Editor’s Note: The following post discusses graphic instances that may be disturbing to the reader including mentions of depression and suicide. Please take note of this before reading.
I will never forget the fluorescent lighting and the smell of bleach permeating the air. We were in the family room of the psych ward in Columbia. Shawn was meeting my dad for the first time. We were just dating then. I had never seen my dad like this – his nails grown out, his beard scraggly – no sharp objects such as clippers or razors were allowed. This was Shawn’s first time in the South and this was where Shawn would ask my dad permission to marry me.
I was a bit embarrassed for, and a little more than detached emotionally from, my dad. That emotional detachment began when I was 12: he ignored a question I asked him that was prefaced by a deeply personal explanation. I would find out about ten years afterwards that my dad suffered from depression, and most likely, was bipolar. After having threatened to end his life twice, my sister found an assisted living situation for him, just a few miles from the house in which we grew up. Living in San Francisco, I only visited him in the assisted living place four times. He met Jack only once – at 9 months old. I spoke with him on the phone occasionally – usually Christmas, the times he remembered my birthday, Father’s Day and his birthday. I was trying to figure out the very fine line between honoring him, showing him love, without enabling him. I wasn’t, hadn’t ever, done as good a job as I thought possible.
Then came the unexpected call. My dad died of a sudden heart attack. It was a cold overcast typical summer day in the city by the bay. I stayed home from work. I drowned my sorrow in a slab of Boston cream pie and a scoop of ice cream – at 10 o’clock in the morning. The rest of the day is a blur.
It’s been over a year and I’m still a bit dumbfounded. And I sometimes let myself go back to the what-ifs and the wish-i-could-haves. But i am nostalgic for the what-could-have-beens more than the what-really-was.
A couple of months ago, I got an unexpected call of the same ilk- but it was from a friend. His roommate, and one of our dearest friends here in the Bay Area, had jumped from a bridge. He’d been out for a walk and just didn’t think he could take it anymore. He had just been released from being self-admitted to the psych ward. The second time in about 5 years. Both times, we went to visit him. We wanted him to know he wasn’t alone, that we were with and for him. When I heard the news of his jump, I fell to my knees on the kitchen floor. And I bawled. And I prayed that he would make it through this.
Amazingly, after being helicoptered to Stanford, surviving a successful 4 hour pelvis surgery, a broken right hip and left ankle, and being in a rehabilitation facility for 12 weeks, he’s home.
On one occasion, I was visiting him in the rehab facility. He was lying in his bed, I was in the folding chair beside the bed. He looked at me and he said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I’m putting you through this in light of what you had to go through with your dad.” Through tears, I said I wasn’t sorry. I told him I was so privileged to be there. Most importantly because it meant that he was alive. But also, I told him that God was redeeming my relationship, or lack thereof, with my dad through my friendship with him. I have been able to love and be present with my friend in ways I was incapable of and chose not to with my dad. He started crying and said, “Well, I guess God does work all things together for His good. All. Things.”
We just sat there crying together. The words God gave me for my friend were “I believe in your victory.” And “There is no condemnation, no judgment.” And “God loves you.” And “I love you…no matter what.” And lastly, “I am with you and for you. No matter what the future looks like, I choose to walk alongside this life with you.”
Today, in particular, I was struck by the shoulds – the missed opportunities – specifically with my dad. I hadn’t talked with him since the Christmas before he died in May. I had a voicemail saved from when he called me on my birthday in January. And I was planning on calling him for Father’s Day. But he didn’t live to get that call from me. I should have called him. I thought about him several times between Christmas and the day my sister called to tell me he was gone. I do wonder about how he felt being all alone when he died. I’m thankful it was sudden, but am still heart-broken and sick to my stomach that no one was with him – that I wasn’t with him, when he passed away. Obviously, it was sudden and if I knew it was to be his last day, I would have done everything in my power to be with him in his last moments. But that opportunity is gone.
What a bittersweet experience it has been to walk with my friend on his journey. To be there for him when he needed it most. To show him love, regardless of his choices. To believe in his victory and tell him so. To visit him in the psych ward and in the rehab facility. To pray for him daily. God has redeemed the journey with my dad with this beautiful friendship and I don’t know how I’ve gotten through except for God’s mercy and supernatural gift of loving and caring for someone because I’m choosing to be Jesus to him.
I get sad that my kids will never know my dad. And that my dad won’t get to know my kids. Wow, he would have loved and been proud of them both! Jack has his own golf club and baseball glove – two of my dad’s passions. I am filled with sorrow at the what-could-have beens. I know my granddad was softened by me, my sister and cousins. And I had a hope that one day God might use my kids to soften my dad. While that will never happen this side of heaven, I’m thankful God brought this friend into my life to give me the chance to show love, walk with, and fully be present in ways I was unwilling or unable to do with my dad. May God’s kingdom come and His will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
About the Author
I’m a part-time working mom of two in my mid-thirties learning to be like Jesus in the big and small dailies in San Francisco. I have a degree in English (Auburn University) and a Masters of Divinity (Golden Gate Seminary). I’m from the South, but not of the South. I’ve traveled to France, Ukraine, and China and, on a regular basis, come in contact with all of those nationalities plus a half a dozen more at the playground seven blocks from the flat we call home. We are a part of a house church that began as an outreach to Nepali refugees.
I live in the grace and love of Jesus and live out, as best I know how, that grace and love to others. I love checking off a to-do list – most days that includes drinking (good) coffee, singing, laughing, and reading up on the 75+ blogs to which I subscribe. A great day would also include going to the beach, having bacon for brunch and ice cream for dinner.
I beg for God’s kingdom come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven – in my corner of the great city of San Francisco, as well as in all the other amazingly beautiful corners of the world – including yours, wherever that may be!