It’s that time of year again when I remember the day my dad passed away in the bitter cold of winter twenty-three years ago, with some measure of warning (he had a cardiopulmonary episode weeks before) but more importantly, with the warm hope of someone who knows Whom he has believed and has lived out that faith to the very last.
When someone you love dearly leaves your life, you mourn. You grieve. You put your life down where theirs ended. And for a while, it feels like yours has, too.
You keep doing what you have been doing, but it cannot really be called “living.” Colors lose a measure of their splendor. Flavors and fragrances seem less sweet. Humor falls flat. Comfort does not connect. People say things, and you hear them, and you know they have meaning but you are at something of a loss to perceive what that meaning might be.
Then, little by little, you begin to pick up your life where you left it.
Memories begin to comfort and soothe rather than haunt and taunt.
You begin to feel the love that others have for you, and you begin to feel that love for them again, too.
You can smile without forcing it. Then you can smile without poignancy. At some point, you remember how to genuinely laugh.
And you begin to realize that life can go on; that you have survived this death with the help of others who love you; that you could do it again if you had to. You can live again.
And you do.
And you will.
But every once in a while, you will look back in a wistful moment, and remember how good and perhaps how bad it sometimes was with the one you cherish and miss; wonder how good and how bad it could be were they still here with you; and you wish.
And you accept.
And you go on living.
Norman William Brenton
September 24, 1926 – February 25, 1993
Brazil, Indiana and Indianapolis
From his three children, read at his funeral:
In the two and a half weeks since Dad’s heart attack, we have often found ourselves commenting on his fine qualities: his kindness, dry sense of humor, love of children and people in general, his efficiency and thoroughness–meticulous and logical in all areas; his gentle spirit. In fact, the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-24 and the admonition of II Peter 1:5-8 to “add to your faith, virtue, etc.” were reflected in his life. Perhaps most often in our thoughts and conversations, the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 came to mind, especially verse 9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Certainly our Dad is a son of God.
Sometimes when things just don’t seem right and we see no good in them, we need to stop and remember that God works all things together for the good. In our lives we experience what the Bible calls trials and sufferings, but when we are children of God, we are to consider them great joy. My father loved people like no one else I knew, except for God himself. He will continue to live through those of us who knew him and those of us who learned from his faithfulness to God our Father, and from his patience toward everyone. I pray we all will be worthy, as he was, to see Jesus Christ. He suffers no pain and no sorrow. He’s with our Father in heaven and that makes me joyful.
My father gave me life, of course; but you may not know that on at least two occasions, he also saved my life.
One time, when I was about two years old, I had gotten hold of some hard candy, and had managed to get a piece of it stuck in my throat. Upon hearing me choke, Dad hauled me up by my feet and slapped my back until the candy was dislodged and I could breathe again.
Another time – when I was eight or nine, and we were on one of our vacation trips together – we parked on a lot overlooking Royal Gorge. The lot was marked off by big wooden posts threaded together by a chain. I hopped right over the chain, heading for a slope where some gorgeous quartz crystals had been dumped like fill dirt. The slope was about 45 degrees, and it ended in about thirty feet with a vertical drop of about a thousand feet to the Arkansas River below. The quartz crystals began to give
way underneath me as I struggled back to the top. Dad started to vault the chain, too; but I yelled back “Don’t! The rocks won’t hold you.”
So, holding the chain in one hand, he stretched himself as far as he could and reached out to me with the other hand. I had to take the next couple of steps myself, but then I felt his hand grasp mine and he pulled me to safety.
Maybe Dad didn’t do anything that any father wouldn’t have done. But he taught me a powerful lesson through those two episodes. He taught me that God saves people in two ways.
One way is when you feel like you’ve been picked up and turned upside down and life is hitting you from behind. That’s God telling you there’s something stuck in your craw called sin and you’ve got to turn loose of it or it will kill you.
The other way God saves us is when he vaults the chain in the person of His Son and, holding firmly on with His hand of Justice, He stretches Himself as far as He can and reaches out to us with His hand of Compassion. We have to take the first few steps on our own; then we feel His hand grasp ours and pull us to safety.