My Father’s Passing — Two Years, And Infinite Reflection And Grief

“Keely, your father
passed this morning.”

Six words that, when I think of them, always appear in my mind in split-stanza form, as if the truth they convey is too much for one sentence to contain.

It was two years ago today that my mother called me at 5:18 in the morning to tell me that the thing I had dreaded, the thought that had taunted me for the previous three or four days, had come to pass. My father, Stephen Edward Emerine, one of the finest three men I’d ever known and the first teacher, mentor, example and friend I ever had, was gone — gone to be with the Lord he had accepted, awkwardly and humbly, a decade before, but, until I join him, gone from my life. No more phone calls, no more emails, no more delight at seeing him at baggage claim at Tucson International Airport during springtime trips to the desert. No more surprises at how fluently my Maxwell House-loving Dad ordered at Starbucks. No more bull sessions about bad journalism, stupid liberal politics, and worse conservative politics, and no more tapping into the impossibly deep well of institutional knowledge of Tucson, jazz, University of Arizona basketball, and classic liberal politics that he possessed. And no more gentle admonitions that I back off and let my sons grow up and make mistakes, no more insistent reminders that I have my yearly mammogram and physical (he had battled cancer in the early 1990s), and no more cracking-voiced reassurances that, when tests came back with frightening results, everything would turn out OK.

No more.

For the first year after he died — of gross medical malpractice, under the control of a Christian wife who, two days before he died, barred me from seeing him — I dialed 520-323-1441, hoping that this time his answering-machine voice would come through. It never did. It never will. He’s dead, and he won’t be calling me back.

He died in pain, sepsis overwhelming his already-weakened organs and confusion and fear bedeviling his mind. He died knowing that she didn’t want people to come see him; he asked me to please tell Keely to come down from Idaho to be with him. He asked me to hold his hand, and when I told him that I was there and that no one could keep me from him, nor keep Jesus from him, he said that Keely loved Jesus and that he prayed to him every day. His wife was mad at him, he thought, for being sick — but I think, in his final hours, as his body crashed and infection coursed through his once-athletic, almost impossibly-youthful frame, he knew that Jesus wasn’t mad. My husband reminds me that the LORD delivers his people in peace; my dad didn’t die in crisis, chaos, and confusion, but in eager anticipation and, finally, rest. His soul left him the day after I left his side, stupidly believing his doctor that this was just typical post-surgery stuff and that, when I returned six weeks later from Montana or Idaho or wherever the hell I was from, I’d see my dad “kicking ass” in cardiac rehab.

Turned out not to be the case.

A few months after dad died, I wrote his doctor a letter telling him I forgave him. I heard he was devastated that his patient had defied his ridiculously inflated, pompous optimism; I needed him to know that my father and my Father wanted me to forgive him, and I did. I battled mightily with my stepmother for many months; I would write to tell her that I forgive her, too, but she’s gone, maybe, I’ve heard, to North Carolina. I can’t find her. I grieve for her, and I forgive her, even though I’ll never be able to understand . . . things she did. And I try to console my own mother, still, 20 years after their divorce, a dear friend of my father’s, and to support my brother, who, as he nears 50, looks so much like dad that my throat catches when I see him. He feels a grief I can’t comprehend, and an anger that, if I were near it too often, would wound me as I see it pouring cold, leaden, resignation into a man once bellicose with enthusiasm and vibrancy.

So I mourn. Not just today, but every time I’m reminded of my dad. I sometimes pray for respite from the torrent of reminders; my faith is an umbrella battered and worn, and I long to be able to put it away because the storm has passed. And yet — my father, dead to me, lives now in eternity with the Savior he so bashfully and clumsily embraced later in life. I believe more in the truth of eternal life in Jesus Christ than I do in anything else; it is more certain to me than the black plastic frame of my laptop, the clamorous barking of my dogs, or the heat rising from my coffee cup.

It is my life; it is the thing I have that conquers death. I live in hope, and I know now what I think I didn’t know then — that hope doesn’t wither in grief and despair, but abounds. I gave the eulogy for my father, and I began it with a passage from the beloved hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.” It is true that when peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, He has taught me to say, “It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

It is well with his soul.

2 Responses to “My Father’s Passing — Two Years, And Infinite Reflection And Grief”

  1. Keely,

    Thank you for being so honest in sharing not only the deep pain of this situation but also your memories of your beloved dad and the hope and peace you have for his eternal ‘well’-being.

    Love,
    your friend and sister Caroline

  2. Thank you, dear heart. Readers, Caroline Schleier Cutler is our sister who is beginning her Ph.D coursework in seminary, obeying the Lord’s call for her to teach and research the Word for the edifying of the Body. We met four years ago at a CBE conference in Denver, and I knew I’d found a forever friend. She is as brilliant as she is kind, and the Kingdom is better for having her follow Jesus’ beckoning.
    Keely

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