Father-less Day?

Last year was the first Father’s Day since my own Dad died. In the United Methodist Church, Annual Conferences are typically held around Father’s Day – including the Virginia Annual Conference, in which my Dad was an ordained elder. So last year, instead of being home with my husband – my daughter’s father – I was in Roanoke, Virginia. The Saturday night before Father’s Day was the time appointed for the annual memorial service for pastors who have died in the past year, and I wanted to be there with my mother. She and I skipped church the next morning – neither of us were much in the mood to hear a single word about fathers – and instead spent the day driving back to her home outside Richmond, bemoaning that it was hard to find an antique store in Southern Virginia that was open before noon on a Sunday. Antiques shopping instead of church? It was almost as if we were calculating ways to pretend my sternly Sabbath-keeping father had never existed.

For me, my best ally in processing my grief has been my astute and sensitive five year old, who still has moments of being “sad about Grandpa Cosby.” (Not to knock my wonderful husband, friends, and therapist – I have a great team!) Hannah asks very intelligent questions, like “Is Grandpa Cosby still your Dad?” (yes!) and “Does Grandpa Cosby still have a birthday?” (yes!) And as I have talked about my continuing relationship with him and about my memories of him, I have felt his loss a little less keenly. I still have a father, even if he is not reachable by telephone.

I remember last year, feeling the loss so deeply – it was Father’s Day, and I had no one to call! But this year, celebrating at home with my husband and my daughter, I didn’t have time to think about it – every day of the past week was consumed with Hannah’s plans for making her Daddy’s Father’s Day “the best ever!!”  Keeping alive the flower she picked many days too early, making cards, planning a special breakfast in bed…  And then on to the Episcopal Church – not least because I can count on those reliably liturgical Episcopalians to leave these civil holidays nearly unmentioned.  I do not exaggerate to pray, “On Father’s Day, I thank you for the Episcopalians, most merciful God.”

I am an American – in this world, if not of it (I hope) – and so I do still find it not just impossible, but undesirable to escape celebrating Father’s Day.  There are lots of men I could call today – to thank them for being there for me, to encourage them in their own fathering… with the aid of a year of growth and reflection, I can see that I am certainly not without anyone to call on Father’s Day. And I must remember to call my mother on this Father’s Day – a woman who long ago lost her father, and more recently lost her step-father and then the father of her own children.  I wonder if she wonders who to call today?  I wonder if she went to church today? I wonder, if she did, if it was a healing or a wounding hour spent in the pew?

We who grieve on this day are not alone – there are many more like us. Rather than organizing our day around our loss – at least as the years go by – I pray that we find ways to celebrate what we had and continue to carry with us, and the many fathers we know and love who are still a telephone call away.  And I pray that the church continues to find ways to nurture those who need true comfort on the days when the culture seems to exclude their grief.

On going to a memorial service for my Dad, on the eve of Father’s Day

I worry my grief like a sore on my tongue.  The pain was acute at first, but always hidden. Now I can forget it for hours at a time, until by chance it brushes up against something unexpectedly, like my tongue against my teeth, and once found I cannot stop touching the sore spot against the sharp edge that reminded me of it – a pain that is almost as searing as when it was new, but somehow sweet, too – or at least compelling.  I keep poking at it and poking at it, until I am distracted by something outside of myself and forget again, for a few hours.

My daughter has started biting her tongue every couple of days.  I am not sure how this is happening – if she is somehow speaking or eating differently – preschoolers are more changeable than the weather.  I do wonder, though, if there is any relation to the time, 2 weeks ago, when she bit her tongue so hard that it bled, and I gave her an ice pop to ease the pain.  But I have not given her one since then.

So the metaphor isn’t perfect then.  No one is handing me a stiff drink to numb the wound when I mention that I miss my Dad.  Thank God.  But then again, I am a grown up, and have learned over many decades how little people want to hear of what pains me when they are feeling fine, so I don’t mention it very often.  And it is not like I have a bottle of vodka sitting in the freezer next to the ice pops.  For whatever good the numbing would do.  I have seen my mother grieve her father my whole life long – a man who disappeared into the hospital never to return when her age could still be counted on two hands.  Unlike a tongue, which heals in a couple of days, the pain of having a parent ripped away is an open sore that does not heal, until finally God smooths it over, when Christ returns.

My sweet four year old daughter is praying for Jesus to come back every day.  Come, Lord Jesus.