I went for a quiet walk the other day, to relax and sort my thoughts like the stacks of messages and notes on my desk. While gazing at the clear sky and breathing in the cool air, it dawned on me that it's been almost two years since my dad passed away. Honestly, it seems like yesterday.
I realize that many people grow up without a father, and I'm very sympathetic about that. Thank God there are great stepdads and stepmoms who have stepped into difficult situations and have been a much-needed tower of strength and stability in the life of a child.
Then I realized that everyone who manages to enjoy a normal life expectancy will eventually outlive their parents. This means that most of us will be required to go through the heartbreak of saying goodbye to those who were always the center of our universe. Whether you have already walked through this valley or if this event has not yet happened, we will most likely be left to continue in our winter years without our mom and dad.
When my wife, Cheryl, and I were married, our parents were in their early 40s and everyone seemed so young and filled with dreams and expectations. I guess this is why we were in shock when her dad passed away four years later from cancer at age 48. She remembers, as a tomboy, crawling under cars and watching him work on them. She did not have a clue what he was doing but just enjoyed spending quality time alone with him. Working on an old car was probably aggravating to him, but to her, it was exciting as she was like a nurse trying to figure out what type of wrench to hand him next or, more than likely, what size hammer he needed.
Soon after we married, we rented a little house in town, and on Saturday mornings after I left for work, her dad would stop by with doughnuts, and they would have some coffee and talk. Through the years, I've listened to her mention how much she misses him and what a large part of her security and safety disappeared. Now I understand.
It seems so strange when I think that my dad is no longer here. I remember the first few months, sometimes in the evenings, I would pick up the phone to call him. When I would come to my senses, I not only realized he's not there but he's never coming back. These are the moments we begin to understand how fragile life is and how we take our blessings for granted.
As we grow older, we begin to seriously comprehend we only have one father and one mother. Though many other dads and moms are listed in the obituary every day, our pain is unique because they are our parents and we are more closely connected to them than anyone else in the world.
It's only natural after they are gone to feel alone and to miss hearing their voice and listening to their thoughts and opinions about everything. You will begin to notice that you have some of your parents' traits and quirks, but that's OK because it makes you feel closer to them and appreciate them more than ever.
You will always be filled with their memories, and they will continue to mean more to you as time marches on. Even the simple things — like remembering your dad mowing the yard and watching his favorite team, or your mom putting the food on the table and giving you a big hug — become like one of the greatest movies you will ever see.
There is a poem by Diana Der-Hovanessian called "Shifting the Sun" that expresses so beautifully how it is to lose a parent. Here is one of the lines, "When your father dies, you lose your umbrella against bad weather, he takes your childhood with him and your sun shifts forever."
I cannot communicate as eloquently as she, but just as we will follow in the natural cycle of life and death, we are also filled with hope and joy to know this life is not the end of our journey. For those who are born again in Christ, our salvation includes the exciting and encouraging promise that one day we will be reunited with our parents forever.
William F. Holland Jr. is a minister and chaplain based in Nicholasville, Kentucky. Read more articles at billyhollandministries.com.