Happy Birthday Dad

Today you would have been 79. I've thought about you all day. Each moment at work that I wasn't busy in a project, my thoughts drifted back to you. I wonder if you know today is your birthday. I wonder if you're celebrating. I miss you so much.

Coming back from lunch a song came on the radio that reminded me of you. "You Lift Me Up" by Josh Groban. It made me cry just listening to the words. You have always lifted me up and empowered me to do anything I put my mind to. You were always there to comfort me when I failed and you encouraged me to get up and dust myself off and try again. The unconditional love you have shown me and each of your kids has been immeasurable.

There are so many memories in my thoughts today. The many times you had to yank me up by my ankles when I would put coins, olive pits, ice cubes or other things in my mouth and start to choke. You comforting me when I had to get stiches in my forehead. Running to my aide when I fell off the monkey bars and broke my arm. Drinking chocolate milk and eating pickles while we watched westerns on t.v. Driving me to a boy's house in the neighborhood that I had called "gay" and forcing me to apologize. Teaching me to drive. Escorting me on Homecoming Court. Walking me down the aisle. Officiating my wedding...both times! Then all the things you have meant to me as a grandfather to my son. The Biblical truths that you instilled in him from a very young age. Picking him up from school and offering him a King-size Butterfinger that you had hidden under the seat (away from the watchful eye of Nana!). Playing football with him in the yard and diving for a catch and crashing into the porch and breaking the railing. Dressing up as Santa Claus each year and surprising him with gifts...until the year he said, "hey, Santa has the same wedding ring as Papa!" Going to all of his baseball games and yelling "let's go Zacky!" Also, all the fun trips we took to the beach and to Disney...remember "KFC all the way!" We still laugh about that.

Dad, then I'm sad that you never saw Zack conduct the band. That you won't be there at his graduation, you be around to see him get married or have children. I know you would be a wonderful great-grandfather. Zack loved you so much, Dad. He used to love to make fun of you and immitate your sneezes! I think at some point we will do that again and laugh, but right now it hurts too much to be reminded that you're not with us anymore.

I'm calling mom each day and checking on her. We went back to visit this past weekend and it was so hard. We couldn't believe that it had only been a little over a week since you went to heaven. We both feel like it's been a lifetime. Everything at the house reminds us that you're not there. I walk by your room and expect to see you lying in bed sleeping. I always would stop and look at you for a few minutes to make sure your chest would rise and fall. I wish I would have sat by your bed a few minutes longer that night I was feeding you cereal. I know I told you I would miss you when you were gone, but I'm not sure you really understood. I don't even think I understood how much I would miss you and how bad this would hurt. I know you're in heaven, and you're happy and healthy, but I miss you Dad. There is a deep sadness that cuts to my very soul that I can't seem to shake. Terri found a poem called "The Broken Chain" that puts it so well...she gave it to Mom last night for your birthday. Here's how it goes...

The Broken Chain

We little knew that morning that God was going to call your name.
In life we loved you dearly, in death we do the same.
It broke our hearts to lose you, you did not go alone;
for part of us went with you, the day God called you home.
You left us peaceful memories, your love is still our guide;
and though we cannot see you, you are always at our side.
Our family chain is broken, and nothing seems the same;
but as God calls us one by one, the Chain will link again.

Mom just cried and cried when she called me and read it to me. I did the same. I haven't slept through the night since you've been gone. I keep feeling like this has all been a bad dream that I will awaken from soon. I'm trying not to be so selfish, for I know heaven is what you've longed for. Just pray for me Dad, dry my tears and wrap your loving arms around me when I'm sad and missing you so much it hurts.

Tonight we're going to your favorite place, the Olive Garden, in honor of your birthday. I guess I should say in memory of your birthday. I'm posting this picture of you that I've looked at so much today...it was on your last birthday. Mom had made you breakfast and set a nice table out on the patio. I wish we could have that day back again.

Happy Birthday Dad...I love you.

Lean On Me...

This past weekend we went to Atlanta again to spend the weekend with Mom. It was very difficult. It was so hard to believe that just one week ago we were having the funeral and burial for Dad. Each day the tears continue to flow and my mind is having a difficult time processing the fact that he's gone. I pass by their room, and out of habit, look in expecting to see him in the bed. He's not there, but my mind quickly brushes away any thought of him being gone. It seems so final and I'm having a hard time accepting it. I do what I can to just function and get done each day what needs to be done. Please continue to pray for me and my family. Tomorrow is Dad's birthday. He would have been 79. I know it's going to be a hard day for all of us.

On the way home from Atlanta, a song came on the radio that I hadn't heard in a long time... it's called "Lean On Me" with Kirk Franklin and Crystal Lewis. As I listened to the song, tears began to stream down my cheeks. I've been so overwhelmed by the cards, emails, text messages and phone calls I've received from friends. I can't even begin to express how much each one means to me, but this song touched my heart because of the love my friends have shown me.

Here are some of the words...

There's a man
Standing on the corner
He has no home
He has no food
And his blue skies are gone
Can't you hear him cryin' out

And there's a girl
Searching for a father and a friend
Praying that the storm someday will end
But instead of walking away
Open up your heart and say

I am here
You don't have to worry
I can see your tears
I'll be there in a hurry when you call
Friends are there to catch you when you fall
Here's my shoulder you can lean on me

Thank you, my friends, for your continuous love and support. Thank you for being there and for listening to me cry a million times over. I love you and am so blessed to call you friends!

Some favorite photos...

The arms of safety and protection and the eyes of unconditional love...
This is the last family photo we had with Dad...Summer of 2005

This is my Dad in January of 1959, he was 31 years old...move over Elvis and make room for the Italian Stallion!

This is a portrait of my Dad that we used in the memorial video

This is one of my favorite pictures of him. He wrote on the back of it "December 1993. 66 years of age...I can see that I look it also" To me he looks so young here. He would shine when he preached...totally in his element. Notice the college ring on his right hand. I remember when I was a little girl, I would always ask him to take it off so I could "play" with it and I would put it on my pointer finger and pretend it fit.
Me and Dad in January of this year, 2006. Now I look back and see how quickly he declined.

One of my all time favorite photos. Mom, me and Dad at my wedding in May of 2000.
Each day continues to be a struggle. My head knows he's in heaven, free from pain and worshipping the One he served his entire life, but my heart feels a void and heaviness that I can't seem to shake. Thank you, friends, for your cards, your calls and your expressions of love and sympathy. They are all heartfelt and appreciated more than you know.

This very moment...

Just think of stepping on shore, and finding it heaven,
of touching a hand, and finding it God's,
of breathing new air and finding it celestial,
of waking up in glory, and finding it home.

One week ago at this very moment I received a phone call from my mom saying my Dad had just died. The entire way to Georgia the chorus to the song "Finally Home" kept running through my mind. It was sung at Dad's funeral.

This past week has felt like the longest week of my life. Then I imagine Dad in heaven, timeless, with no night. I hope he knows how much I miss him.


I'm sorry that I'm not there yet. I heard the word "rejoice" used so much this past week. I don't think I can stand it anymore. I apologize in advance for the raw and brutal honesty that I cannot contain. I know people mean well and I certainly don't hold it against any of them. Sometimes, if you don't know what to say, it's better to say nothing, or a simple "I'm sorry".

I heard so many people say "rejoice that your father is in heaven with the Lord"... "rejoice that he no longer is in pain and is with his Savior"......rejoice. Do you know what that word means? Webster's describes it this way...

To be glad
To give joy
To feel joy or great delight

Rejoice, you say. My heart could not be further from a joyful feeling. My heart aches and is filled with an emptiness that I have never experienced before. I know all the "preachy, church answers" and I don't want to hear them anymore. I know my Dad is in heaven with the Lord and I would not wish him back here to be in pain for anything. But I miss him. I miss the times that we had together, the fun family vacations, the silly things he did, I miss his voice, I miss his soft hands, I miss looking into his eyes. I miss the times that I could have had with him in the future. I'm already missing the last Christmas that I thought we were going to share together this year. My thoughts are consumed with missing my Dad.

I'm angry that I wasn't there when he died. The Lord knew I wanted to be there and yet He chose to take him quickly. I don't know why...I know God has a reason...but I can't imagine it. People say it gets easier with time. Right now, all I know is that it hurts, and it hurts worse than I ever could have imagined it would.

Like mom said last night, "God's grace is sufficient, but it's certainly not an anesthetic."

Better Get a Bigger Bottle...

What a rough week. I don't really know what to say. I'm not sure why I even have the urge to write. Mom suggested I keep a journal, maybe this will be my version of journaling. I don't write for those who may read it, I write to ease the heaviness in my heart.

A couple of weeks ago, we had the privilege of all getting together on the same weekend to spend time with my Dad. This included my brother from Oklahoma, me, and my sister and brother that live in Georgia. It was a sweet time with Dad. It also was a time for Mom to discuss important things for the "future". Who knew the "future" would be so soon. I remember sitting in the living room with tears streaming down my cheeks as she discussed things she had already taken care of regarding funeral arrangements. Hospice and the social workers all told her it was best to get as much done ahead of time as possible. I remember telling her that I did not want an open casket. I did not want to see Dad like that.

This past week I couldn't see him enough. After seeing him on Tuesday morning at the funeral home, each day I longed to just look in his face one more time. I would dream of his smile. I could still hear his voice in my head. Friday was the visitation. We were able to go as a family at 1:00 p.m. before the official visitation started at 2:00 p.m. I couldn't believe how different Dad looked from the morning I saw him. His hair was combed, his color was back (make up) and he was in a suit. A suit that swallowed him whole. He lost so much weight towards the end.

My mom had given my sister two lapel pins to put on Dad's suit. He already had two on there, but she found two others that she wanted to swap out. One said "Warrior for Christ" and the other said "Done" with a small cross symbol. We stood over his casket as my sister, thru a waterfall of tears, changed his lapel pins. We all were crying. Our tears were falling like raindrops on Dad's suit. I couldn't stop touching him. I stroked his hair, I stroked his face, I touched his hands. I still kept looking at his eyes expecting him to open them at any moment.

Then an endless line of visitors. So many coming to show their support. Thank you, my dear friends, that came just to say "I'm sorry" and "I'm here for you." The day was long and tiring. We had two visitations (2-4 and 6-8). I remember leaving at 4:15 and closing the door behind us and not wanting to leave Dad in there all alone. About 8:30 p.m. we had the last of visitors and were able to spend another few moments alone with Dad. Again, I didn't want to leave him. I kept rubbing his cheeks and didn't find myself so affected by the coldness anymore.

Saturday was the funeral. So moving, so many people touched by Dad's life. The music was beautiful. Both my brothers spoke. My little brother, Rodney, did an incredible job honoring Dad. I was especially proud of him. Don't you ever wonder how tear ducts don't run out? I have cried so much this past week, and this weekend---I didn't know one could cry so much.

The ladies at the church prepared a meal for our family and extended family and friends. I remember filling my plate, but only eating a few bites. My eyelids felt so heavy and I didn't have an appetite. My headache was getting worse and I felt a migraine coming on. About 2:00 p.m. we got on the road to go to Luthersville for the burial. We made it as far as Peachtree City when the caravan had to pull over for me to run into a gas station restroom and throw up (sorry for the details). I kept getting sick and this delayed us for a few minutes. Then we were on the road again. When we arrived, they already had the casket in place. The temperature was dropping and the wind was getting colder. We all gathered under the tents and the pastor said a few words and then prayed. None of us wanted to leave. So, we found a spot in the sun and watched as they lowered Dad and the gravediggers began to cover him. Gary kept saying "are you sure you want to stay for this?"...and I did. I remember feeling like I didn't want to miss any of it. I wanted to see and feel every bit of it until the very end and etch every detail into my mind. It felt so final. Again, I had to grab a trash bag from the car and get sick. The minutes seemed like hours and finally they had all the flowers on top of the grave. We took some roses from the arrangements, said our final goodbyes and left. Each of us silent as we drove away. I fell asleep for about 20 minutes, trying to ease my migraine and both emotionally and physically exhausted. When I woke up, it was time for an immediate stop at a gas station bathroom again.

We finally made it home almost close to 6:30 p.m. I took some medicine and went to bed while the rest of the family went out to dinner. They returned a little after 9:00 p.m. and I had gotten some good rest. Gary picked me up a Chick-fil-A nugget meal. I thought I was hungry, but was only able to eat 4 nuggets before it came back up again. I decided to just go back to bed.

This morning I awoke with no headache, but with such an emptiness in my heart. I decided to get busy and do some things around the house while Mom was at church with some of our relatives. I was not ready to go back to the place where we just had Dad's funeral. This afternoon, the funeral home directors came by with a van load full of flowers and plants. It was unbelievable how many there were---they filled the living room, the dining room, the foyer, the den and we had some in the kitchen and in Mom's room. She said tomorrow she and her friend Gail, were going to go deliver some of the arrangements to the hospice and maybe the rehab center too.

It was so hard leaving tonight. I didn't want to leave my Mom. It hurt me to think of her all alone in the house for the first time since Dad's passing. I wanted to stay with her. I didn't want to think of her experiencing pain and loneliness. I know she has to experience it at some point. I know, even if I stayed, there would come a day when I would have to go home and she would have to experience it then. But I wanted to protect her from that pain. It's like the first time you let go of your child's bike with no training wheels. I want to run behind her and keep holding on so she won't fall.

After a long, tearful ride home of reliving the entire week, I called Mom to check on her and possibly offer her some encouragement. She did the encouraging---I did the crying. She shared with me a verse from Psalms where God collects our tears in a bottle. I love the way the Message (version) puts it...

"You've kept track of my every toss and turn
through the sleepless nights,
Each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book."
Psalm 56:8

Mom, He's going to have to get a bigger bottle.

The Longest Day

I’ve never lived 24 hours that seemed longer than the past 24 hours have felt. I don’t even know why I’m writing, other than the fact that I feel so trapped and writing has been a great avenue to express my feelings. As I write this, Gary is practicing the cello and my mom is accompanying him on the piano, playing the music that will be played at the funeral. The cello has always been one of my favorite instruments, so deep and soulful and mellow. Right now it just makes me want to scream. On the outside, I may appear quiet and calm, but on the inside, my heart is overwhelmed with sadness. I want to cry out to everyone around me…”Don’t you know what just happened? I just lost my dad. How can you continue to go about your every day business?” My mind still can’t wrap around the fact that my Dad is gone. I feel too young to have lost one of my parents.

The past 24 hours seem like time has stood still. When the phone rang about 10:35 p.m. (Central time) on Monday evening and my mom’s words cried out “Trace, Dad has just died”….I couldn’t believe it. She quickly got off the phone to continue on down her list of phone calls to make. I have never felt such heartache. As I hung up the phone, I screamed and cried no, that it was too soon, they said just a week ago that his vitals looked good, his organs appeared strong, no! How could this happen? I wasn’t there…I’m not ready to let him go. I quickly started throwing things into a suitcase, woke up Zack, and in under an hour the three of us were out the door on our way to Atlanta. My sister and younger brother got to Mom’s in just a matter of minutes and were able to spend some time with my Dad. In phone calls to my sister, I kept pleading for them to wait until I got there to take Dad away. Unfortunately, the funeral home came in about an hour and had to take them. She said they waited as long as they could. I just wanted to touch him, to hold his hand—I just couldn’t believe he was gone.

Monday night and early into the morning on Tuesday, we just sat and cried. None of us got much sleep. Tuesday morning we had to go to the funeral home and take care of some details. Terri had told the funeral home that I was the one that wasn’t able to get there in time to see him. They said they would see if they could get Dad “ready enough” for us to see. A little later they took us to a room where Dad was. Even though the stainless steel table and white sheets and blanket looked so hard and cold, Dad looked so peaceful. He appeared as though he were sleeping and I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I kept thinking he was just going to open his eyes and wake up. I was afraid to touch him. I was afraid of what he would feel like. Terri stroked his hair and face and kept rubbing his cheek. I just cried and cried and told her I was afraid to touch him. She said “don’t be” and I brushed his cheek with my hand. I wanted to feel the familiar warmth and softness of his skin, but was met with coldness. I wanted to hold him, to just drape myself across his chest and cry for him to wrap his arms around me. It was a difficult time for all of us—we just didn’t want to leave him.

The sun has risen on another day—but for me time has stood still. I don’t feel like I’m experiencing this. It feels like it’s happening to someone else and I’m just an observer. What is this supposed to feel like? Am I to be rejoicing that my Dad is in the presence of Jesus and no longer in any pain? I know that’s what I should be doing, but I don’t feel like it. I’m sad and I want my Dad back. Every time I pass by their room, I look where his bed is and keep thinking I’m going to see him and every time it’s empty and that pang of loneliness overwhelms me. I feel numb to everything and everyone around me.

Don’t hum, don’t sing, don’t play the cello, don’t do errands, stop the continuous play-back of telling everyone on the phone that God has answered prayer by allowing Dad to have a peaceful death. I can’t listen to it anymore. He’s gone. My Dad is gone. Stop doing what you’re doing and acknowledge the emptiness and pain. This is not just another day—this is another day that I’m trying to cope with losing my Dad.

I go in and sit on his bed and look up to the ceiling and imagine the angels carrying him to heaven. I wanted to be there when it happened. I wanted to hold his hand and tell him how much I loved him as he took his last breath. But I wasn’t here. I keep trying to hold on to the last good days we had together, with him stroking my cheeks and wiping my tears as I told him how much I would miss him when he was gone. I have always loved the warmth of his chestnut brown eyes and the twinkle of mischief that was ever present. My dad had a heart bigger than anyone I’ve ever known. He was firm and strong, yet sensitive. Sensitive to people in need, sensitive to the feelings of those around him.

I still can’t come to grips with talking about him in the past tense. I’m sure with time, it will get easier. But should it? I look around me and see so many of his traits in each of us…the warmth of my nephew’s chestnut brown eyes; my niece, who has a heart of gold and would give you her last dime; the sense of humor and knowledge of the Bible that he instilled in Zack. This is your legacy, Dad. You’ve been the cornerstone of our family and your legacy will live on in your children, your grandchildren and one day, your great-grandchildren.

I love you and miss you so much it hurts.
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