An Emptiness

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.

12 thoughts on “An Emptiness

  1. Drew Ramsay April 29, 2013 / 10:24 am

    Matt, Thanks for this post; I was blessed by it and the memory of my own father’s passing into the presence of the Lord. This verse has always been an encouragement to me-Proverbs 10:7 “The memory of the righteous is blessed (or a blessing……).” Sometimes memories or the righteous produce laughter and sometimes tears but all these memories of the righteous are blessings to the one(s) remembering.
    from your father in law

  2. fotomama986 April 29, 2013 / 10:55 am

    Shared grief pushes one to remember…I am praying for you and your family! Thank you for sharing your soul! God Bless You!

  3. Karen Krekelberg April 29, 2013 / 11:08 am

    Beautifully written, Matt. I had no idea that you had such a wonderful gift. Thank you for sharing. I certainly look forward to reading other things you have written. Your father was an incredible man, and I am blessed to have known him. Peace be with you and your family.

  4. Pam Burns April 29, 2013 / 12:40 pm

    I’m sorry for the loss of your dad. I’m praying for your family.

  5. Tony April 29, 2013 / 2:18 pm

    God bless you, for being such a blessing.

  6. Randy Latta April 29, 2013 / 7:59 pm

    Well said Matt. Your Dad was a true hero in my life. My parents divorced when I was 13 and Bobby was 12. Your Mom and Dad understood my homelife and always made me feel welcome. Your Dad taught me how to change a flat tire, and how to tie a tie. He was a gift to everyone.
    Randy Latta

  7. Lori April 30, 2013 / 4:11 pm

    I am so sorry to hear of your loss. Praying for you and your family.

  8. Allison Redd (@alredd) April 30, 2013 / 11:05 pm

    I know this emptiness. As someone told me, the pain goes away eventually, but the missing never does. This weekend I visited my Dad. We were supposed to leave Sunday afternoon, but I lingered, washing dishes and clothes and packing slowly. I think if I waited long enough, my mother would just breeze in through the door like she always did, still finishing one conversation and starting another. It has been almost 7 months now and I still expect that. Praying for you.

  9. teamredd April 30, 2013 / 11:09 pm

    I know this emptiness. This weekend we went to visit my Dad. On Sunday, we were supposed to leave that afternoon. I kept washing dishes and laundry, slowly packing, cleaning, doing whatever I could because somehow I felt if I waited long enough my Mom would just breeze through the back door, still finishing one conversation while starting another. It’s been 7 months and I still expect that. Praying for you. This was a beautiful piece and I’m glad the internets have let me find my way to your writing. Thank you.

  10. pastormike333 May 1, 2013 / 12:16 pm

    Simply exquisite, Matt. I have not yet walked through this sadness, but your words help me feel deeply what it’s like. Peace, friend.

  11. Gregg May 30, 2013 / 10:45 am

    Those last two paragraphs struck me deep, “The hope of the cross is wide and varied. One sliver of all that hope is the end of the emptiness we all feel . . . Until then may we be glad for all of what the emptiness represents. All the memories. All that was. All that will be.”

    My grandfather is in the final stages of his life. I have thought of this post often over the last few weeks as I think about him and it has brought me comfort. I am sending the link over to my Dad, who along with my Mom, are his caregivers.

    Thanks, Matt.

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