On an ordinary morning, on an ordinary day, I wrote the date at the top of the page, and my heart sank.
October 1, 2022
It arrived without the usual dread, and to give October credit, it came with cooler temperatures (which obviously didn’t last).
This October brings the 30th anniversary of my father’s death. Some days it seems that long, or even longer. Other days, it seems like yesterday. But each year, it seems I miss my dad even more than the year before.
I began writing this blog on October 1, 2022. It is now October 25th, and I’m finally able to sit down and finish the thoughts I couldn’t express several weeks ago.
When looking at time, especially in years, the number thirty isn’t very large. But when you take that same number, and apply it to the last time you saw a loved one, it seems like an eternity.
In the span of thirty years, many things have changed. I was twenty-nine years old when I lost my father, and was expecting my second son, Charles.
- Christopher was two-and-a-half
- Brian and I had been married for five years and it was his first season as Head Basketball Coach
- Bill Clinton was elected President that November
- Both gasoline and milk cost $1.13 a gallon, and box of diapers (124 count) cost $26
Yes, the cost of living has skyrocketed, but what about the cost of living with grief?
Over the last three decades, I’ve learned there’s not an award for surviving grief, but maybe there should be. When you’re first immersed into those initial days, it is absolutely impossible to imagine that you will ever be able to feel joy, laugh, or even smile again. Fortunately, we find ways to adapt. Coping mechanisms.
We discover that we can laugh without guilt. And with the passing days, and seasons, and years, we realize that we are stronger than we ever believed we could be.
This October, I found myself in a place of acceptance. I stumbled through the five stages of grief for decades, always hoping for that feeling of freedom—the moment I could forgive the medical mistakes made, the regret of not getting a proper goodbye. I longed to no longer lament the fact that my boys never knew their grandfather. Through all the denial, anger, bargaining, and depression, I knew that the ultimate goal had to be to accept something which in my mind was unacceptable.
But this October, my grief was different. It was for another man—my husband’s dad. My father-in-law. One of the greatest Christian examples I’ve known. He not only talked the talk, but walked the walk. Every Single Day. And he was taken too soon. A distracted driver. Just one solitary second changed our lives, and placed us once again in the middle of grief.
As we began walking through the first days of shock and overwhelming sadness, I realized that during the years of emotional struggling, and questioning, and regret, and broken-heartedness, I had been changed. I was stronger. And within that strength, I was reminded of the wonderful gift I had been given. The gift of experience.
I was a living, breathing example of lessons learned. The thirty years of grief now had a purpose. And through all the pain, and darkness, and unfairness, and missed moments, I emerged as an overcomer. I was proof that as heartless and all-consuming as grief is, within it can be found the most amazing, precious, grace that abides when you put all your faith, hope, and trust in Jesus. That, my friends is the only way to ever get to the other side of that ocean of grief. Knowing and believing those moments you thought would destroy you were actually the very moments that made you look upward, enabling you to move onward.
So along with all of the emotions of the mixed blessings and anguish that grief can dish out, I was also really feeling my age. I’ve never felt that I was actually my age. I’ve always felt younger. But this year, I felt every bit of the almost (*insert big number*) of years that I’ve lived.
And it didn’t help when I was in a classroom, teaching a lesson to first graders, and a six-year-old boy called me over and said, “Mrs. Keith. You smell just like my grandmother!”
That comment propelled me to take a trip to Bath and Bodyworks. True Story.
But, it also reminded me of how much I loved my grandmothers. And one day, I hope on an ordinary, out-of-the-blue day my grandchildren will be reminded of me, whether it’s a certain scent, or a song, or something I’ve said.
More than anything, though, that comment reminded me of the importance of leaving a legacy. Of making a mark. Of doing the most with the time we have. Just like my dad. Just like Brian’s dad.
I’ve always hoped that my book, Mockingbird Moments, would be my legacy. I hoped it might help those who were struggling with the loss of a loved one. I wanted the book to live up to the synopsis that the memoir was about “love, loss, and letting go.” While I will always hold on to the love I shared for my father, letting go of the pain of his loss has been the key to moving forward. I wanted to be able to provide that hope to others who were trapped in the muck and mire of grief.
And that’s why I have been a complete mess for a couple of months. My “mess” has been an internal struggle, and a battle that I wasn’t sure I’d win.
Without boring you with a lot of information that might be tedious as well as a bit embarrassing because of my poor choices and inexperience in the writing/publishing world, let me just say this:
I took a risk with the future of my book, and wasn’t sure if it would ever be in publication again.
As most of you know, I had to republish the book after the first company went out of business, and there were some issues that came up which needed to be rectified. Long story short, I met someone who helped me take complete control over my memoir. And through this journey, she not only became my mentor, but a friend. She had MY best interest at heart. And what she produced for me, was nothing short of amazing. She was able to take my vision, and produce the most precious version of the book which is my heart.
She worked tirelessly to accomplish all of this. And over the last few days, as we held our breath, hoping and praying that the book would finally “go Live” on Amazon, she encouraged, supported, and cheered me on.
Ellen has also made me want to write again. She believes in me, and you know, sometimes that’s all we need. Someone who sees our potential and makes us want to go above and beyond. Try new things. Work smarter, not harder.
So thank you, Ellen, for making this 30th Anniversary of my father’s death a time of tribute. A time of finally completing the vision of the book I so wanted to capture. The story of a daughter’s love for her Daddy.
In the midst of the effort to get this done, my family experienced a very sweet moment. Something that at the time didn’t completely make sense. But when it all came to fruition, we realized how totally and completely God’s hands, love, and grace were all over us!
Ellen wanted to add some photos to the book. We were sort of in a time crunch, and I wasn’t sure that I would be able to find the photos I needed. I went home from work that day, and walked straight to where I hoped they would be (we’ve had to rearrange, and move things out of closets since my son’s family is living with us right now).
I was shocked and amazed when I found the exact box I was looking for.
I began pulling out photos I wanted to use, and also found a letter my dad wrote me. I was about to take pictures of the pictures with my phone. Fortunately, my daughter-in-law Kaitlyn was there, and she is an excellent photographer with a wonderful camera. She offered to take the pictures of the pictures, and then sent them to me. I uploaded them to an email to Ellen, and what I thought might be an hours-long project was completed quickly! Whew!
Little did I know this was a huge win for Kaitlyn too! She was looking for something with my Dad’s handwriting on it. And I hand-delivered it to her when I found the letter from my father.
And this is what the end result was. The most precious gift from the most precious family.
It seems only fitting at this time that I thank you all. Not only are you my readers, you’re my friends. You’re the ones for whom I write. It is my most humble hope that in some way, the things I write might help you in whatever situation you are in. And if that doesn’t happen, maybe I’ll make you laugh or smile.
Please know that it is through my writing that I found a purpose for my pain.
Thank you for your support, encouragement, kindness, and for never giving up on me. I know I can be “a lot.”
I hope that you will share this blog with your friends. Also, here’s the link to the new edition of Mockingbird Moments. What is found between the pages is my heart, and my soul. It is my deepest hope that my writing feels real, and honest, and even raw, at times.
And more than anything else, it is my hope that all of you, through whatever circumstances, struggles, or difficulties you are facing, will discover that you are stronger than you ever thought you could be.
And most important of all, I hope you know that this strength is not your own. It is that of our Father.
The words from my favorite song say it best:
“Done with what holds me down, the things I once was chasing after.
Throw off these heavy chains that I have let become my master.
So now I’m running free into an ocean of mercy unending.
So come and empty me
So that it’s you I breathe.
I want my life to be
Only Christ in me.
So I will fix my eyes,
Cause you’re my source of life.
I need the world to see
That it’s Christ in me.”
Everyday, you’re living and leaving a legacy. I pray that you have mentors, and meant-to-be-moments, and even a six-year-old who says you smell like his grandmother.
But more than that, I pray that everyday, you are running free into an ocean of Mercy. Unending…