“Why do all the good dads die?” I mumbled it after Dave came into the bedroom to tell me that our friend’s dad had died during a surgery that was meant to save his life. We go to his memorial service on Friday. His heart failed. It had been failing for two decades.
Sunday will be the 11th anniversary of Mike’s death. Dave’s dad died after one heart attack. And I still remember our second Christmas without him. I don’t actually remember the first. I was numb. And so many people brought meat and cheese trays. I put bags and bags of party platters into the freezer. No one knows what to do when a woman is unexpectedly widowed.
I did laundry and dusted and helped write an obituary. And Dave sobbed on my shoulders so many times that I started carrying a dish towel. I looked like a grandma during the Dust Bowl. So much sadness, wearing my future mom-in-law’s apron. And I don’t remember much else.
We went to the midnight service at a local church and the pastor preached about how difficult Christmas is when you lose someone you love. Perfect. Because we really needed to be told that our life was difficult at that candlelight ceremony. Not even two weeks after Mike’s death. “You’re an idiot.” My thoughts toward that poor clergyman. He was right. But my heart was on a continuum with apathetic at one end and overfeeling everything at the other. Each day was a surprise.
That second Christmas was heartbreaking. And I can still feel the pain. Enough time had passed to make the ache unbearable. I had just graduated college, and Mike wasn’t there. He was supposed to be there, but he was dead.
“Everyone dies, Lyndse. Everyone.” I knew Dave was right. Bright and early Thanksgiving morning. “I can’t believe it’s Thanksgiving and their dad is dead. I wish mine was dead instead.”
I don’t understand how we go about decorating and baking and wassailing when Mike and Bob and Randy are dead. This holiday season that’s about new life. And life for everyone who wants it. But there are heads of tables that are empty this year. Or they’re seating first-born sons or beautiful granddaughters or a strange plant sent to the funeral home.
This is our first Christmas without Bob. And I will remember every detail of this season. Because several months have passed. I’m no longer numb. I’m aware that he won’t be here. We’ve survived his birthday, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, 4th of July, Linda’s birthday, Elizabeth’s birthday, Graham’s birthday, Thanksgiving, Adelaide’s birthday. And every Sunday. So many firsts. So many times he should’ve been here. The sting of death doesn’t dull with time. Only songwriters who have never lost anyone pen those words.
But this is our first Christmas without him. Last year, he was on hospice dying in the living room. We were celebrating this tiny baby in a manger, while my children’s only papa was weaker than a newborn.
I’ve lost two dads, who were barely mine to even claim, in two opposite ways. The sudden and the horrifically prolonged. They are both ghastly. Each in their own way.
My second mom is a widow again at Christmas. I wish my own mom was a widow. And even though Dave is right, that everyone is dying, I want the good dads alive. Death wasn’t the original plan. And I’m often at a loss about how to reconcile it all. Knowing Mike and Bob and Randy are all safe. It doesn’t take that heartbreak away.
I don’t know if Alissa gets a numb or engraved-in-her-mind Christmas this year. Her loss is unique to her. But I know that Jesus lost his earthly dad, too. Jesus knows how we feel. I bet Jesus was sad about Joseph. And Joseph was missed. And remembered. And there were festivals and banquets and recitation of prophecy, and he wasn’t there. And Jesus knew that He needed to march to that cross to save his own earthly father. The man who loved his mother and siblings and worked to care for her and protect her.
And all the good dads die, because everyone dies.
So I’m extra thankful this year that we’re still not fatherless this December. Emmanuel, God with us. He went from creator of the universe to a baby to a man who lost his own dad to a man who saved his own dad and everyone who wanted it. And Mike and Bob and Randy and Kess and Kevin wanted it and received it and that makes this Christmas bearable.