“No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.”
The above quote is from C.S. Lewis’ collection of writings titled “A Grief Observed“, written in 1960 following the death of his wife, Joy Davidman. It is one of my favorite reads of all time, even before I had experienced loss myself. During his bereavement, Lewis’ wrote his rants and thoughts in notebooks. I don’t know how well it worked for him, but for me, writing (or any sort of creative action) is a good way to sort out your thoughts while grieving. I know that from experience.
In February 2013, my father suffered a fatal heart attack, most likely as a result of having diabetes and a prolonged battle with the seasonal flu. It was quite sudden and unexpected. He was 52 years old.
Papa had always loved reading my rants, so I wrote pages and pages of thought – much less eloquently than C.S. Lewis did – as a sort of very long letter to Papa or even more so, to God. It was the toughest experience of my young life. On my very bad days, I just refused to talk to anybody and selfishly burdened my already-grieving mother and siblings even more. Mama was always talking about letting go and letting people in as part of the healing process and such. To appease my mother on one of those bad days, I promised her that I was going to let let her and everybody else know what I was thinking and writing – someday. ‘Like “A Grief Observed”‘, I said, showing her the book that I had started to carry around everywhere. Well, it’s been two years since my dad passed away. I think someday has come.
This is me with my father, the late Ephraim Manuel.
All my life, he’s been introduced as Reverend or Doctor or at least “Pastor”. My father was what some people consider a “career pastor”. I mean that in the proudest sense, not as the derogative term that many people use it nowadays. It’s the only profession he’s ever really had. He had an undergrad degree in Engineering but decided to forgo a promising career in that field in order to go straight to the seminary after graduation. He was a pastor when he met my mother, a pastor when they got married, a pastor when they raised their children and a pastor when he died.
My father was an extraordinary person. Extraordinary. He was very intelligent, very kind and very loving. He was humble to a frustrating fault, always managing to put the Calling and the good of others before his own and perhaps (seemingly) even his family’s. He received a lot of heat and criticism for that. It’s good that he also happened to be the most secure person I’ve ever met up close. No matter what was said of him, no matter how many mistakes he’d made or how much he had lost, he managed to be confident in God’s saving work in his life.
My father was a great father. Whatever we lacked in nice housing or nice stuff, God definitely filled with grace, faith and my father’s decisiveness. For most of my life, his ability to stand by his decisions was our source of stability mainly because many of his decisions are what put our stability at risk in the first place. When I was growing up, I had grown somewhat weary of his crazy decisions and of his firm hand in making sure we didn’t use our unconventional upbringing as an excuse to mess up our lives. That firm hand suddenly lifted when he passed. It’s indeed freeing in the worst sense – like waking up to find myself alone in a wide open field with no map or landmark anywhere in sight, or so it felt.
I wrote on my journals because a part of me thought it would keep a part of my father alive somehow. I didn’t want anybody to forget him. I didn’t want myself to forget him. But reading those pages now, I realized it said more about me than about papa. When Pastor Rick Warren lost his son that in 2013, he said “Grief doesn’t destroy who you are. It reveals who you are.” In “The Fault In Our Stars”, John Green said something similar: “Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.” In my life, at least, that statement rang true. Grief exposed who and what I have always been – weak, fearful, stubborn and selfish. But I’d like to add that thankfully, it not only revealed me, it also exposed who God is – strong, loving, holy and humble.
So this is it. One very long introduction to what could be a very long confession. At least I got it started. *breathe out*
This is for you Ma. I am so sorry. I love you and thank you.