The voice message was short. Upbeat.
“Hi, Julie. It’s your mom. Gimme a call. Bye.”
She also called my husband, though, which meant it was more than just a check in.
I dialled, late, on the way home, with the vehicle full of children running only on adrenaline. My husband hushed them, as she answered the phone.
I remember her words as shards. Our conversation in fragments.
“We’re in the hospital.”
“…but they’re keeping him over night…”
“…we were on the way to a funeral, but he asked me to go to Emory instead…”
I listened. Ben was driving, but my world stood still. Life sped past my window, driving through tiny towns, but it seemed like all that mattered was frozen while I tried to understand. To really gather, ingest, and absorb the information I was being given. I knew if I showed the slightest urge to emotionalize or make big what must be made little, the information given to me would lessen.
“Would you like to talk with him?”
“Well, hey, there!”
His voice has always been dark velvet. Soft, deep & warm. I swallowed the crack in my voice before I tried to speak.
“Hi, Dad. How are you doing?”
Hi, Dad. My dad. Don’t leave me, Dad. Not now. Not ever. Please. I’m not grown yet. I don’t have your voice recorded nearly enough. I can’t not be able to call you whenever I want. I want you to always be here, Dad. Please, Dad.
“Well,…” He went on to tell me about enzymes & potassium levels, & lungs – one side clear, the other, not. They were keeping him over night because they wanted to give him a stress test in the morning.
He was OK, & was thankful for such a good hospital. I asked him to have Mom text me when they start his test, & he said we’d work it out. He said he loved me. I echoed his sentiment, & we hung up.
I exited the car. Ben already had the boys inside the house, getting them dressed for bed. Neighbours on their porch called to me. Asked how my weekend had been. We made hard-to-decipher small talk before I finally said out loud for the first time, “My dad is in the hospital. Something is wrong… Maybe… with his heart.”
The words hung in the air like heavy balloons. The distance between us, & my lack of certainty, refused to let the words travel farther than a few inches from my mouth. They smiled & nodded, not understanding, but being polite. We waved good night, & I closed the door behind me.
Later my Ben asked me.
“Are you OK?”
“No. I’m trying to be. They say it’s not a big deal, but, I’m scared. I know he’s going to be fine no matter what happens, but… me. I’m afraid I might unravel. I can’t not have my dad.”
This world keeps throwing such heavy blows. It seems the more I get to know the people in my life, the more I see how much hurt the heart can carry.
& it’s immeasurable.
Every person breathing, is inhaling, in spite of great heartbreak. The more I learn of people’s stories, the more I see how prevalent suffering is. To live without a mother, or with a dying husband. To bury your child, or watch your best friend live it. So close, it’s your own pain, but doubled, sort of. A quarter at the least; the weight of your loss for her, yourself, & bearing the weight of her burden, too.
Communal life hurts.
Because death hurts. Because we weren’t meant to live this. And when we must, our bones cry out for peace. For cease. For suffering to end. For celebration to begin, & never… end.
I think of life, here, on this planet, without the father God gifted me with, & I want to burn the whole world down. Because he’s mine, & I want him. I want to always be able to hold his hand, & hear his jokes, & watch him swing a golf club & listen to him tell me how much he loves my boys & my husband. And me.
I don’t want the memories of his arms around my mother to dim. I don’t want to forget the scent of his skin. Or the scruff of his 5 o’clock shadow. Or his laugh.
At the end of this week, he will have open heart surgery. And when they open his chest, they will be opening mine. And my mother’s. And my sisters’ & my brother’s. Nieces’, nephews’ & my sons’. All open at the same time.
The machines that will breathe for him, & beat for his heart, will be working not just for his life, but to keep together those who feel like unravelling without him.
His doctor told him that even though he’s 80 (81 in July), he has the body of a 50-year-old, so he should recover nicely. I’m told it’s a common procedure, but it’s not common when it’s your father. It’s personal. Communal. It’s my procedure, too.
Just as the man sentenced for a crime he didn’t commit is a sentence for his family & friends. Just as the wife who mourns, daily, the depreciation of her husband’s quality of life, is a depreciation for their children, grands, friends & neighbours. We think our suffering is unique to us. That our hurt is not felt outside the four chambers of our heart, but the world aches with us.
He designed us this way.
To bear burdens. To cry together. To walk a hard path once, so we can walk the path with a friend later.
He entered into this. He wept. He cries for our losses. Even when He knew He could (& would, &will!) dry every tear. He wept because we weep. Because this wasn’t what He wanted for us.
But he does bring joy in the morning. In the mourning, too. He is always showing us, shouting at us, through the thick haze of our pain, “I am here. I am steadfast. I will never turn my face from you. Even now. I am here.”
The hands that held my own when I learned to walk this earth are a treasure and a gift. And I want to say, “It will all be ok, no matter what,” but if I don’t get to hold them this time next year, I will be unravelled. And if I am unravelled, & those hands are wrapped around those of my saviour, He will still be here. I will be allowed to mourn. A Christian mourning doesn’t make God less powerful.
If there is one thing I know about my Heavenly Father, it’s that He will surely turn my mourning into dancing.
I do hope, though, let’s be clear… I hope & pray that my sweet, earthly father will be dancing with me, here, for many more years. And that the scars we all gain from his surgery this week will bind us closer to each other & our Lord.