Exactly one month ago today on June 2nd, I received a “phone call that changes your life forever.” My mom called me from Hope4Cancer in Mexico telling me that Dad had passed away. Just this week my dearest brother Gabriel sat listening to me talk about that moment and some of the thoughts I’ll now share in this post. It was the first time I’ve recounted to anyone what rushed into my mind.

I remember sitting there and simply not saying anything at first. I knew from the moment that my phone rang what I would hear on the other line and I had somewhat prepared myself, though I held on to hope. I sat in my chair listening and asking questions while Jaclyn took the kids into their rooms to put them to bed. Mom and I spoke for a little while, both realizing the weight and heaviness of loss overwhelming our hearts. And when I hung up the phone I stood at our back door looking out into the night. A moment later I felt soft arms wrap around my waist and I whispered to my wife the words I have long feared to say, “Dad is gone.” I turned and we embraced and wept together, longing for my tears to arouse me from some dream I had slipped into the evening before. But it wasn’t a dream. With each phone call I made to family and close friends, the reality of what was happening in my life began to sink in: My dad was gone.

If you know me at all, you know that I’m a thinker and a processor. I don’t respond quickly or irrationally when emergencies come. I have to dwell upon it and work out things in my head. I’ve wanted to share thoughts on my Dad’s passing beyond what I said at his funeral but have needed time to think through issues and allow it to work out in me what my “new normal” of life is to become.

Gabriel asked me this week, “What has been the toughest part for you so far?” I hadn’t really considered that question yet and I am grateful for someone so dear to my heart to ask probing questions that help me see the broadness of a situation. And when I stepped back and looked at it all, the only thing I could say was, “The fact that your dad is no longer there. Your teacher, mentor, provider, counselor – the man that taught you to be a man…he’s gone.”

Ever since Dad passed on I have felt an overwhelming sense of burden and leadership for my family. Not just my wife and kids, but my mother, sister and brother-in-law and all our kids. When a patriarch passed away in the Old Testament, the leadership of the household passed on to the first-born son. It was his responsibility to take up the mantel of leadership for his entire household and shepherd the family. Whether or not anyone else feels this way when their father passes, I certainly have the last month. The last time I sat privately with Dad was Memorial Day before he and Mom flew to Mexico. And in that hour he conveyed to me his wishes if the worst should happen while he was away. I think this burden began to settle on my heart then, and came rushing in when I received Mom’s call on June 2nd. The need and desire to take care of my widowed mother is overwhelming at times. To make sure that my sister is taken care of, though she has an amazing husband who shepherds their home, therefore I feel the burdened lessened. Whether I should feel this way or not, I do not need an answer. I believe that any son should feel responsibility for his family when his father passes on and to feel otherwise I would be ashamed to account myself his son. I believe it to be a matter of honor for a son to take up his father’s mantel and continue leading in his stead.

Over the last month I have heard every Christian cliche I can think of hearing. And I say this with a smile because I do not mean for my words to be harsh. While I know that many have the best of interests, at times I wish people would simply learn to be quiet. Not knowing what to say in those moments is quite alright. Saying nothing at all but simply being present, embracing, and “weeping with those that weep” is enough. The overwhelming love, compassion and support for my family, not just since Dad passed away but since he was diagnosed, has communicated in action what no cliche or words can ever express. I realize people have the best intentions, but can I simply say, learn to open your arms, embrace, weep, and be present. For those in the midst of tragedy, that is all that is needed or required.

Knowing that “He’s in a better place” does a little bit to calm the swelling tide of emotion in my heart. I have often struggled between what I “know” and what I “feel” over the last month. Knowing with certainty that the claims of Jesus are testable and true as is his death and resurrection – knowing that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord – knowing that Dad is no longer suffering – but feeling a pain of loss – feeling that a great light in your life has been snuffed out – feeling the overwhelming sense of separation that hits you like a ton of bricks on more occasions than you’d be willing to admit. Knowing and feeling has been a struggle for me. At times “knowing” has given me strength and at others “feeling” has made me feel less mechanical and more human. I find comfort in Paul’s words, “…we do not mourn as those without hope.” Ah…”hope.” What a wonderfully meaningful word that bridges the gap between what I know and what I feel, that helps me accept my new reality, that helps me see things from a new perspective.

The question many seem to ask in moments of tragedy, particularly with someone like Dad, is “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But this is a bad question I think. The reason I believe it is a bad question is that it stems from a sense of entitlement. “If I’m a good person then I deserve for good things to happen to me.” But the truth is that nothing is owed us, is it? Every breath we breath is a gift and an opportunity. The truth is that I believe bad things are sometimes allowed to happened to good people because it is in the darkest of nights that the smallest of lights burns the brightest. And throughout Dad’s sickness the last year and a half right through to his death, his light was certainly shining the brightest in his world.

I remember Dad telling me as a small child that  he had prayed, “Lord, if any great sickness is to come upon my family, let it fall upon my shoulders.” I have not shared that with many. And whether the Lord diverted sickness to him as the leader of our home instead of allowing it to come upon the rest of us I do not know. But one thing I do, setting his face like a flint, taking up his sword and shield I envision my dad stepping in front of any train coming toward his family. Do you know what that type of example does to a son? Do you know the sense of honor that instills in me? In a world where honor, valor and chivalry seem to dwindle – from the time I was a child my dad believed them to be alive and well in the hearts of any man who would take them up and bear them on their breast. To take up position around his family to protect, guide, discipline, and lead down the right road. That is the man in whose shoes I must now fill.

Was he perfect? Did he have some rough edges? I suppose everyone has some imperfections and rough edges they’re trying to work out. But a good man is not remembered for his imperfections. He is remembered for his valor. He is remembered for his honor. He is remembered for his generosity. He is remembered for his character. He is remembered for his love. He is remembered for his strength as well as his willingness to admit his weaknesses. He is remembered for being present. He is remembered, not by what he has done, but who and what he has done it for.

I suppose these are my thoughts on July 2, 2011, one month after my dad’s passing from this life. The challenge to be a good man, a good husband, and a good father is ever before me. Now so much the greater. Ironically, death has a way of challenging our perspective on life. When the good pass away, those of us that linger are left with an abiding question, “What now will you do with the remaining life that is accounted to you?” I know my answer. I hope and pray you are able to find yours.

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