Last night as we pulled out of the driveway of my parent’s house, the overwhelming feeling of not doing something I should have done came over me. And then it hit me. I had not hugged and kissed my dad before leaving. I had not told him how much I enjoyed seeing him and mom.
I didn’t do these things because he was not there.
His body was over in a funeral home, where instead of getting the service times right in the obituary, they told my brothers and I how much we could save on funeral packages if we bought now.
On each of the eleven days in the hospital I told him how much he meant to my brothers and myself. How much he meant to my wife and kids. And mom. So he died and I watched, both of us, as he said, “with no regrets.”
So that’s not it. No regrets. But the realization that I’ll not tell him these things again in this life is beyond me. I understand the desire for the grieving to want to communicate with the departed much more now. Some do it because of regret, while others, like myself, have this emptiness because a habit of love has been interrupted.
The emptiness is only beginning, I know. Right now only the knowledge fueled by the memory of watching him take his final breath distinguishes this absence from his many other stints in the hospital. But the next two days of the visitation and funeral will make it clear he has gone on ahead of us and is not returning to his blue chair by the fireplace in the downstairs den.
Usually emptiness describes the lack of the presence of something. It is not a thing itself but the lack thereof. The emptiness signals the void where my dad once was. Sitting in the chair, smiling. Talking about books. Our kids. My dreams. So it feels like a thing…a thing I will walk around with for a good long while. It is nothing to what my mom will have to endure…lovers to the end, they were.
But it is a thing, this emptiness. And I am glad to have it.
The encouragement given by others of God being able to fill the emptiness is understandable. I get it. But I don’t really want him to. And I’m not sure that is what God is for. Do I want to be reminded of God’s love in the midst of the emptiness? Yes. Do I want to lean on the bare of God in the grief? Of course. But I want the emptiness to remain and even grow. Not so I can wallow in the pain but so that I can grow in it. Not in lieu of joy but because of it.
As we watched him die, a deep dread of emptiness hung heavy over me. But just as Jesus has conquered death and made it gain, so also the emptiness. The emptiness is not just a grim reminder of him no longer being with us. In all honesty, it is still that. Still. Still. But it is also the reminder of the gift that he was.
My mom and brothers and I have consistently talked of him as a gift. He was that. A tangible, living and breathing, smiling and laughing, poem-writing and ball-catching, tennis-playing and God-honoring, ministering gift of grace, always giving what he was. Always glad to graciously give himself and what he could. His life was a rare gift, and I am sure we will feel as if the gift has been taken away. And those will be bitter moments. But even as I write this I know there will be a sweetness too in the missing. The tears salty, the memories sweet.
The hope of the cross is wide and varied. One sliver of all that hope is the end of the emptiness we all feel. It’s end, when all the dead in Christ will rise and death will end and there will only be life and more life, world without end, and we will only know life, and death with all it’s rattles and disfigurements and shortness of breaths and those left behind to wait on hospice nurses and pronouncements of death and sales pitches from funeral homes – that will be forgotten, time out of mind.
Until then may we be glad for all of what the emptiness represents. All the memories. All that was. All that will be.