Tag Archives: Loss




I am an associative thinker and tend to rely on analogies to help me interpret my world, particularly its more painful aspects.  And so, as I stood alone in the aft, transfixed by the cruise ship’s turbulent wake, a different wake, my father’s from three months prior, came readily to mind.

Close by the ship’s propeller, the water churned fiercely.  Yet, as the vessel moved on, I was consoled to see order and serenity gradually restored to the sea.  Perhaps the emotional aftermath of my father’s death will follow a similar pattern.  Time is essential, of course.  Time… and very much grace!

I have written elsewhere about my father (most notably in “The Red Sweater” http://wp.me/p3OG1U-3C), testifying to the healing work that God has already accomplished in me.  Tragically though, forgiveness does not always translate to reconciliation.  So, by my father’s choice, which I honored, for the past twenty-three years – his final twenty-three years – we were estranged.

Considering the painful distance between us in life, and now, that ultimate separation in death, I’m amazed by the significant space my father still occupies in my psyche.  Such is a son’s need, I guess, even as the son himself grows old.


A few years ago, I was called for jury duty.  At the courthouse, while waiting to go through security, I struck up a conversation with the man immediately ahead of me in line.  He was an African-American Protestant minister, who explained that his “calling” was to help broken-hearted men, of which there were many in his congregation.  He referenced the story of the Baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3 and made special note of verse 17, wherein God the Father’s voice is heard saying:

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

“That verse,” the good man observed, “is something every boy – and every man – aches to hear from his father.”

Quite unexpectedly, while inching toward courthouse security, I felt laid bare.  Fighting back tears, I desperately hoped that my vulnerability, my wound, went unnoticed by my new acquaintance… that healer of broken-hearted men.


When a loved one dies, memories sometimes come in a torrent.  In the wake of my father’s death, an all too familiar memory came yet again to me.

When I was a young boy of perhaps eight or nine years, my father made me a special promise.  “This Saturday,” he said, “will be our day. We’ll spend the whole day together, and we’ll do whatever you want to do.”

I was ecstatic!  Time alone with my Dad!?  Even as a child, or perhaps especially then, I had sensed the disconnect between us; but, maybe things could be different.

The days of that week could not pass quickly enough.

When Saturday came, I bolted out of bed and into the kitchen, where I found my mother, with a knowing smile on her face, already making breakfast for my father and me.  As we ate together, my father told me that he had a quick errand to run but thereafter the day would be mine. In fact, I could even accompany him on his errand.  It didn’t matter to me.  We’d be together.

While on the errand, my father ran into a co-worker, who told him that a number of their mutual friends were getting together to play golf that morning.  Then, he asked my father if he’d like to join the group.

Even now, it’s difficult to explain my feelings as I was dropped back at home that morning.  Rejection?  Embarrassment?  Confusion?  Yes to all those things.  But maybe shame comes the closest to telling the story.  Even as my mother tried to console me, I just wanted to disappear.

Through the years, I’ve often wondered if my father enjoyed that round of golf, which was surely the most costly round he ever played.


“The Red Sweater,” was a story I’d told a number of times, but I’d never felt free to write it down.  It always seemed like something that should wait until my father’s passing.  Then, in late September of last year, I unmistakably sensed that the time had come.  The writing proved cathartic as I relived that blessed experience.

My work was completed on October 6th.  I then sat staring at the “Publish Post” button on my blog site.  “Should this wait?” I briefly anguished again.  Then, feeling a surprising sense of peace, I really knew the time had arrived.  I clicked the button without regret.

The next day, I received a characteristically kind phone call from my dear, life-long friend, Paul.  “Steve, I’m so sorry about your father’s passing…” he began, but I quickly lost track of his words.  You see, no one close to my father had informed me of his death. Paul had unknowingly broken the news.  He had died the previous morning… just a few short hours before I posted “The Red Sweater.”

All things considered, I am truly grateful to have learned the news the way I did, from a loving friend.  God is good!


I didn’t attend the formal wake or funeral.  After all, his second family had shared his life far more closely and deserved their private time of grief.  Instead, my wife, our children, and I went to pay our respects the night before, alone.

My father was eighty-eight years old when he passed.  In death, his body looked so small and frail… so unthreatening.

In the funeral parlor, my family gave me some private time.  Time alone for just me and my Dad.

I knelt, prayed, and said “good-bye.”  The next day, after the graveside service had concluded and everyone from his second family had gone home, I paid my final respects just before the cemetery workers filled in his grave.

May God rest his soul!

And, at a time known to God alone, may we finally have that special day together… father and son… on a day that will never end.

In the meantime… healing, as the waters gradually settle.

Hearts and Treasures

In my life, no day has ever been darker than January 27th of 1985.  That day, my big sister, whom I dearly loved, never woke up from her sleep.

Marianne and I were living in Rhode Island with our 10 month-old daughter, Rachel, when the awful news came.  Grief-stricken, we immediately drove to Massachusetts to be with my anguished mother.  Then, later that day – the details are forever fuzzy – my mother and I boarded a plane to Florida to be with my sister’s husband, Jimmy, and their three children.  It was a very long flight!

Christine was five years older than I, and I grew up under her tutelage.  Occasionally, she’d play a funny trick on her gullible little brother, but never with a hint of malice.  In fact, her natural goodness was unmistakable, and I always felt safe in her presence.

My sister taught me a great deal about kindness and selflessness through the example of her life.  And, even in death, she had one more lesson to share.

When we arrived in Florida, and especially when we walked through Christine’s front door, the pain of her absence was suffocating.  Her inscape was everywhere, but she was gone.  We embraced Jimmy and the children and collectively ached and wept!

Only a few weeks prior, Marianne, Rachel, and I had come for a surprise visit over Christmas.  I was an impoverished graduate student at the time, and my brother-in-law had paid for our airfare as a combined Christmas/birthday gift for his bride, who shared a birthday with Jesus.  We had arrived on December 21st, 1984.  (Keep that in mind.)

Jimmy picked us up at the airport and drove us to their home.  We entered quietly through the garage and sneaked up on Christine in her kitchen.  When she turned and saw us, her face lit up and her first words were: “Give me that baby!”  She had not yet met Rachel.  We stayed with Christine and her family until January 2nd, and it was a thoroughly joyous time.  A blessed time!

I believe that much can be known about a person by observing her/his treasures.  A verse from the Sermon on the Mount comes to mind.

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Mt 6:21)

While in Florida that terrible second time, I found one of my sister’s treasures and gazed, just once more, into her wonderful heart.

Jimmy, knowing my sentimental side, invited me to go through some of Christine’s things and told me that I could keep anything I found that had special meaning for me.  His was a generous offer!

As I searched, I came upon her wallet.  Tucked inside were her license, some credit cards, family pictures, a few dollar bills, and a small folded piece of paper.  Curious, I pulled out the paper and unfolded it.  It was a simple sales receipt from a local store dated December 21st, 1984.  Christine had written on that receipt:  “This is the day that Steve, Marianne, and the baby came for a surprise visit.”


How I loved – and still love – my sister!