Last weekend was a busy weekend for us. The events that led up to this moment actually started way back in August, 2012, when my father passed away. He’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s several years earlier. He fought it hard, doing his best to stay up and moving, until he broke a hip. That pretty much ended his mobility, and so began the real downward slide in his health.
I was at the nursing home the day he died. At that point, he couldn’t get up out of bed, couldn’t move, couldn’t talk, couldn’t do anything for himself. I stayed for several hours that day, feeling like we were just waiting for death to claim him. Late in the afternoon, I left to drive an hour and a half back home to deal with kids and homework and daily life. About 20 minutes after I left, I got a phone call saying that he’d passed. And there was sadness, and relief, that he was no longer fighting his body’s inability to do what he wanted it to do. He was home with our Savior, he was healed, he was whole.
I remember the music I listened to that day. The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony.
Amazing Grace by Chris Tomlin.
Daddy’s chains were gone. He was set free. And there was some relief, because he’d always been larger than life to me. He worked hard with his hands to provide for us when I was a kid. He was a farmer, and it wasn’t an easy life. He was always on the move. I knew he wouldn’t have wanted to linger long in a body unable to respond to his will to get up and go.
Fast forward to the early morning hours of December 17, 2017. My phone rang in the dark, before my alarm went off. There’s no good news coming from a phone call in the dark of the wee small hours. Thing One was at his dad’s this weekend, and my first thought was, is he okay, is his dad okay, his grandfather? My ex’s wife (who I’m pleased to consider a friend) asked if I was sitting down. Never did I expect to hear what she said next. She told me Liz had passed. Thing One’s grandmother, Liz, my former mother-in-law and second mom and friend for over two decades, had died unexpectedly. She said she was having trouble breathing and to call the ambulance, and then she collapsed. She, too, was home, set free, in the presence of our Savior. But there was no relief there, just searing grief, much like when my own mother died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1994. There was no music, just the sound of my heart breaking and my tears.
So, a month and change later, here we are. My ex and my former father-in-law are slowly going through Liz’s things, and my stepmom is downsizing, moving out of the spacious house she and my father shared to a smaller house that she’ll be able to take care of more easily. This means I’m inheriting a whole lot of stuff – a curio cabinet that was filled with beautiful objects my mother amassed over the years, family quilts, purses, books, my grandmother’s china. We drove up to see them last weekend to load up the van and truck with memories and bring those memories home.
When you’ve got an hour and a half drive one way, that gives you some time to think. I thought about my mom, and her passing shortly after Thing One’s dad and I got married. She wasn’t crazy about the idea of my marriage, but she did it up right just the same. The wedding was gorgeous, and ten days later, she was gone.
I thought about my father, and how my mother had always been the buffer between us. We were both hard-headed and strong-willed, and I never had sense enough to say “yes sir” and shut up. There were a couple of occasions that I didn’t think we’d continue to stay on good terms without her there to help us communicate, and I had to make up my mind that he was the only father I had, and by golly, I wasn’t giving up on him. I recalled his tempers over things that seemed miniscule to me, but sure were important to him. I also remembered, when I split with Thing One’s dad, him telling me that he normally wouldn’t condone divorce, but he would stand behind me. That meant a great deal, coming from him.
I thought about Liz, how she had loved me from the moment she met me. The first time I walked into her home, she hugged me. I was not a huggy person, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this woman who just started hugging on somebody she’d never met! But I grew to love her, and since my mother died just as we were getting to the stage where she could see me as an adult, and we could start to be friends rather than just parent and child, Liz stepped into that role admirably. She told me that she had made a promise to my mother to look after me if the need arose, and she did. She loved me well, she loved Thing One well, and she adopted Brian and Thing Two as hers, too. It’s a remarkable woman who can welcome her son’s ex-wife’s new husband and child into her family. She blessed me, and I hope she knew how much. I want to be Liz when I grow up.
This song came on the radio as we were driving out of town that evening, and it seemed to fit so well.
And this is who You are
More constant than the stars up in the sky
All these years of our lives, I
I look back and I see You
Right now I still do
And I’m always going to
I have won
and I have lost
I got it right sometimes
But sometimes I did not
Life’s been a journey
I’ve seen joy
I’ve seen regret
Oh and You have been my God
Through all of it
Regrets? Sure. Joys? Absolutely. And how thankful I am that God has been my God through all of it. He has seen the big picture, and He will guide me until I, too, see Him face to face and get to hug my family members who’ve gone before me.