Before I get to the content of today's post, I want to give you some reassurance. No, I will not make every future post about my dad or his death. Yes, I will soon move toward lighter content. I know you don't need to think about this as much as I do, so I'll do my best to make my public musings more relevant to the rest of you. This will hopefully be a bit of a transition piece to move in that direction.
Death is hard, although I don't know what it's like to experience it first hand. We'll all learn that experience someday, but until then we can only speculate. My statement is about the second hand experience: permanently losing contact with a loved one, being near them when they lose the ability to respond to those around them, and watching as moving and breathing becomes more and more difficult for them. This is hard.
I've heard some very "traditional" Christians make comments about death that I still can't understand. They have said (or implied) that death shouldn't be hard for Christians. They have said that because we believe in life after death that far surpasses life on earth, we have nothing to be sad about. To this, I call BS. And this is where my crisis of faith begins.
The above statements are more of a half-truth, and the half isn't always easy to believe in the heat of the moment. The other half is about a person being permanently absent from your life, and for me, the second half tried hard to overshadow the first half during the days after my dad's passing.
In the heat of the moment, when we went from a world with my dad to a world without him, I was flabbergasted by comments made by those around me (alternative reading: those with stronger faith than mine). The comments seemed to ignore the pain of the moment. As I knelt beside his hospital bed, unable to take my hand off of his arm, physically shaking from fear and sadness, they made what could almost be described as jokes.
I remember my aunt saying that dad is in Heaven dancing now (his legs hadn't worked well in over a year, and he hadn't been out of bed in over a month), and my mom's response that his dancing wouldn't be a pretty sight given his dancing skills. She actually laughed just moments after he passed, saying how glad she was that he was finally done being stuck in this stupid, broken body that had held him back for so long. I could not comprehend the joy that was expressed in this moment.
I remember my brother's commentary on watching his final moments. We had both watched him after he took his final breath, and we saw the physical signs of life taper off. He said that this was a neat thing to see, when I had watched it unblinkingly like a train wreck, terrified that his life would end yet knowing there was no other way. I could not comprehend the sense of awe that was expressed in this moment.
I remember the following morning, just hours after he passed, right before we settled into my mom's living room for the skyped church service that had been set up for my dad just a couple months ago (the whole extended family would join in this time). We disassembled the hospital bed and got it out of the living room, but there was a big "Happy Birthday" balloon still tied to the bed from my dad's 56th birthday celebration just 2 weeks before. I remember vaguely hearing of an idea to use the balloon in some form of memorial, but I didn't fully understand until 2 big bags of helium balloons showed up at our door. I watched as children, grandchildren, siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, and great nieces and nephews wrote final thoughts of encouragement to my dad, then stapled their notes to the balloon ribbons. I watched as everyone, young and old, brought their balloons into the front yard, and I watched as everyone released their balloons to the sky yelling a "Happy Birthday" to celebrate my dad's first day in heaven. I could not comprehend the excitement that was expressed in this moment.
I did not comprehend what I saw, but I was glad I saw it, because in the hours and days after these moments, understanding finally set in. While I was still filled with pain from the loss of my dad, I was encouraged as person after person shared their faith with me. With each act of faith, my own was restored bit by bit.
I began to have faith enough to believe that dad was in heaven dancing and running, but hoping that he focused more on the running to spare other Heaven-dwellers from the sight of his dancing.
I began to have faith enough to see that signs of life on earth are fleeting, and that the end of your heartbeat isn't the end of you.
I began to have faith enough to celebrate my dad's new life in Heaven.
We talked a lot about the "cloud of witnesses" last week, as mentioned in Hebrews 12:1. Others said that my dad joined the great cloud of witnesses and was now speaking up on our behalf, but that's not how I saw it. As I saw the great acts of faith in the wake of my dad's death, and as I saw the sheer number of people who were so touched by his life that they took off work on a Tuesday afternoon (even rode a motorcycle 5+ hours each way) just to attend his funeral, I saw a great cloud of witnesses surround my family and me, and this cloud of witnesses has restored my faith.
Because death is hard, and because I needed so much support to get through this week, to everyone who surrounded us during this time, thank you. You probably didn't know it, but you restored my faith. I sincerely, wholeheartedly thank you.
Always moving forward,