The week of Father’s Day 2007, my dad asked if I’d come with him to a church he’d been visiting, and then to our scheduled lunch. At the time, I was teaching Sunday school at a different church. I could have gotten someone to cover for me so I could join my dad, but frankly I just wanted to stick to our original plan. So, I told him I was sorry but I couldn’t meet up any earlier.
We spent a wonderful Father’s Day afternoon together.
Two months later, and in shock, I walked through the doors of that church to plan dad’s funeral.
At the end of our time together, the minister handed me a church newsletter. There was my dad’s smiling face, front and center on the back page. He’d decided to join the church on Father’s Day.
It was a gut punch. All I could think about when I saw that picture was that he’d been alone on a morning he was excited to celebrate. He’d stood by himself at the altar as the congregation welcomed him. He’d posed by himself for the church’s family photo. And he kept it to himself when we met up that afternoon. That’s maybe what broke my heart the most.
Someone once told me that when a loved one dies, the biggest comfort was being flooded with beautiful memories of them.
My experience in those early days after his death was the opposite. I was immediately filled with regret. (I have no doubt part of this is some sort of maladaptive coping skill to distract from the all-consuming anguish.) My mind fixated on the times I’d let my phone go to voicemail when I saw dad was calling. Or the time my iPod died while on a flight home with him but I kept my headphones on because I just wasn’t in the mood to talk. I thought of the lunches I rushed through with him so I could get back to the office. I remembered times I’d disappointed him or hadn’t been honest with him.
I didn’t really feel like I could talk about that ugly side to many people. I felt like it would expose me as a selfish daughter or as lacking faith. But I simply couldn’t stop those thoughts from gnawing at me.
Thankfully, a few months later, the grieving changed. And for most of the decade since he left this world, I’ve been flooded with those happy memories.
But Father’s Day, man … it’s a consistent sting. Every year (some less than others). There’s the pain of missing him. And grieving for a life he’s missed. But that’s also when these little regrets sneak their way back in, even if only for a day or two.
I know I’m not alone in this. So, if you’re in the same boat – particularly if this is your first Fatherless Father’s Day – I SEE YOU. And the sting doesn’t last long. My prayer for you is that this week floods you with beautiful memories. Or at the very least, a semblance of peace. That’s what our dads would have wanted.