In the earliest days after my dad’s death, I could tell you exactly how many days he had been gone. Then the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months and the months into years. Yesterday was 4 years. It doesn’t seem possible. It seems like much less and much more at the same time.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him in some way or another. This year seems especially harsh because Papaw just passed away a week and a half ago and so many details of his health complications were similar to my dad’s.
Losing loved ones is always difficult to come to terms with. It’s hard to get back into a normal routine. It’s irritating to hear people complain about meaningless things when someone you loved has just died. It’s weird to see people around you continue on when your own world has come to a sudden stop. And it’s even weirder to realize a little ways down the road that life actually does go on.
When I write and talk about my dad, I rarely (if EVER) mention the kind of guy he used to be. When I think of him, I don’t think of that gruff, critical, sometimes austere man that he was until the last two years of his life. He had a really bad health scare exactly two years before he passed away and it changed him. It was like God handed him two more years and told him to make the best of them. Don’t get me wrong, my dad was a great man before. But he was a completely different person after that scare. He was the best version ever of himself, not without faults, but a wonderful guy nonetheless.
I don’t try to paint this picture of my dad as this perfect, unearthly being when I write and talk about him, though I sometimes realize it sounds like that. I grew up with him. I remember the not so good times. But the last two years of his life made such a deep, indelible impression on me of the changes that can take place in a person, those years taught me more than all the others combined.
A similar thing happened to Papaw during the last few months of his life. He has been gone 10 days now. When I first met him, he would ask me the funniest questions about God and my views on certain spiritual things. He knew I was a Bible university graduate and he had known some pretty intense people who made him think that all Christians were crazies who did weird things. (I’ve known a lot of those kinds of people and I believe that most of them have good hearts and want to love Jesus and love people, but sometimes they have interesting ideas and ways of showing they care.)
Over the years, Papaw would bring things up about Christianity and I was always so glad he felt comfortable enough to ask me when I knew he was weirded out about church and church people, for the most part. After he broke his hip several months ago, he nearly died. After many complications and after it was clear that he was going to make it, the doctors said that he was a miracle; he should not have lived with everything his body had gone through.
All of a sudden, this man who had always asked me questions about God and Jesus and the Bible with a very guarded heart was telling me that he had seen Jesus standing there at his side in the hospital through it all. Papaw asked us to pray with him daily, either there in person or on the phone when we called. I stood there one day with tears in my eyes as he shared with me how he had put his faith in Jesus.
It is amazing to see God change the heart of a person in an instant. No human being can do that. We will miss Papaw so much. He was a blessing to my grandma and they loved each other dearly. But knowing that we will see him some day in Heaven brings wonderful joy to our hearts.
Tonight I’m thinking of how richly blessed I am by loved ones who have already passed, loved ones still here with us and the hope I have in the Life to come.