Making loss latter: a conversation with Dad
A few weeks ago I was forced into solo COVID quarantine for 5 days (this has become a theme on this blog, hasn’t it?). I left the house for a few walks around the block, but otherwise I was home alone. I spent the first few hours of Day 1 doing chores around the house and clearing my email inbox. Then I had “nothing to do.” So I listened to a few audiobooks, re-organized my golf bag, watched a movie and a blowout NBA game, and I even buffed out a scratch on my car. Yeah, I know, it was enthralling — you wish you could have been there.
I start with my list of time-passing activities because I don’t want anyone to over-spiritualize my quarantine. It was a really meaningful time of solitude, but I’m no monk and I often struggle getting into a contemplative rhythm in times of forced slowness. I think I checked the front porch for any packages about 50 times the first 2 days. Eventually my heart quieted and my mind didn’t want to “produce” anymore, and I started to more easily picture myself totally at ease just spending time with God. It just took me a minute to get there.
I want to share about one deeper theme that seemed to come out of my time: how our experience of loss can bring deeper meaning to our lives.
My quarantine happened to just precede the 5 year anniversary of my dad’s death. I can distinctly remember getting my positive COVID result and feeling some trepidation at the thought of quarantining alone while my dad’s passing was on my mind. Maybe that’s why I initially cleaned, organized, and distracted myself with stuff I could control. I knew I was avoiding the places my soul felt unsettled. I felt unsettled about my grief. I’d also been struggling with some negative self talk about my own ability to be the kind of father I want to be. I finally stopped and mustered up some courage and just asked God point blank what He might have for me regarding my grief. “Come, let’s look at your Dad’s picture.”
I went to his framed photo and —I know it sounds weird — just stared at his smirking face for a while. I felt God surround the moment, showing me in wordless ways how near God was to my father in all his wonderful complexities, how much I experienced God through my sonship to Dad, and how much I yearn to experience God in my own fatherhood path. I felt like I was back in an old growth forest with my dad, basking in nature and the bigness of the trees. Or body surfing next to him on the waves in Mexico like I had done on vacation as a kid. Except now I could really see God’s colors in each of those memories, whereas when you’re in the moment as a kid, you just see Dad. I can’t go relive those experiences — they’re now memories — however, being prompted towards these images from my upbringing was such a gift for my grief.
For a long time after Dad died I was rattled by the finality of death, but during my quarantine I felt like the conversation with Dad began again and could still happen. This excited me. It was the first time I’d felt some actual momentum come out of my life’s biggest loss. God reminded me that Dad is still here and those memories are saturated in present-day meaning, no matter how cliche. Meanings like God is good. Like love is real and it is near. Like loss can even be a blessing. Like God is present in every moment, even if I don’t sense it until it’s a memory. My faith needed these simple reminders. I feel less fear about future losses.
We experience big and small losses all the time — loss of people or love, loss of faith or confidence, loss of resources, loss of a convenience or ease, loss of control or of a dream, loss of peace, maybe loss of a physical place, loss of that initial excitement over something, loss of a plan you had, loss of feeling free and spontaneous. The blessing we seek is not to live without loss, but it is to live so that our losses have meaning and momentum.
While I pondered my grief, I didn’t sense God offering me answers to my questions. By putting myself back into those memories — in the woods and on the waves with Dad — I felt him remind me he is the Creator, not the Explainer. He was always creating something in my time with Dad, and he was always creating something in my loss. I admit it doesn’t make me OK with Dad being physically gone, but I was actually able to bless my loss. “I accept my loss and I bless it so it can always be welcome here.” If Dad isn’t really fully gone, then the conversation continues, and there really is no “arrival” or “end” to my story either.
Which leads to one last grace I gained: I tasted more self-compassion in my own struggle to be a “good” father. Because our losses don’t mean an end to the story, I don’t have to achieve anything right now — God has plenty of time to bring about meaning from who I am and how I raise my son — really how I do anything. Maybe all it took was remembering I’m not the Creator. Maybe it was seeing the complexities of Dad in the newfound light that God had been part of my sonship and Dad’s fatherhood from the very beginning. And therefore maybe God will create and reside in the complexities of my own fatherhood, too. I no longer felt lame about whatever pieces of “A+” fatherhood I felt I was missing. I was reminded I am part of a much, much bigger story — even Dad’s story is still being written as I find meaning in my loss. When the season is right, my hope is that you are granted some time to experience God compassionately moving in your grief — no matter how big or small the loss — and I hope you come to see where he is and where he has been the whole time.