Friday, June 01, 2007

14 years and 65 days later

Well, after much chastising from my family that "my blog never has anything personal" on it anymore, I figured it was time for a post about something other than Columbia Heights, DC, or urban affairs and growth-related stuff. For the record, I haven't read Malcolm Gladwell's book and he didn't pay me to write this.


I'm not sure why I even started thinking about it several weeks ago, but for some reason it occured to me that this Christmas will mark 15 years since my dad died. I remember marking years as I've grown older....1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years....Once the shock subsided of processing a number as huge as 15, I recalled that I was 14 years old when it happened...leading me to start counting days in my head.

I was born in October 1978, and Dad died in December 1992. I was 14 years and 65 days old. Once I counted, I discovered that 14 years and 65 days since that day passed back in February. February 20 if you really want to know.

So more than 2 months after the fact, laying on my bed after midnight, my wife sleeping next to me, I came to the conclusion that I passed a tipping point: I had now lived longer without my father than I did with him. For the rest of my days, the time I possessed a father here on earth will always be smaller than the other half — even as that "half" slowly racks up days, weeks, and years, transforming from half to 2/3 and 3/4 and 5/6, capturing an ever larger share of life. And by that time, my two older brothers will have also joined me in the space following the tipping point. Mom, for better or for worse, has many years to go to reach such a point, but has certainly had the most difficult road — one that none of her sons understand. Even now as a married man, hers is a pain I can imagine but can't comprehend.


What does all that mean? I don't really know. I don't think there's any great significance to the fact that I'm the first in my family to pass this point, but it is a tipping point nonetheless. I was the last to join the family, and therefore the first to personally pass this moment.

Is life somehow different now? I'm not really sure. For a guy who always remembers when "the day" in December rolls around, I didn't even realize this when it happened. I had to break out a calculator to see if "it" had even happened. ("Hmm, I don't feel different", he said)

But I still can't shake the feeling that it "matters" somehow — that there's something worth noting. So here I am.


I meant to write about this weeks ago, but got pushed aside in the midst of other things. But last night, at my community group for Grace DC, I was the designated "chestnut". That sounds corny, I know, but it's one of the ways we get to know each other and push past the surface to get at what lies beneath. Once every 4-6 weeks or so, one person gets "roasted" — that is, they share whatever they want to share about themselves for the duration of the meeting, and everyone else asks questions. Nothing is really off limits, but the expressed purpose of this group is "community", which encompasses sharing that which may make us uncomfortable (and letting others care for our needs).

So before last night, I remembered I had a video of me giving my "testimony" (ugh, I hate that word) in 1996 during a youth event known as GoldRush that we hosted at our church. I hadn't watched it in probably 5 years since my friend Jonathan gave it to me after digging it out of the archives. In fact, The Bride had never even seen it before.

So rather than try to go back and try to remember what 1992-1995 was like, since dad's death was by far the emotional and spiritual touchstone and turning point for me, I brought the time machine known as the VCR over and showed this tape, using the 15 minutes of "17-year old Me" as a springboard for the rest of the story.

Other than it being slightly embarassing to watch myself, it reminded me of how central dad's death was in my life in those days. A day didn't go by that I didn't think of it or act out of the anger that resulted from it. Things are different now, though the grief is certainly still just as real. As my friend Ryan wrote in the prologue of his new album, I finally began to heed God's beautiful and seemingly upside-down advice: "Put down...all your weapons. Let me in...through your open wounds."

I guess that's really the signifiance of this "tipping point": It's not so much that I've lived longer "without" than "with", it's that I've been incorporating loss and grief into my life longer than than I was just receiving love and parenting. Which got me to thinking about grief...


A friend from community group emailed me today to thank me for my candor and willingness to share something so personal and emotional last night, mentioning that a friend recently lost a parent and that it was good to hear a story of how God cared for one of his children and was a "father to the fatherless". I wrote her back while at work, and told her this:

I would say that the greatest lesson I learned about grief is this: We hear very often about grief as a process that you go "through", or that it's eventually something you get "over". What really happens, and what I hope was evident last night, is that grief is really a process of taking something terrible that happened and slowly but surely incorporating that into who you are.

I'll never be the same as I would have been if it hadn't happened, and I'm certainly not over it. Last night was good evidence of that to me. But progress — if you want to call it that — happened when I began to dive deep into the grief and learned how to make it part of me.

It seems counter-intuitive, but that's my take on it. I will forever be a man who lost his dad as a teenager. That shaped me then, and it will continue to shape me — certainly as I have children and become a father myself one day. It's not necessarily any less hurtful now than it was 15 years ago, but I am much more at ease and peace with my dad's death being an inseparable part of who I am. But I still miss him unspeakably.

And that, my friend, is the process of grief.
I guess life on the backside of this tipping point will be much like life immediately on the side from which I came, right?. But it won't be like 14 years ago anymore than 14 years from now will be like today. Each year brings something new as I move into a different period of my life. I am forever marked by this, forever changed, and eternally different. I'm still deep in this tunnel of sorts that I was supposed to pass "through".

I tell myself that it's insignificant that more than 14 years and 65 days have passed since Dad died.

I tell myself that, but I don't really believe my first 14 years and 65 days slip further into memory, growing smaller in the rearview mirror.