Monday, July 31, 2017

8 Months After My Mom Died, My Dad Got Engaged. But I'm Not Done Grieving.

It was 3 weeks after my mom had passed, and my dad and I sat in a burger joint after a date at the movies.  The pain of loss was severe and nauseating.  (My eyes fill with tears as I sit here writing, just remembering back.)  "Do you think you'll ever date or re-marry?" I asked my dad as we shared sweet potato fries.  Our family has always been an open book.  We ask honest questions and give honest answers.  He said he didn't know.  He didn't know if he wanted to live alone, but he also didn't know if he could love again and risk going through pain like that again. Time would tell.
The conversations about grieving, healing and the future continued many times over between my dad, and sisters and I in the weeks and months that followed.  My dad was well into his grief journey and he processed it as an open book.

You see, almost 5 years prior, my mom had been diagnosed with FTD -  a brain disease that robbed us of her, far before she actually passed.  She had become the equivalent of a 1 year old, and my dad spent those years selflessly caring for his High School sweetheart with tender grace.  The grieving process had been going on for almost 5 long years. 
"This next season will not be about trying to fill the holes that now remain with mom gone. Those holes can never be filled.   It is about writing a new chapter moving forward, whatever that may be."  My daddy is so wise.  

And then it happened.  It was 9:30pm on a Sunday night and my dad texted my sisters and I.  

Daddy got all 3 of us girls on the phone at the same time, and told us that after church, he was praying with someone who had come forward for prayer and there was this other woman, "Pam" who was also praying with someone.  When they both finished praying and were walking out to the parking lot, my dad mentioned he was going to grab a quick lunch and asked if Pam wanted to come.  He then told us all about their lunch and their conversation... and us girls giggled and teased and asked probing questions.  "Are you entering the dating scene??  Do you want us to start setting you up?"  "NO. WAY."  My dad laughed. "I haven't dated since I was 16 years old and I have no desire to jump into that scene.  But, I will say this: I do want to get to know Pam more.   I only want to get to know her.  That's it."  

And so it continued.  Lunches after church.  Texts and emails.  We coached him on asking her out on an official "first date" and grilled him on what he would wear and where they would go.  :)  We got to meet Pam casually all together.. then individually as families.  Each step of the way, my dad would check in and ask, "How do you guys feel?  Do you see any red flags?  I don't even see a yellow flag but your insight matters to me."  With each date, each conversation, each phone call and text, my dad grew a bigger and bigger spring in his step.  A lightness in his voice. A joy restored.  A heart healed.  And each interaction between us and Pam confirmed what my dad had already discovered.  Pam is a gem.  When you ask her about her relationship with my dad, she humbly gives credit to the Lord.  When you bring up my mom, she weeps as she gushes about how wonderful my mom was.  When you mention my dad's name, she lights up just as bright as he does when you mention hers.  

But here's the thing:  I'm not done grieving the loss of my mom.  My mom has only been gone 8 1/2 months.  She was my best friend. My first call.  My biggest cheerleader. My ministry partner.  And I'm not done grieving.  I actually don't think I'll ever not grieve the loss of her.  She was beyond amazing.  And I hate that I have to wife and parent and minister without her.  I hate that my kids won't have her direct influence on their lives... That my 2 Littles won't have any memories of her at all.  

But here's the other thing: Making my dad stay single won't bring my mom back.  

Sounds obvious, right? But don't think it didn't cross my mind.  Maybe if he stayed single, it would preserve my mom's memory more.  Maybe if he stayed single, it would show how dedicated he was to her.  So silly.  My dad cared for my mom and loved her with every ounce of his heart until her final breath.   I have never EVER seen a more selfless and sacrificial love in my life.  The reality is, studies show that men who really loved marriage and were truly happily married, end up re-marrying quickly after the loss of a spouse.  

And so I grieve her. 
And I celebrate with him.
At the same time.

I am 100% still grieving the loss of my mom AND 100% thrilled that my dad will not be alone and that the Lord has given him the gift of Pam.  

I used to think there was one box to live in, per situation.  Like, my workplace is "frustrating." My kids are "exhausting." My friends are "fun."  One emotion per item on the list.  And yet in this season, I have found that I can feel 2 very different emotions at the exact same time, about the same situation.  Grief and joy.  Co-exisitng together.  At the same time.  And not competing with each other, but rather complimenting each other.  This co-mingling of emotions help me to feel whole and true to my experience.  I don't have to stuff Grief down to embrace Joy. And I don't have to release Joy in order to enter Grief.  They are both at the surface.  Close to my heart.  And deep in my soul.  

So when my dad decided he wanted to propose to Pam last week, just 8 months after my mom passed, my sisters and I jumped to clear our schedules.  We wouldn't miss it for the world.  Because seeing my dad's broken heart become healed, is a beautiful gift.  And because healing on God's timeline and not our own, brings peace.  And because the truth is, my grief doesn't restrict my ability to Joy.  

So last Monday, my daddy took Pam to dinner on Coronado Island...

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And then he took her on a Gondola Ride... and asked her to marry him.  

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And after the engagement, we had a surprise party for them, where they told their love story.  

And this picture says it all.  

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Renewed joy.  Healed heart.  Story Redeemed.  

Not in the absence of grief, but in it's presence!
How beautifully complex the grace of God is.  
Multifaceted and diverse in its expression.

"Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow.
Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me."  

Welcome to the family, Pam. We truly love you.