He is not here

Part of me thought I would find him here. But he’s just as gone here in Florida as he is back in Indiana. Re-experiencing the loss feels as fresh here as it was two months ago when he took his last breath. I walk into his closet, at the Florida condo, and pick up his shirts, his shoes, his pajamas, his baseball hats. I hear him ask me which one I want to wear, as he knows I will come looking for a cap to hide my frizzy hair from this humidity.  I see him in my memory tossing each one at me… “Cape Cod? Copperleaf? Lexus?” He names them all according to their embroidered logos. I tease him that he shouldn’t throw them at me unless he wants to give me another scar on my lip like the one I have from the book he tossed at me when I was little. I choose Copperleaf as it reminds me of his love of golf – or at least the love of being with his friends, on the course, enjoying the warm Florida sun.

During my first bike ride around Bonita Bay, I let the tears burn my already sun-kissed face as I recall the image of us sitting in the oncologists’ exam room as we learned that the cancer had spread to his lungs and pelvic bones. He turned to my mom and with all the energy he could muster in his worn-out body, he lifted his head and said, “I guess we’re not going to Florida,” and then let his chin fall back to his chest. My heart shattered in that moment. He loved it here. He loved being with my mom and their friends and my family and my brothers and their families. He worked so hard to earn all of this and he shared it with us so unselfishly, so graciously.

He should be here, I thought, as I rode the trails he loved to ride with Lily, their fluffy, white Maltese in his basket. God had different plans, however, and I wonder how long it will be until I can fully accept that he is gone from this earth. Perhaps it’s a hard pill to swallow because he enjoyed this life so much. I could tell he didn’t want to go. Those last days of his life, he fought and fought to stay alive. He called out to God over and over until he finally slipped into a coma. When he finally took his last breath, it was so obvious he was gone. There was absolutely no life in this man who had been so full of it. (I can hear him now: “Yep, I was full of it, alright.”)

Yet he still lives on in the memories of our rich history and in the reminders that call him to mind. Yesterday, I saw him at the table full of men enjoying lunch and laughter at De Romo’s. I see his hands in my own as I hold the book he loaned me last year. I feel him hovering nearby as I sit on the bench at our mutually favorite writing spot, overlooking the Imperial River. I hear him asking us to get in the car so we’ll make it to church on time. I see him sitting on a lounge chair, watching my boys and their cousins throw the football on the beach. I see him lying on his stomach, next to Asher, as he looks under the leaking refrigerator trying to diagnose a problem. I see him lagging behind on his bike as he and the boys ride to The Ship Store, next to Backwater Jack’s, so he can buy them ice cream first thing in the morning – because that’s the type of grandpa he was.

He was a man who lived with passion and poured so much into our lives that it’s no wonder our hearts break a little more at every turn. At church this morning, I tried to imagine how Mary felt when she thought she had lost her Jesus. How upside down her life must have seemed. The shock she no doubt experienced as she stumbled through those first hours and days… until she encountered him again. Hope fulfilled in the living Christ.

I walk with faith, albeit sometimes small, that my dad – who was a believer and follower of Jesus Christ – is more alive than ever, that he will live  in Christ forever. In my sorrow, it is hard to grasp but due to the resurrected King, I believe he is okay, that he’s healthy and strong and filled with a complete joy like never before. Until we meet again, I will continue to recite the Serenity Prayer, and pay particular attention to the second verse which holds out the hope to which I cling… for my dad and for all of us:

God, grant me the serenity to

Accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can,

and the Wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;

enjoying one moment at a time;

accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;

taking, as He did, this sinful world

as it is, not as I would have it;

trusting that He will make all things right

if I surrender to His Will;

that I may be reasonably happy in this life

and supremely happy with Him

forever in the next.

Three of my four boys adding flowers to the Cross at church in honor of their grandpa.

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