My friends and I are at that age where our parents are passing on to that better life in Glory. Some of us have experienced this at a younger age. My father passed when my sister and I were in our twenties with babies who never got to know their grandfather. My brothers were in their late teens when our father passed and I always told my children whenever they asked about him to look at my two little brothers who are a reflection of who my father was. My parents divorced when I was six, but my father and I still had a good relationship. We spent Summers and Thanksgivings together. We had some good talks that I’ve had to fall back upon in times when I needed some wisdom. After mama, my sister and I moved from Tennessee back to South Carolina to be close to mama’s side of the family, my father and I talked on the phone a lot. I miss those phone calls still. I miss my father, still.
Dad and me on Beauty about to take a ride around my grandparents’ Tennessee farm.
I remember the last time I saw him. Phillip, our baby daughter Britnee, and I had spent the Summer in Iowa for baseball when Phillip was working for the Braves. After the season we were headed down to West Palm Beach, Florida for Instructional Ball. On the way, we stopped in to visit my father in Nashville. We had a nice couple of days with him and he was able to see Britnee for the first time. The morning we left, I watched him walk back into his house and I commented to Phillip, “Dad doesn’t look good, he looks really exhausted.” Little did I know that just a couple of weeks later we would get some bad news.
That gloomy day must have known what was coming. It was a very rainy morning in West Palm. Phillip had gone over to the ballfields and Britnee and I were just hanging out in the condo we were renting. We had no phone, no cellphones. I heard Phillip open the front door, thinking the rain had cancelled any workouts for the day. But no, that wasn’t the case. He walked in and told me that my father had passed. My step-father had called the ballpark to let Phillip know that at the age of 49, my father had had a massive heart attack. At first I was in shock, then I was angry because I thought of all the years and time that I didn’t, that I couldn’t, spend with my father. Time lost is what was hurting the most. Then came a deep, deep sadness.
My father’s funeral would be one of largest I have ever been to. It was standing room only in that country church he grew up in. Maybe the amount of people in attendance was because he died so young, but I think it was because he was so loved. There was a mix of the old and the young squeezed together in the pews, and flowing outside the building. I don’t remember much else about his funeral, not how my father looked as he lay there in front of the altar, nor what the preacher said about him. I do remember the people crowded in and the song that was played as his casket was rolled back down the aisle to be laid in its final resting place in the old cemetery behind the church. My father had requested no songs would be sung because he thought all that singing would make people more sad about the situation. Instead he asked that ‘Dixie’ be the only song we would hear as his casket was rolled back down the aisle and out of the church. That’s what I remember about the day….. all those people and the playing of “Dixie’, both perfectly summed up who my father was.
This past Christmas I had some old eight millimeter films placed onto a DVD as a gift to mama. On that film was recorded precious memories of family members from both sides…. great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, my father and mother, myself and my sister as babies and a little beyond. I sat down and watched it with mama. I saw my maternal great-grandfather jumping rope and doing a jig, then a couple of his daughters doing the same. There was no sound of course, but just the facial expressions of joy and laughter. I watched my paternal grandfather running up to mama and giving her a great big hug as she hung clothes on the line, and my grandmother smiling as she was riding her horse down the gravel lane and across the pasture on their farm. I watched my young father having a game of catch with mama’s little brother under the big pines in my maternal grandparents’ front yard. He wasn’t looking exhausted as the last time I saw him, but vibrant, laughing and smiling. As I sat and watched the family I so love, I was thinking this was a little bit of what heaven must be like for the ones who have gone on before. A youthful body, no longer exhausted or in pain. A new body that’s full of joy, laughter and can dance a jig and have a game of catch. Then those “Welcome to heaven!” ginormous hugs when someone you love arrives there, and how what seems too little time spent with someone will no longer be a regret because time there in heaven will be eternal.
There are moments when I think of my father and those thoughts can bring tears to my eyes, but mostly when I think of him, I smile and am thankful for the time we had. I think about the times we played catch, the horseback rides, camping trips, and talks while camped next to a creek in the mountains or sitting outside underneath the stars. I think about him whenever I hear ‘Dixie’ or watch ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ when Melanie Smooter’s daddy is participating in Civil War re-enactments as my father used to do. I think about him when driving through the Appalachians, or “God’s Country” as he called the land “where God’s footprints formed the mountains” and that he is truly in God’s country now.
I’m writing this today because some people close to us will be saying goodbye to their husband, father, and brother tomorrow. Phillip and I are thinking of you all and my prayer is that you have more memories that make you smile than thoughts of sadness. My prayer is that you all have peace knowing that the one you love is in the presence of Jesus, and is now perfection. This is only a temporary thing you are going through, y’all. One day you will have the indescribable joy of being with your loved one again. He’s going to be there to welcome you with his big ol’ grin and a ginormous hug, welcoming you to our eternal home.
Now we look forward with confidence to our heavenly bodies, realizing that every moment we spend in these earthly bodies is time spent away from our eternal home in heaven with Jesus. We know these things are true by believing, not by seeing. And we are not afraid but are quite content to die, for then we will be at home with the Lord. —2 Corinthians 5:6-8
Dad with my little sister and me on a Christmas morning.