Phoenix in June. Hot. Unbearably hot. The room I was standing in had long windows on both sides. They filled the room with light, but they also made it heat up. The amount of people in the room made it muggy.
Something about the heat, about the constant onslaught of people, and the wretched sadness that filled me made me tired. And it made me mad. I shouldn’t be here. I should not have to stand in a line with my siblings and my mother comforting all of these dammed adults. I just turned 13! I don’t like hugs. I don’t like pity. And I don’t like feeling like I’m some sort of presenter standing here next to what everyone has come to see.
His casket. When I had first seen it the night before, it looked black. But in the light of the big windows, I could see that it was actually a very dark green. The inside was white and looked fluffy and comfortable- like a cozy bed surrounded with a down filled comforter. And there, lying too still and too cold for this hot day, was the body of the only advocate I felt like I ever had. The only person that was consistently on my side. The person I love the very most in this world. My father.
He had passed away after a long battle with cancer that had ended days before. And before that, we had knelt next to his bed and prayed that God would finally take him. Yes, at 13, I had prayed for my father to die. The weeks before he passed were chaotic and beautiful and sad. I watched as the cancer took every last part of him. I watched as the man who could always stand to lose a few pounds withered away into a frail, much older man over the course of 8 short weeks. His skin changed color. His eyes sunk in. By the last week, he could barely do more than breathe enough to keep himself alive. He could only whisper. He whispered as he slid in and out of consciousness. He whispered as though the veil between this world and the next had been lifted. He was talking TO someone.
I’d try to listen. I’d try to make out the conversations that he was having. I’d get right next to his face, but I did not understand what he was saying. The night before he passed I crept next to his bed, and told him I loved him. He stirred from his sleep, motioned me to get close to his face and whispered in my ear the last thing he ever said to me. “I love.”
Standing in that hot, terrible line was almost more than I could take. But I stood tall. He would have wanted that, right? For me to stand tall? I said the words of comfort I had heard my mother saying the weeks before as people came in and out of our house, offering condolences while my father was still alive. Too many well meaning people hugged me and told me that it was his time. That he had a better work to do on the “other side.” I nodded in agreement.
But inside the anger stirred. Better? We’re taught in the church that nothing is more important than family. Tell me then, what is more important on the other side? More important than his wife and SIX children he had left behind? More important than his youngest daughter? More important than me, the girl who felt so alone in this world without him. The girl who needed him because he understood the workings of her heart. The girl who wasn’t outgoing like her siblings. The girl who loved to write things the rest of her family STILL doesn’t read, but that he delighted in.
The hardest part now for me to understand is that my dad said those things to. That it was his time. That he was needed on the other side. I know he believed it, and I know he meant to say those words in comfort. But would he have always? Would things have changed for him, too? I don’t know.
The same words of faith he spoke are now the ones that are used against me. He believed, so how can I not? What would my father- my DEAD FATHER- think of my unbelief?
I don’t know.