Posted tagged ‘grief’

The Box

March 8, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                March 8, 2018


It arrived yesterday, filled with familiar scents and memory items that no one else would see with any value.

It’s been three weeks since my dad passed away. My sister and brother-in-law have been sorting through his belongings after moving everything out of his apartment. It was a major task just to get it moved, but, for starters, she simply was moving it from one place to another…her house. The last week for her has been a time of sorting through the items that are reminiscent of our father.

In sending me “The Box” she was bringing part of Dad to our house. The box did not contain items that I necessarily need, but it contained some of who my dad was- kind of like a small museum!

I was looking at some of the contents this morning and pondering Pops.

I now have four University of Kentucky ball caps. One of them- a blue cap with a large letter “K” on the front- was worn by Dad, a UK grad, to the UK basketball game back in December of 2016 against Valparaiso. My sister took a picture of him in the lobby at Rupp Arena that night alongside former UK coach, Joe. B. Hall. Each of them had their “hurry-canes” by their side as the camera snapped the photo.

In the box are my mom’s Bible and one of Dad’s old Bibles. Each have their names scripted into the lower right corner leather.

There’s his personal calculator from about thirty years ago. He had not transitioned to using the calculator on a smart phone, because he didn’t have a smart phone. He had one of those flip phones that resembled the walkie talkie’s on Star Trek.

There’s a tube of Brylcreem! (“A little dab will do ya!”) That takes me back! Most of my uncles, plus my dad and grandfather, used the hair cream. That was the thing back in Eastern Kentucky. Dad didn’t need to worry about his hair blowing all over the place. The cream kept it firmly matted in place. When he started having some skin cancers on his scalp, ears, and nose he had to ease up on the Brylcreem. I’m not sure if Brylcreem has an expiration date!

There’s a trophy recognizing his achievement of finishing last in a euchre tournament back in 1975. Mom and Dad went to Florida with three other couples from our church, enjoyed the sun during the day and played euchre each evening. The trophy features a gold horse’s rump! I remember Dad telling me about it in detail. It always elicited a chuckle, remembering the razzing but mostly remembering his friends.

There’s a shoe horn still in mint unbent position. Putting his shoes on properly was an indication of my father’s emphasis on doing things correctly and not in a hurry.

There’s the photo album with the title on the cover “Our Son’s Wedding.” Yes, it’s our wedding from almost 39 years ago. As I look at our youthfulness, and who my parents were back in 1979 all I can say is “Wow!”

There are a few of my mom’s Longaberger baskets. She collected them like baseball cards!

And a stapler! And replacements blades for his electric shaver! And a cookbook put together by people from his church!

And handkerchiefs folded neatly, like they were a part of a J.C. Penney’s catalog display.

I’ve experienced families that descend like vultures on the possessions of the deceased. It’s an occasion where the lust for someone’s valuables devalues the life of the one who has passed on. My dad’s valuables are on the other end of the spectrum. I am like Don Quixote as I look at them, seeing rich memories in a shoe horn and value in a tube of Brylcreem.

I stare at the collection that brings stories and moments back to my mind. Saying goodbye to someone is never painless, but recalling the shared times and conversations…that’s priceless!

Going To See Dad…Probably for the Last Time!

February 14, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          February 14, 2018


I’m sitting in the Denver airport waiting for an early morning plane that will jet me across the country, hurry me off it in order to find another plane that will then come part of the way back in the other direction. It’s a hard trip, not because of the stress of flying, but rather because of the reason for the journey.

Dad is failing. It’s not unexpected. His second home this past year has been St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia. He’s inching towards his 90th birthday. Each week seems to bring a new health concern. Last week my sister was by his side for a consultation with a hospice counselor.

Today’s flight is punctuated with memories and uncertainty.

I remember how my dad stood by my mom’s side in her final days as the Parkinson’s gradually took away her ability to use her hands and legs, and her ability to speak. It was a painful journey.

I remember his journey to Colorado to attend our youngest daughter’s wedding. While there he brought Lizi to tears with the gift of a special piece of jewelry that had been my mom’s.

Since I didn’t eat breakfast this morning, I’m remembering my dad’s hamburgers. Honestly, I have never tasted another hamburger that rivaled his. Even though I got the recipe and instructions from him I could never come close to the distinctive flavor. When you ate two of Dad’s burgers you were sorry that you couldn’t handle a third!

I remember the sadness we experienced when he couldn’t attend our oldest daughter’s wedding because Mom’s health was not good, but I also cherish the memories of his visit about four years ago and how he bonded with our granddaughter Reagan, who was three at the time. I remember her coming into the house one morning and yelling, “Papaw, Papaw!” She paused for a moment and then she said to me, “I know he’s here. I can smell him!” (His after shave announced his presence.)

As the plane flies through the clouds I can’t see anything around me or below me. It’s a metaphor for Dad’s situation. There is not a clear picture of what is and what will be. Somewhere in front of us the clouds will part and the picture will be seen.

My emotions are close to the surface. A few times this morning the potential for tears was heightened, and yet they haven’t erupted as I expect they will. My father’s best emotion was laughter-laced joy. I can hear the echo of his chuckle as we fly over Kansas. I can see his body shaking in rhythm with the laughter. If it was a story that he was telling for the hundredth time he’d close the tale with his hand slapping his knee in total appreciation for the memory.

Death is not a fear of Pops. He’s prepared himself for it. A number of times over the past four and a half years since Mom passed he has taken the hour and a half drive over to Johnson County, Kentucky to visit her grave. His name is already etched on the grave marker beside her. A few feet away are the resting places of my aunts and uncles, and a wee bit further is where his mom, Grace Wolfe, has long since been lowered into the ground. Dad is ready to once again be laying next to my mother. There is sweetness and love in the known destination, just as there is a mixture of grief and peace within me as I consider what is to come.

Being Deacon Emeritus of his church, Beulah Baptist, death is simply a part of the faith journey. Dad looks forward to the reunion of the saints, and the glory of the Eternal Gathering.

“How’s it going, Pops?” That has been my Sunday night greeting to him for the past several years. “Well, hi, son!”

And we’d talk about this, that, and the other…the ladies at Wyngate (his senior independent living complex where he has resided for three years) who have been giving him the eye and considering the possibilities; the Kentucky Wildcats (he being a UK grad in the early 50’s); the latest fire alarm at Wyngate set off by one of the residents who wanted to cook up some bacon on a Friday night in his apartment; how his friend, Bill Ball, was doing (Bill passed away last August); and the weather.

I’ll miss the way we could make each other laugh, and at the thought of it I can sense the rumblings of the tears rising up.

Last weekend thousands of people attended a funeral in Colorado Springs for Micah Flick, a Sheriff’s deputy who was killed in the line of duty. A father, he leaves behind a wife and twin toddlers. It is a story about the cruelty of life, a senseless shooting by a man who did not value the life of someone else. Micah, in fact, took a bullet to save someone else’s life. He will always be remembered as a hero, even in the midst of tragedy.

My dad’s journey gets placed on the other end of the spectrum, a life that has been longer than anyone expected, a life that will be celebrated with tears of thankfulness and the smiles of many.

Things will not be the same, and that’s okay!

Speaking Hope In the Christmas Shadow

December 26, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               December 26, 2017


Yesterday our three grandkids ran around our house like sugar-hyped squirrels, excited about the wrapped presents that they would soon tear into. It was a great day of brisket chili, chilled shrimp, homemade Chex mix, and pie. The bounty of food items on the kitchen island was simply dressing for the family time, laughter, and the playing out of various family traditions.

Yesterday was a feast in the midst of a time when Carol and I have encountered several families in the midst of emotional famine. This Advent Season seems to have been more about speaking hope to various folks in the shadow of Christmas.

On Friday I had attended the funeral of Ray Lutz, a fifty year football and basketball official who was one of my officiating mentors. At 77 he had passed away suddenly. Funerals close to Christmas have a sadness to them regardless of how old the departed is.

On Saturday the wife of my friend, Mark Miller, went into the hospital…and is still there…with some serious health complications. Crystal, the mother of four, spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day laying in a hospital bed, a time that had always been spent gathered around the family Christmas tree and dinner table. There is something deeply discouraging for a mom having to be monitored by ward nurses on Christmas Day instead of being the monitor of the family festivities at home.

And then on Sunday afternoon Carol and I went across the street to our neighbor’s house to express our condolences. Their eighteen year old grandson, a young man I had watched grow up, played basketball in our driveway with, and had coached in middle school football, was murdered a few weeks ago. We hadn’t heard about it until a former neighbor told us. We sat and talked to the grieving grandparents whose hearts were broken. To go through Christmas with the absence of one of the young ones is a journey walked with heavy emotional boots. We could not understand the depth of their grief, but we could sit at their kitchen table and listen to their hearts.

And finally to talk to my dad later on that same day and offer him encouragement. Just a few days released from his latest hospital stay, he has slowed down a good bit and now has to make choices about what he has the energy to do and not to do. Each day he is a gift to us, but each day is also a struggle  for him layered with uncertainty. I’m so thankful for my sister who watches over him since I live four states away.

Ray Lutz’s funeral was a community sharing of hope. The hundreds of folks to attended brought hope and encouragement to the family. The laughter caused by the staring of stories was like a soothing ointment to the wounds of loss.

With Mark and Crystal Miller I was simply a presence that symbolized hope in the midst of confused despair. With our neighbors Carol and I assured them of our prayers and support. It was an assurance to them that we will walk alongside them as they take each day ahead.

With my dad I simply spoke hope to him about his grandkids and great grandkids. That things are good with them. It provided some laughter in his soul as he pondered the stories of their lives.

Christmas sometimes is all glitter and lights; and sometimes it’s simply a word of hope that we suddenly realize is the greatest gift we could ever give!

The Grief of Living Long

August 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        August 5, 2017


Long life seems to be congratulated, celebrated, and strived for. It is tacked up on the bulletin board as a goal, a destination.

The dark side of long life is when everyone has dropped out of the race of life and you become the last one still running. That is, when your spouse for the life journey, all of your friends, and anyone else who used to come to your high school class reunion has passed on. All of those people you’d pick up the phone on a Sunday night to call, or would call you, and check on are now checked off. It is the harsh truth of the long-living.

I didn’t quite understand it in all of my years of pastoring the flocks of different congregations. I can remember the words of a number of elderly folk whose spouses had passed on. There was a longing for God to move them on as well. They were ready for this journey to be over and the next eternal journey to begin. I misunderstood that to be a longing to be in heaven where there is no more pain and suffering, but that longing was disguising the pain that comes with the loss of a special relationship.

My dad’s best friend, Bill Ball, passed away this week at the age of 92. The loss wasn’t unexpected, and yet sometimes we procrastinate coming to terms with its arrival. My dad is 89 and wherever he goes he is now usually befriended by either a cane, a walker, or motorized scooter. Having Bill Ball pass on was a wound to his spirit. About three years or so ago there was Dad, Bill Ball, and Ralph Carrico. Ralph passed away, a victim of cancer, and I saw how that grieved my father, but he had Bill Ball to grieve with alongside him. They supported one another through the loss of their friend. This time around he’s having to struggle through the journey by himself. Yes, his family is comforting him in the midst of the sorrow, but the reality of the situation is that the “long-living” experience a profound form of grief that grows out of the longevity.

My sister and I took Dad to the “viewing” of his friend on Wednesday night. There is something necessary for the living to view the deceased, and something painfully revealing. As my dad stood there beside the casket staring down at his old friend he wept. His body trembled as the tears found their way down his face. He knows that he is in the winter of his own life, but outliving your friends is a weight that he must drag with him for the rest of his days.

And there’s really nothing that his family…his three kids, seven grandkids, and eleven great-grandkids can do for him to make it okay.

I remember a song by Charlie Peacock from twenty-five years ago. It was entitled “Now Is the Time for Tears”, and it begins with the words “Now is the time for tears. Don’t speak! Say no words! There is nothing you could say to take this pain away!” Dad’s grief is not to be fixed, but simply to be present with.

We often talk about life as being a journey. The other part of that, however, is that life is to be journeyed with others. I can see the loss etched into Dad’s wounded face. He just finished another round of radiation treatments this week for another skin cancer episode on his nose. His nose and ears have been cut on and radiated so many times that his face has often looked like a battlefield, but this pain that I can see is not connected to any cancerous growth, or demanding treatment plan. It’s simply the look of loss, the mask of long-lived sorrow!

The Blessing of Three Dave’s

June 17, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          June 17, 2017


Three seems to be a number that is used quite often in various ways. In A Christmas Carol Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. The three wisemen brought gifts three kinds of gifts to the baby Jesus, and my seminary preaching professor taught us to preach sermons that had three points…and a poem!

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! Shadrach, Meshach, and To Bed We Go- er, Abednego! Abraham’s three visitors! Three crosses on top of Golgotha! The angels in Isaiah’s vision saying “Holy, holy, holy!” Jesus saying “Verily, verily, verily!” Important encounters and relationships seem to grow out of threes!

I’ve been blessed by three Dave’s who have been a part of my life journey. Our son, David, is  named after two of the Dave’s. He would have been named after the third Dave, but we hadn’t met him yet!

Dave Shaffer was a part of the first church I served on the staff of after graduating from seminary. He and Pam graced the lives of a just married young couple entering the intimidating experience of ministry. Laughter was a part of our friendship. We felt comfortable around one another. My ministry at the church was a short fifteen months, but our friendship is about to hit forty years.

Dave Hughes was one of my high school best friends and my best man. We were a part of the same youth group, ate a lot of pizza together, and played basketball together. I was privileged to perform the wedding ceremony for Dave and his wife, Robyn, and on a different wedding night- the wedding night after our friend Mike Fairchild got married-  Dave and I, groomsmen in the wedding party, went to the hospital in our tuxedos to celebrate the birth of my first niece, Jennifer. Three weeks ago his oldest son, Brad, was found dead on a hiking trail in Arizona’s Saguaro National Park, passing away from heat exhaustion and dehydration. I called my friend to walk the journey of loss and sorrow with him. I know he would have done the same for me.

And the third Dave, a hulk of a man named Dave Volitis, came strolling into my life about 15 years ago when he and Donna moved into the house across the street from us. Now a retired Air Force Chief Master Sargent living in San Antonio, he continues to grace my life with his stories and encouragement. We recently were a part of a mission work team that traveled to British Columbia together. My kids were always intrigued by Mr. Volitis, his humorous sayings (“higher than a cat’s back”, “about as welcome as a hemorrhoid”, “about as useful as tits on a boar hog”), and his engaging personality. He became a part of my congregation even though he and his family were more of the pentecostal tint. I cried when he moved to San Antonio.

Three Dave’s! I’ve had other Dave’s as a part of my life as well, but these three men left their imprints on my life…past, present, and future. I envision a time in the future when I arrange to have them all together in the same place, and to express my appreciation. What stories would come out of that gathering!!! I think that would be pretty cool!

A utility company worker, a civil engineer, and a career military person…about as diverse in occupations as you can get. Each of them now a grandfather, and each of them a part of families that have encountered significant loss in the past year.

Each of us has been blessed by numerous people in various ways. God plants them in our lives for a bit, a while, or a lifetime. Rarely do they congregate around the same first name, but the repetition of my Dave’s has highlighted in permanent marker how blessed I am!

Remembering Ashes

May 28, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 28, 2017


Yesterday the ashes of a dear friend of mine were scattered from the top of a hill and wind-blown down into the valley of his grandfather’s land…a place that he loved to be in his growing up years and even when he decided he was finally an adult. His wife posted pictures from the family gathering on Facebook and my eyes watered from their effect.

It was appropriate that the family has chosen Memorial Day weekend, a time of remembering and cherishing, mourning and blessing. I’m sure that as they stood on the top of the ridge they shared stories  and Greg’s brothers recalled brother exploits of the past that have taken their places as family legends.

My soul rumbled with quivering peace to know that they had paused to remember their son, husband, dad, and brother. Remembering is underrated these days! Speeding into the unconquered future and new experiences is the lane of life most traveled.

Where we’re going, however, can not clearly be understood without a grip on the past. One school day this past year when I was teaching seventh grade social studies at the same school that Greg taught for fifteen years, I wore a pink shirt that our area basketball officials were wearing before basketball games to emphasize, and remember, that the fight against cancer is ongoing. Greg had dealt with a cancerous brain tumor for six years before his death last October. On that school day I retold his story to each class. I brought them with me on his journey that was punctuated by devastating medical reports and MRI’s of good news. We remembered together even though most of them had never known him.

Remembering is a gift. It has meaning and substance. Greg’s nine year old daughter will remember yesterday’s gathering on a ridge for the rest of her life…the scene, the smells, the words of her grandparents, uncles, and mom…and there will be a sweet humming in her soul. Losing your dad at such a young age is something that many kids never recover from. The road of healing is always shaded by the stories of remembrance.

The Hope In Suffering

October 24, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        October 24, 2016


    People say that I’m more of an optimist! I can see the silver lining in just about any situation. If a flight I’m on gets delayed I think about the fact that the flight attendants will probably give us an extra mini-bag of pretzels during the flight. When my 7th Grade football team got beat 42-2 in a game this year I replayed in my mind several times the play where we scored the two point safety.

So it fits that I’m able to still stay the optimistic course when it comes to suffering. A week ago my friend, Greg Davis, passed away. I led his funeral service on Saturday. During the course of the week I had some heart-wrenching conversations with his family. It had been a six year journey with cancer. Even in the midst of the grief Greg’s wife was able to say that they had come to experience the hope of God.

During the service I read Romans 15:13, a verse that Greg had underlined in is Bible. It reads, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” In the journey with the uninvited passenger of cancer the Davis family discovered that God is hope. Granted that discovery was paved with a multitude of tears, countless moments of confusion, and a list of questions all beginning with why, but they slowly arrived at the village of Hope.

Greg’s journey paved the way for other conversations I had last week with other people about being a follower of Jesus and the uncomfortableness of suffering. Some tainted theology emerged from people’s minds. Simply put it said what is the use of following Christ if he doesn’t protect you from things like cancer. If Jesus isn’t a lucky charm warding off evil, accidents, and illnesses why follow him? Great revealing questions that evolve out of a person’s real motives, that being “What will Jesus do for me?” People are always more comfortable with Jesus as a savior, but Jesus as Lord is not nearly as agreeable.

What Greg and his wife Jordan discovered is that God walks closely beside us. Following Jesus is not like having a rabbit’s foot in my pocket, but rather knowing that he is with me in the valleys, not waiting for me on the far side of the valley. It’s knowing in the depths of my soul the truth of that verse in Psalm 23, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

     Times of suffering are a part of life as much as times of delight. The hope comes in knowing that the love of God is constant and pure, a mighty shoulder to cry on and a hand to lead me on. The only person who enjoys pain and suffering is a masochist, but when the agony of life makes a stop on the front steps of where I live it gives me a peaceful assurance knowing that the Good Shepherd is standing beside me as I open that door. And that isn’t optimism, but rather heart-felt belief!