Friday, March 11, 2011
Grieving Those Still With Us - Austin
Like joy, grief comes in many forms. Often it takes us by surprise. We think we are prepared, then find that preparing our minds fails totally at preparing our emotions.
No one lives forever here, and we grasp that without difficulty -- as a theory. But some people, even in long distance relationships, have entwined themselves in our lives so deeply that we cannot imagine a world without them.
Can this be the same man who moped around when he hit 50, because life was over? He's done quite a bit of living in the years since. Ninety-two is just nine days away as I post this.
In his 70's and 80's Dad was one of the key fund-raisers for the Canadian Leprosy Mission. With another man of the same vintage, they gathered scrap aluminum and copper, as well as old betteries and raised more than $50,000 each year. At 76 Dad set an age record for the zip-line at Camp Harmattan, and he still talked of getting roller-blades at 80, his wife telling him to act his age. On that particular birthday, Dad reached 80 push-ups, a goal he had worked toward for quite some time. It seems only yesterday that he would go for a walk and break into a jog.
Can this be the same man, tottering on uncertain steps, turning his body, then trying desperately to convince his feet to cooperate? Can this be the same man, who can still recite "The Cremation of Sam McGee," but asks the same question five times in 15 minutes? Can this man who relates stories from 70 years ago in minute detail, be the same one who cannot remember where 'home' is? Can this be the same man who moves so slowly from the couch to the phone, who has enough alertness to know he is losing some of his mental abilities, but no way to slow that loss?
How many times have I joked that he would outlive me, more than half expecting it would be true? How many times have I anticipated his line on the phone, "I'm pretty good for an old man," and somehow delighted in its predictability? How many times have I reflected on the richness of knowing he and Evelyn had prayed for my wife and I, each of our children and grandchildren -- by name -- within the last 24 hours? With close to 80 names in 10 extended families the last time I was present for one of those prayer times, there were mixups and prompts. But what price could you put on such a heritage?
Thirty-five years of daily prayer with Mom & Dad until Mom died in 1978. Thirty-two years of daily prayer with Dad & Evelyn. I'm getting up there, but that's more years of prayer than I've been around. They might have left millions for the seven families on Dad's side and the three families on Evelyn's side to squabble over. But how many millions would it take to balance this richer heritage of a lifetime of prayer? How many millions would it take to balance lives lived for God -- not perfectly -- but consistently?
I ache as I write this. I can hardly wrap my mind around this man who would still walk five miles a day two years ago, now shuffling in slow, uncertain steps. Yet in the midst of the ache, a deep joy wells up. Dad's time here is almost over, but he is finishing well. The losses hurt, for him and for everyone around him. But his faith in God remains strong. As we plan a trip west for another visit, the richest tribute I can pay him is to let him know my wife and I carry on this tradition of prayer -- daily -- for our children and grandchildren. I know the same thing is happening in most of those 10 extended families. These days it is also our privilege to be praying for Dad and Evelyn on a regular basis.
Dad's involvement in fundraising for the Canadian Leprosy Mission was integrally tied to his workshop. He stripped insulation off hundreds of pounds of copper and aluminum wire for recycling -- a tedious task, but somehow deeply satisfying for him. He also spent countless hours puttering with tools acquired over a lifetime, often reparing something for a neighbour who might be 40 years younger. Ranking someone else's losses is a dangerous thing, but possibly the biggest single loss in Dad's life since Mom died so many years ago was the loss of that workshop.
Those first years in a luxurious senior's complex wore at Dad. If he could have just gone out to the shop for an hour or two, the rest of it would have been a foretaste of heaven. He might have needed an ambulance on standby. His workshop had seen quite a bit of blood spilled through the years, but it had also left an imprint for good on many, many lives.
Grieving. . . It's a strange process. Dad is grieving a body that no longer does his bidding, and a mind that delights in the distant past, but is baffled by the present. Every one of his kids, the youngest past 50 now, grieves as well -- that this man who has seemed timeless, now somehow measures every day against a clock fast winding down.
Ah, but love is a rich, rich treasure. And we do not grieve like those who have no hope. For love, combined with a life lived for God and for others, leaves a legacy of immeasurable value.
Thank You, God, for Dad! And thank you Dad, for living your faith in God!
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