Over the past few years, I’ve written extensively about mother-loss during the holidays and Mother’s Day. But what about hardship and grief that accompanies the loss of a father during Father’s Day?
Grief hits us most profoundly when special occasions occur, especially firsts. This weekend, grief will confront me in a unique way because it’s my family’s first Father’s Day without Dad.
This thought hit me when I went shopping for Hallmark cards earlier this week. I had to get three instead of four: two for my brothers-in-law and one for my godfather. I spotted a card that was from a child to “Pop Pop,” my children’s nickname for Dad.
I looked at the card for a few minutes, wondering whether I should buy it just to have it and put it in my journal. I moved on, picked up another card with peanuts on it for one of my in-laws instead: “Happy Father’s Day from a couple of nuts.”
The trip to the card aisle reminded me just how helpless we all feel after the loss of a loved one.
For my family, personally, it is helplessness in the wake of the tragedy we experienced nearly 10 months ago when an irate shooter killed three people, Dad included, in a town hall meeting in Ross, Pa.
As a result of a powerful firearm, we were rendered powerless and we were torn asunder from our loved one. What to do?
Since then, I have faced many firsts, and I have tried to follow the advice that I’ve given parishioners who have been in my situation.
We’ve started new traditions that honor my father, and we have grieved the loss of other traditions.
We acknowledge the loss, and we feel our way through our emotions as they come about.
We draw encouragement from the Bible. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is especially helpful.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope … God will bring with him those who have died” (4:13, 14b).
I know we will be reunited in heaven, but the separation from our loved one feels like hell right now.
Prayer is also helpful, but sometimes falls short. Silence in the presence of God is golden.
Poetry has been the most helpful avenue of healing for me. I’ve picked up “Book of Hours” by poet, Kevin Young, who teaches at Emory University here in Atlanta.
The book balances poetry about his own father’s death (in an accidental shooting while hunting) with the birth of Young’s first child. His poetry is a bluesy, meandering stream of consciousness that expresses the on-again, off-again nature of loss:
“Strange how you keep on dying — not once then over and done with …each morning a sabbath of sundering, then hours still arrive I realize nothing can beg you back.”
It’s helplessness in between those lines, but also hope. “I do not want you to be uninformed,” Paul writes; it’s a timeless lesson echoing in my heart.
But uninformed I am. As Father’s Day creeps up on us, we will stand in darkness yet again. It feels like an old record skipping and repeating the same dirge over and over.
My only solace is that the day falls on a Sunday. My church family will comfort me, as I’m sure church families everywhere will comfort all who those who miss fathers on that special day.
We will celebrate too, because there are plenty of fathers in our midst that make up the difference.
And then there is our Father in heaven. Even when darkness falls, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds” (Psalm 9:1), because God is good. All the time.
The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. Email him at email@example.com or visit www.trinityconyers.org.