Love Written Once6:29 AM
December. It has taken me several years to pause, to remember, and to celebrate this time of year.
December 2007 forever changed the way that I experienced the Christmas season. It has been hard to rejoice in life and the goodness December brings when grief shows up uninvited while washing dishes, putting on my makeup, folding laundry, or mopping the floors. Grief loves company, but rarely receives an invitation. I believe this to be the reason it has become an expert at showing up unexpectedly.
At the time of 2007, I was 9 months pregnant with our daughter. We were living in Joplin, MO and had just experienced the worst ice storm in Joplin’s history. For seven days, we were without electricity and as an emotional pregnant woman, I wanted to nest and be comfortable. I called the electric company every day, several times a day to get someone out to restore our power. I even threw out the “I have a 3yr old and I’m 9 months pregnant” card. It didn’t work. It seemed that they could care less if I cried or how strongly I believed that my daughter was going to be born frozen.
It seemed like an eternity before our electricity was restored. I remember that December morning like it was yesterday. I looked straight into my husband’s eyes and said, “Today can not get any worse than what we have already experienced.”
He gently kissed my forehead and left for work. It wasn’t until a few hours later that the power came on & I was overwhelmed with joy.
But, my joy only lasted an hour.
The phone rang.
I happily answered, “Hello”, ready to tell whoever was calling that I had the heat on high and our house was a flaming furnace. But, I had no response. “Hello” I repeated softly.
“Jackie,” I could tell it was my brother’s voice.
“Jackie,” he voice cracked. “Tell me it’s not true. Tell me it’s not true.”
I had no clue what he was talking about. In those few seconds my mind raced to all sorts of tragedies.
“Randy,” I firmly demanded, “what is wrong? What happened?”
And through his sobs, I hear, “It’s Dad. He’s dead, Jackie. Tell me it’s not true.”
I asked how, what, when, why but he couldn’t speak.
Since my parents divorced when I was young, I had to get the information from my grandma. She’s in her 70’s now and I believe that she walks hand-in-hand with Jesus daily. She is a noble, gentle woman who allowed my dad to stay in her home. But on this day, I hear righteous anger coming from her lips. She loved her son and did everything that she could for him.
When I was 5 years old, my grandma purchased a home for us to live in. It was a lovely two-story home with 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2 living rooms, and a huge yard. Perfect for our family of six.
It seemed like we were living the good, perfect life for a few years. My dad was a certified, world renown mechanic for Hyundai. He had offers to work overseas, but decided to stay near his family. I have always appreciated that about him.
He and my mom decided to go into business together and open up a family auto repair shop. He was doing well and needed to hire a few employees. It was at this time that our family’s downward spiral began.
My dad started spending more time away from our family as he spent more time with his employees. As he became heavily addicted to drugs, he left no money for us to eat. And one by one, our home utilities were shut off.
My mom did her best, but she could not keep the shop running by herself when my dad was sent to jail. So, she lost the shop. We would’ve been homeless if it weren’t for my grandma allowing us to live in the home without paying her any rent.
My dad spent a few years in jail. He missed our birthdays, he never called us, and we never heard “I love you”. On occasion, my mom would take us to the parking lot across from the downtown jail. She would make us play in the parking lot so he could watch us from the window in his jail cell. We would know which window was his by the orange rag waving on the inside of the window. I use to pretend that it was him saying, “I will see you soon. I love you.”
For the next few years, we didn’t get to see him much because he was in and out of jail and drug rehab. During this time, we lived off of what we call “wish sandwiches” which was simply a slice of bread with a packet of ketchup that we stole from McDonald’s. We would drink rain water as well as use it to flush our toilets. The local gas station supplied our shower and laundry soap. We would ask for the bathroom key once a week and quickly clean ourselves and our clothes in the sink for fear that someone would find out what we were doing.
After a couple of years living this way, my mom divorced my dad and went back to school to receive her GED. She had four kids to take care of and couldn’t wait any longer on him.
I remember the first time that I went to visit his house when I was 14. He lived in a trailer at the salvage yard where he had also worked. I spent my entire Saturday afternoon scrubbing his floors, doing his laundry, and washing his dishes until there was no dirt in sight. I wanted him to know that I loved him and I wanted his affection in return. I thought that the way I’d have it is if I somehow proved myself and then he’d see that I was capable of living with him. I was too young to understand that he couldn’t take care of me because in reality he couldn’t take care of himself.
My siblings and I were able to visit on certain weekends. I enjoyed every moment with him and couldn’t wait to see him.
This only lasted a summer. For that following Fall, his girlfriend was murdered in his backyard. My dad was the suspect and it was all over the news. Being from a small town, everyone knew about my dad. I was mortified when one of the kids at school talked about my dad as if he were a monster. Because in my eyes, my dad was everything I “pretended” him to be.
After much investigation, my dad was found innocent due to the confession of his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend. This put a damper on our visits with dad.
It wasn’t until he moved in with my grandma that we were able to stay the weekends with him. Though, rarely did we see him. If he wasn’t working on cars, he was planted in front of his tv in his room. We spent most of our time with our grandma.
And as you can imagine, this put a wedge in our relationship. He never attended games where I cheered nor any of my track and cross country meets. I was told that he came and went to both my high school & college graduation, but I don’t remember seeing him at all. I became bitter and no longer went to visit him.
When I married my husband, he spent many hours encouraging me to call my dad and even made me go visit him on occasion. He obviously saw more to my dad than my hurts would allow me to see.
Our firstborn adored my dad. He didn't mind that he smoked like a chimney while watching tv in his bedroom. Our son would just love being with him. He would jump on his grandpa's bed and sit next to him while watching Macgyver. He had no reason to be distant from him. He had no hurts. This was his grandpa and he loved him.
His love for my dad accompanied with the way my husband saw my dad changed my heart. I loved him, too.
Even though I never heard my dad say that he loved me, down deep, I knew that he did.
That cold, December day back in 2007 changed me. It changed us all.
Around 2pm, my dad grabbed some tape, a plastic tube, pen, and paper and headed up to a secluded area in the salvage yard where he worked. With oldies playing in the background, he tapped the tube to the exhaust pipe and pulled it through the passenger side window. He, then got into car and tapped the air vents, and the crack around the passenger side window. And while carbon monoxide filled his car, he wrote notes to several people until he forever fell asleep. The words that I hold close to my heart are these, “please let my kids know that I love them.”
He loved me. He loved us all.
I may always cry on December 18th. As the years go by, I have learned to embrace grief as it washes over me and engulfs me to my core. I can not run from it. I am not stronger than it. I must allow to feel it when it comes, step into it in prayer, because I have to believe that in it, I AM NOT ALONE.
My Eternal Father has provided a promise to Joshua that I, too, hold dear and true:
"The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you, he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." Deuteronomy 31:8
This is the month that I remember what has been lost, but more importantly, to celebrate in the hope of our Emmanuel. God is with us.