Hannah, your granddaughter, turned nine a few weeks ago. And that phrase does not compute in my brain.
Your granddaughter. Your granddaughter. I only know you as a permanent 33-year-old man with a cap of dark brown hair and a bristly Dale Earnhardt mustache. I can see your wide smile beneath that supremely manly ‘stache portraying an eternal youthfulness. You’re frozen in time that way so the thought of you having grandchildren ties my mind in a knot.
You would be 60 this year and that brown hair would have thinned and faded gray, or perhaps melted away completely. I can’t imagine what your grandfatherly face might look like. Would it be worn and creased with the pain of battling the demons of alcoholism all these years? Or would you have overcome that affliction, and your face instead bear the small folds next to the eyes that indicate a life filled with joyful laughter?
These are questions I’ll never be able to answer. I was nine years old when you died and my whole world crashed in and changed, literally overnight. I was exposed to just how painful and cruel this world can be. As I sit here now, with a 9-year-old of my own, I can reflectively look back and thank God that He is able to redeem our suffering and grief. But the sting still remains.
I was putting Hannah and your other two grandchildren to bed the other night before heading out to spend the evening at a friend’s house, and the parallel in our ages struck me.
What were you thinking that night when you tucked Chad and me into bed? That you’d enjoy some time with friends and wake up to us crashing into your bedroom the next morning? Or did you somehow know that the soft kiss you planted on my forehead would be the last time you would touch my skin?
I sat in my car before driving away, terrified that my fate would be the same as yours nearly 27 years ago. I begged God to deliver me to and from my destination safely. The fear that my kids would wake up in the middle of the night like I did, with a police officer at the door, gripped me and almost forced me to stay home. The thought of leaving Maria and their lives in such wreckage was unbearable.
I suppose I’ll never know what you were thinking. Maybe that terrible sense of triggering something devastating and yet being powerless to do anything about it hit you like an iron fist as your car skidded out of control and spun toward that telephone pole. Maybe a boulder formed in your stomach and you recognized the awful tragedy that your choice to drive drunk would cause. I’m thankful that whatever you felt in those last moments was fleeting and brief. To live with the burden of such a heavy regret could break a man to pieces.
As a father now, I’ve so far spared myself any burden so heavy, but I’m afraid I also throw caution to the wind more than I should. A father stands towering over his children’s lives like a great mountain above a plain stretching from horizon to horizon – always visible, casting a shadow and altering the patterns of weather, anchored and immovable. Even if you try to turn your back, the mountain remains, constantly looming and never far from the back of your mind.
Your death triggered an earthquake on that flat plain of my life, heaving the ground into turmoil and wreckage. Yet even when I find myself down in one of the valleys it created and the mountain is invisible, I know it’s still there. You’re still there – the smiling, exuberant 33-year-old, looming somewhere in the recesses of my mind.
Your loving son,
Hardship and pain are unavoidable facts of life. We are each wounded and scarred by life-altering events like the one Jason reminisces about here – the death of his father in an alcohol-related car accident when he was 9 years old. But while we can’t avoid pain, we can find God in the midst of it with us.
For more insight on how God meets us in hardship and brings healing and restoration, see:
After a plane crash took Julie Blom’s husband and two of her children, friends had to learn how to help her heal.
I went through a period where I was struggling with feelings of anxiety and guilt about my performance as a Christian. Then God showed me I was looking at myself and my flaws in the wrong way.
It can be hard to know how to be a friend when you’re needed most. There are practical ways to show your love and care to a friend who is grieving.
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