September 8, 2021

Dear Dad,

It’s been one year since you breathed your last on this earth, since you closed your eyes on confusion and pain and opened them anew in glory. It’s been one year since we ended that awful season of losing you, and began the bittersweet season of missing you.

What a long and fast year it’s been. How empty and full, how strange and precious. Your influence and love are everywhere in our lives. So is your absence. We tell stories about you that make us laugh, and we remember you in ways that make us cry. Todd cries when he talks about you. Did you ever see Todd cry? It didn’t happen often, before. The loss of you drew the tears out of him.

It’s been a year of firsts: the first Thanksgiving without you, first Christmas without you, first Easter, first Father’s Day. We’ve all had birthdays without you, and the kids have hit milestones without you. Mom just took her first trip to Wisconsin without you, and that was full of hard and good and sad and sweet moments. She can tell you all about it sometime.

I listened to a bible podcast recently, and I thought the host had some crummy theology regarding the Old Testament. I wanted so badly to ask you about it, because I knew you would have thoughtful answers for my questions, that you could help me think clearly about what was being said. I had that moment — that I’ll ask Dad next time I see him moment — and a fresh wave of grief washed over me.

You’d be happy to know that I told Mom about the podcast when I saw her a couple days later, and we had a great conversation. She had good answers for my questions, and helped me to think clearly in the same ways you would have. You would have loved that discussion. It made us miss you, but it also made us grateful for your influence on our hearts and minds.

I think you’d also be happy to know that Mom is grieving well. She’s afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair. It’s not easy for her, but she grieves with hope, and the Lord has given her faithful friends who love her well.

Sometimes I think I’m grieving well, and other times I think perhaps not. I told Todd that the loss of you left me feeling…untethered. I didn’t realize how surreal it would be, how strange, to lose one half of the pair of people who made me. It’s unsettling, and disorienting. But I’ve been surrounded by so much love, from Mom and from Todd and the boys and so many dear friends and family, and God keeps faithfully reminding me that I am truly and at all times carried safely in his loving arms.

On June 2, 2020 you took that early morning walk and had that conversation with God when you asked him what he had in store for your life, and he answered with a seizure. After that, everything changed. Seen from a cynical perspective, that might have seemed like no answer at all, or a cruel one, or an empty one. But we’re not cynical, so here are some better answers.

God had fellowship in store. In the midst of a pandemic that caused widespread isolation, your home was filled with people nearly every day. They came and they sat with us and talked and prayed with us and ate meals with us and played music for us. There was a relational richness that took root during that time that continues to yield fruit today.

God had ministry in store. So many people were deeply affected by your dying days, and were motivated to grow in their faith and in their love for others. So many people were inspired to invest more in relationships, to trust God more deeply, to walk more closely with Christ. God used your life to be a blessing to others, and he chose to use your dying to do the same.

God had the development of your grandkids’ characters in store. They watched you suffer, and they were part of conversations about perseverance and hope. I don’t know what you were and weren’t able to understand after you lost your ability to speak. I don’t know how much your mind perceived about what was being done around you once you couldn’t communicate with us anymore, but your grandkids had a role in caring for you. Ginny fed you ice cream. The little boys played games with you, then near you when you couldn’t play yourself anymore. Kiefer and Cooper helped us care for your physical needs, and used their growing strength to help support you in your failing strength. That’s something they’re still processing, but they’re better for it. They grew in their maturity, in their compassion, in their love.

God had his own glory in store. Never have we been more aware of our own fragility, or of our lack of control, or of the transience of our time on this earth. Never have we had to turn so frequently to God for his comfort and peace. We came out of that season feeling weak, yet sustained by God’s strength. Now our dependence on God is clearer, our faith in him is sweeter, and our hope for heaven is surer.

One night recently, our friend Nate played your Larrivee guitar at our new place in Show Low. Do you remember those evenings when he played for you, during your dying days? Or Erin singing with us, or Jenn playing the piano and leading us in worship songs? Your living room was often filled with gentle music back then, played by friends on the guitar or piano, or coming through the speakers of the radio or headphones, or sung by our own sad voices.

Our place in Show Low is named Rivendale. We named it after The Lord of the Rings, and after you. It’s a beautiful ranch, and it’s a place to rest and be refreshed in the midst of life’s hard journeys. Mom went up there with me on Mother’s Day weekend, and we sat on a golf cart in the middle of it and talked about how much you would have loved it, and we cried together.

We go to Rivendale often, and we frequently sit around the fire-pit with friends, sometimes singing along to your guitar. We sing fun songs and silly songs and pretty songs and worship songs. Many of our friends are gifted musicians, and many have beautiful voices. One night, we sang Be Still My Soul and Amazing Grace. Amazing Grace is the last song I remember you singing.

The other day, I finished reading The Chronicles of Narnia to Foss. I always cry during The Last Battle, but man oh man, the tears hit hard this time. All of those beautiful reunions, and then Aslan says to Lucy “Have you not guessed?” and their hearts leap and a wild hope rises within them, and then things too great and beautiful to write begin to happen. I was reading to Foss and I just kept picturing you, experiencing heaven not as a story but as a reality. This year has often been hard for us but it’s been so, so good for you.

I miss you, Dad. You got there first (in the words of Douglas McKelvey), but we’ll meet you there someday, and we’ll sing Amazing Grace again, with voices full of joy. Until then, further up and further in.

xoxo

Dear Dad

  1. Lee Warren says:

    Elisa, this is a beautiful tribute to you dad. I wish I’d know him here, and I’m glad I’ll get to know him there.

    God bless, Lee

    • elisajoy says:

      What an incredible thought! God brought your book to us at such an important moment. It’s amazing the way He knits lives and stories together. Thank you so much for your kind words.

  2. Traci Crowley says:

    Elisa, so so good. This ministered to my soul. Your thoughts reminded me of the devotional in EMH vol 2, the one about joy and sorrow; how both of those things can fit together in such a beautiful way. Thank you.

    • elisajoy says:

      Mom told me that you had prayed through that one for us! It was one of the ones we read yesterday morning at the cemetery, and it was just what my heart needed. xoxo

  3. Wesley Watson says:

    So beautiful. Thanks for sharing this (and him) with us.

  4. Andie Miller says:

    This is endearingly touching and filled my heart as I am also remembering and mourning the loss of your father. You have made a beautiful tribute to your dad, with your words and through your family which is also a tribute to what he held dear. My God bless you and keep your entire family.

  5. Edwin Smith says:

    Elisa,

    I must have been finishing The Last Battle around the same time. After the kind of weird second-to-last chapter, I wasn’t sure how the ending was going to go. But sure enough, as I was reading to the kids I could barely make it through the words I was weeping so hard. Thanks for writing this.

    • elisajoy says:

      Had you read it before or was that the first time?? How funny that we both just finished it. I’ve always loved Lewis’s vision of heaven, minus certain elements of the kind of weird second-to-last chapter ;). So much joy, and so much…I don’t know. Rightness.

  6. Cassia says:

    When I read the title of your Dear Dad post I thought foolishly to myself, “Oh yes, a year – wow already past. I think I may now be able to complete one of Elisa’s Dad post without crying…”
    I was wrong.

    I long for the eternal reunions too, my friend. In the richest places of my heart.

  7. Kaci Lundgren says:

    Thanks for thinking of writing that, and for sharing it with us. I was teaching a group of eager 2nd graders this week about Author’s Purpose and added to the scripted lesson that sometimes the author’s purpose is to write to organize his or her own thoughts and calm his or her own heart, trying to get them to see how beneficial writing can be, even if it is not shared with others. It’s beautiful that what you have shared with us was both beneficial for you and helpful for us. Further up and further in.

  8. Marilyn Tuck says:

    Elisa, your way with words blesses me every time. SO hard to loose a Godly dad, but what a blessing to have had one. When we all get to Heaven what a day of rejoicing THAT will be. Love you sweet girl

  9. Kimberley Popken says:

    Thank you for sharing your dad with us. I was not raised with a father who was close to God. It is touching to hear your experiences of being raised by a God-loving father. Yes, your depictions of the final days and the year of grieving his passing have resulted in tears streaming down my cheeks every time. However, it has also helped me to appreciate the value of having a strong father figure in our lives. I am grateful that you were vulnerable enough to share him with us.

    Continue to express yourself by blogging. God has clearly gifted you to do this!

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