If you’re like me, Father’s day carries a lot of sweet, nurturing memories–dinner dates and father daughter dances, walking down the aisle with the one who taught me to love while staring towards one who holds my heart, late night talks and desperate phone calls. My dad was the one who soothed my anxious heart when I had nightmares as a little girl and indulged me with long phone calls in the middle of his work day when I was halfway around the world and crippled by insomnia.
For me, these memories promise to multiply. If you’re like my dear friend, Hannah, these memories were tragically and terrifyingly cut short too soon. You won’t dance with your dad in a perfect white dress, your family has been splintered, you agonize over what you’ve lost.
If you’re like some of the precious kids I’ve met at work, you never had a relationship like that–your dad left before you were born or before you had any memories of him. Your life has been tainted by a lack of one very important person.
According to the Fatherless Generation, a whopping 43% of US children live without their fathers. This is staggering. How can we begin to imagine that while we spend summer days celebrating our fathers almost half of our peers are mourning this Father’s Day?
Today, if you’re so blessed to have your dad, love and thank and hold tightly to him. But I also challenge you to look outside yourself–to open your heart to those who have grown up without a father-figure, to empathize for those who lost someone who meant everything to them. Reframe your perspective on kids who act out because they haven’t had half of what you did as a kid, call a friend who mourns, pray for the ones who visit a cemetery instead of their parents’ home. This day, like so many Christmases and Mother’s Days and birthdays, is beautiful, but it is also bittersweet.
My sweet friend, Hannah McCarrier, lends some incredible wisdom for those who have loved and lost this Father’s Day. Hannah’s wise words are deeply helpful for those of us who look to come alongside our friends and even more so for those who find themselves crumpled in pain and overcome with tears. To those of you who mourn today, know that you’re not alone.
I recently walked into a card store to buy cards for three of my newly engaged friends (yes, that’s right. THREE engagements in one week!). I entered filled with joy from the previous week’s excitement and determined to find the perfect cards to celebrate the brides-to- be, but I was not prepared for the massive father’s day display. I caught a few glimpses of witty cards with classic dad jokes and attempted to bolt past before any sadness could damper my happiness. Lost cause. I held back tears and spent my walk home in the rain stuck in my thoughts. There is no hiding from my reality on Father’s day. It feels as if the whole world is posting about how wonderful their dad is and how they can’t imagine life without him. I was one of those people not too long ago, completely out of touch with how painful this day could be. I am by no means an expert on loss, but in the past fourteen months I’ve become very well acquainted with it. Writing out these thoughts, lessons, advice, etc. was equally therapeutic and painful for me, but I’m hoping there is some truth to be found.
- This has always been a part of the plan.
I am constantly surprised by grief. I am surprised by the inconsistency in my feelings from one day to the next. I am surprised that sometimes I look in the mirror and say the words “my dad died” aloud because it still doesn’t feel real. I am surprised that I have not run out of tears. I am surprised by how incredibly unsettled I feel because no place on earth feels like home anymore. I shouldn’t be so surprised, I had no reason to believe I would be an expert on grief when my dad died. At first I thought I could avoid it altogether as long as I didn’t lose sight of Jesus, right? Wrong. So then I thought I could quickly figure grief out and outsmart it. Wrong again. Like most humans, I like to be in control and have a plan. Nothing about my dad’s diagnosis and death was in my control or a part of the plan. I never envisioned I would be grieving the loss of my father in my early twenties and I have a hard time accepting this is where I’m at. Honestly, I feel like I’m living a life that wasn’t designed for me. I catch myself comparing my unsettled, homesick, grief- dominated life in Philadelphia to a happier, well-adjusted, joy-filled life in Philadelphia that would exist if my dad was alive. But the latter was never part of the plan. God always knew that this season of my life would be filled with grief. It doesn’t surprise him one bit. I have found so much comfort in knowing that this is what God planned before the beginning of time. He is in control and holds all things together. So for all of you who are struggling to understand how different your life looks now compared to what you imagined it to be, just know that this has always been a part of God’s plan for your life. God is not surprised by your emotions, pain, or confusion. He is not surprised that you are missing your father on this day. He knows and he is walking alongside you.
- It’s ok to feel sad.
I have felt guilty this past year for feeling sad. You may be thinking – – – but you lost your father, of course you are allowed to feel sad. Yes, but there is something about living through loss that takes sad to a new level. I’ve grown up believing that knowing God brings inexpressible joy, so I doubted how I could be glorifying God if I didn’t have joy. I thought I was directly disobeying the command to “rejoice always” if I dwelled on sorrow. I daily listed out all the things I was thankful for, but it still didn’t fix the core of my problem. I was trying to deal with this on my own.
Ps. 121: 1-2 “I lift my eyes toward the mountains, where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” God never told me to journey through this on my own, I was the one who thought I needed to get through it without any help. I reasoned that once I got to a place where I was ok with the way things were, then I would find joy. The minute I stopped trying to get to where I thought God was and realized He meets me where I am was the minute I started understanding the purpose of my pain. My sadness is a reminder of how I daily need the strength of the Lord. It’s a reminder of the fatherly love I miss, but find so fully in my Heavenly Father. In reality, I will carry the loss of my father with me my whole life, so it’s a good thing God wants to carry this burden for me.
- This will end.
This is my favorite part. All the grief and tears and sadness and pain is temporary. There will come a day when I am reunited with my dad in the presence of my Heavenly Father and all these earthly struggles will be over. When I keep this perspective at the forefront of my mind nothing feels too hard to handle. I long for Heaven in new ways since my dad died. I used to have a normal fear of death or bargain with God about when he was allowed to come back based on life events I wanted to experience (marriage, kids, etc.). I’ve always known that Heaven is my home, but it wasn’t until a piece of me went there that I finally understood how amazing it is that we get to spend eternity in the fullness of love. At your lowest point, hold tightly to the hope that it will end.
“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)