not without the ashes.
And so he’s here anyway. I lift up my face, see what is, and give thanks.