Today is my dad’s 61st birthday.
He is not here to celebrate it.
He died in February after a sudden illness. He drove himself to the hospital on a Monday and on Friday he was gone.
My two sisters, their families, my mom and step-dad all live in Delaware and were able to be with Dad the first couple of days. My brother and I both flew in from across the country and arrived on Wednesday. My dad was awake and knew we were there taking care of him. All week, someone from our family was by his side around the clock. He was put on a ventilator on Thursday and by Friday we and the doctors were talking about withdraw care. We planned to discontinue the ventilator on Friday night after all the immediate family could arrive. He died on his own before our planned time.
My brother, one of my sisters, and I were all in the room with him. We watched his heart rate decrease steadily and quickly. The three of us said our good-byes and held each other.
Everyone else joined us shortly after. We prayed together, sang some hymns, and comforted each other.
The rest of the time I was in Delaware was a whirl wind. In addition to all the arrangements and everything that comes after someone dies, we also discovered that my dad’s house was completely hoarded and unlivable. My siblings and I estimate that we have not been in his house for over 8 years. He always came to visit us or would meet us at a restaurant. We knew that he had collections and a lot of stuff but we had no idea how bad it would be. It was overwhelming. We spent several days going through his house trying to find his most treasured possessions and collections (rare American flags, arrowheads, coins, antique glassware, etc). Along with anything else that we could salvage and use, give to family, or donate. By the time we had the memorial service, we set aside several things that we pulled from his house that represented his favorite things for the memorial display. This display did not even scratch the surface of representing what my dad loved but many people appreciated being able look at these things.
In the aftermath of going back home and dealing with other major changes in my life, I have felt guilty or saddened about a lot of things concerning my dad.
I feel guilty for not mourning my dad in a “typical” way. I did not cry while I stood by his bedside as he died. I did not cry at the memorial service. Although I occasionally get sad as I reminisce, I do not feel like I have truly mourned the loss.
I feel guilty for not having a healthy father/daughter relationship with him over the years… as the oldest I had the most strained relationship for a number of reasons. He made an effort in recent years but due to travel distance it made connecting difficult.
I feel guilty for feeling relief that he died instead of having to live with most likely years of rehabilitation and lifestyle changes.
I feel guilty that we did not know how bad his house was and that we were not there to help him deal with it and fix up the house so that he could be proud of it again.
I feel guilty because I do not remember at all the last time I was actually with my dad on his birthday.
I feel guilty that this is the only photo I have of my kids and their Grandpa Len (which was from two years ago):
Even with all of my guilt and sadness, I am finding comfort in interesting places. During my current college course we were studying the book of Ecclesiastes. It would not be my first recommended book of the Bible for comforting after death but the following passage spoke to my heart about my dad:
…When God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work–this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:19-20, NIV).
He was not a wealthy man but he had numerous possessions… all of which had sentimental value or purpose in his mind. We were very distressed when we discovered how my dad lived. We thought he must have gave up on life. However, when we had his memorial service half of the people there were people from his job which he loved. We heard story after story of how my dad blessed others with things he found at stores or antique shops that he thought they would like. This passage gives me hope in the fact that even though we cannot change the outcome of how my dad lived, he truly enjoyed his possessions and blessing others with them.
I pulled out all of his blue cobalt glass for myself (this photo only shows about half of it). He regularly sent me blue cobalt and I will truly treasure this collection among the other things that I kept for myself.
We also filled a bin with various glassware and gave it to a downtown restaurant near where my dad lived. We went there for dinner one night and noticed that they had plates hanging on the wall that matched a pattern in the house. We talked to the restaurant owner and she was thrilled that we were offering her these items. She said that she would display and/or use everything that we gave her. My dad would be proud to know that people would be able to see and enjoy his collections.
I know that everyone mourns differently. I know that the grief will hit me hard at some point. I know that my guilt and sadness will subside eventually. Maybe reminiscing and taking pleasure in my dad’s belongings that I kept for myself will be my way of grieving.
Today, I will eat some cake and sing “Happy Birthday” to my dad because he is going to have the best birthday he has ever had… with Jesus!