No Tears Dad

Every so often I find the need to sort through my old sock drawer. In doing so I discover items long forgotten. Like that plastic thingamabob which obviously goes to something. I squirreled it away at the bottom of the drawer, assuring myself that one day I would find its rightful place. And there’s those same three unmatched socks, still lingering anxiously like the father awaiting the return of his prodigal son. 

But I could have never imagined the heart stopping treasure I’d come across next… 

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Ten years before she died, my daughter Cherie and I took a trip to Boston.  The town was abuzz because the Chicago Cubs had come in to play the Red Sox for the first time since game six of the 1918 World Series.  Boston had turned Cubbie Blue with countless Chicago fans showing their colors as they infiltrated the city.  

That also happened to be the weekend evangelist Harold Camping predicted the end of the world was nigh.  Caravans of his followers lined the streets warning all who passed that Judgment Day would take place that Saturday, May 21, 2011. 

Cherie and I agreed, if you gotta go, it might as well happen at a Cubs game. Even Fenway’s public address announcer joined in on all the hoopla.  Piped in over the park’s sound system was R.E.M.’s song – It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

For lodging, we ended up in the only available space left in Boston, some old boarding house at the end of the Worcester Commuter line. Our daily walk back and forth from the train station took us through a picturesque little neighborhood lined with trees brandishing their flowering spring buds against the bright blue sky. Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s recording of, “Over The Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” perfectly captured the flavor of those leisurely strolls together. 

We took in all we possibly could of what Boston had to offer: Old Ironsides, The Freedom Trail, Cheers, Giacomo’s Ristorante, The Union Oyster House, cannolis at Mike’s Pastry, The Bell In Hand Tavern, Sam Adams’ Brewery, and of course beautiful Fenway Park.

Cherie possessed a certain magnetism when it came to people; she honestly didn’t know what a “stranger” was.  In one tiny Italian restaurant she had engaged the entire room in conversation within fifteen minutes of our being there. At Fenway she rallied our section of right field into a cheering frenzy, and was credited by those fans for inspiring the Cubs come-back victory.  She engaged people on the train, in the streets, and on tours. At the sports bar where we stopped in to watch the Bulls play the Miami Heat in the NBA playoffs, she ignited an in-depth exchange over Derrick Rose being an overrated point guard.  This was the quintessential Cherie, always on stage.   

We both agreed that if there was one song that would communicate the aura of our experience together there, it was  Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had a Boat.”

Its lively melody and quirky humor wooed us. It brought to mind a fanciful and endless adventure, much like our four days together in Boston. It conveyed images of one standing at the bow of a vessel as it headed out to sea, escaping from the entanglements of life and voyaging out to a place of freedom, peace, and serenity.

The chorus of the song went like this: 

If I had a boat

I’d go out on the ocean

And if I had a pony

I’d ride him on my boat

And we could all together

Go out on the ocean

I said me upon my pony on my boat

Often, when comforting a friend who had lost a loved one, Cherie would use the visual of a ship slipping out of sight over the horizon.  She’d say, “On this shore there are tearful people waving goodbye…but over the horizon there is another shore: heaven. And there, one will find joyful people, welcoming them home.”  She was always looking for a way to ease one’s pain.

…at the bottom of my sock drawer lay the handkerchief I had forgotten about. It had been a gift to me from Cherie on her wedding day. Wanting to assure her nervous dad regarding the journey she was about to embark upon, she chose these words from our special song and had them embroidered on that handkerchief. 

No tears Dad,

…I bought a boat

I’m going out to sea

Those words brought a huge smile to my face back then. But today, still struggling a year and a half after her death, her words took my breath away. I literally couldn’t move while trying to grasp the new significance of her message. I swear I could feel her warm presence in the room with me. Once again I sensed her compassion, her witty humor, and her ability to always seem to know what to say. 

I haven’t cried for awhile…I did today. 

God, I miss you Cherie…we all do.

Never Again

Every now and again I awake feeling anxious and disoriented. It takes a moment before reality sinks in and I find it hard to believe this really happened. Evidently I was mistaken to assume that the odds of experiencing the oxygen sucking sadness of losing a second child was essentially zero — but here I am, again.

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I’m not so naive as to think that I’m somehow immune to grief because of having gone through it before, or because of helping others going through it now, but I did forget just how bad it can feel. Seems that grief will again have its way with me regardless of my past experience.

The first anniversary of Cherie’s death is rapidly approaching and I’m having a hard time grasping the reality that this inspirational spark of my life is gone forever. Her absence is proving to be more impenetrable than I could have ever imagined. While doing my best to keep occupied, it’s in those moments of inactivity when my thoughts veer and I slip into the dank hollowness of never agains.

“Never again” is one of those bilateral phrases that communicates two very different perspectives. One comes from a place of control, e.g., “Never again will I settle for less than I deserve.” The other comes from a place of despair, e.g., “Never again will we be together.”

I’ve been really feeling her absence of late. The life of the party has left the house and it’s hard to accept that we will never again share a laugh together, or will I be entertained by her wild obsessions. There will never be another evening of sitting through her Wine Night ideas and listening to her describe every last ingredient of every possible menu item. Dear God, what I wouldn’t give for one more dramatic telling of “A Day in the Life of Cherie.”

There will be no more culinary adventures sampling spicy foods, craft beers, or insanely rich desserts. No more phone calls on her way to work, and then again on her way home. She’ll never again burst through our door, excited to share the deep biblical perspective she discovered that morning. I’m going to miss listening to her profound yet effortless prayers, witnessing her tender heart, and encountering her audacious zeal for those who had fallen victim to life’s cruelties.

Never again sounds so irreversible, feels so sealed off. I’m suffocating down here blanketed under the heavy weight of her loss. Cherie is just too deeply woven into the fabric of who I am for this to be anything other than an arduous journey. Tell me God, how long before my family finds the other side of this? How did we manage to do it when Jacob died? I really don’t recall.

Experience tells me that life will continue and my spirit will eventually be restored. Even so, that will entail a great deal of effort on my part and I’m just not feeling it at the moment. I have wore myself out stubbornly insisting on being the counterbalance to my family’s grief. They didn’t asked me to take on that role, that’s just who I am and it’s really hard to change that part of me.

Yet, my inner attitude doesn’t necessarily reflect my outer plight. I’m encouraged by the fact that my life contains much to celebrate, and I refuse to ignore my greatest joy. A joy not based on my external circumstances, but instead in the confidence that comes from the clear evidence of the relationship both Jacob and Cherie had with Jesus Christ. The assurance of their eternal salvation forms in me a compatible coexistence of joy and sadness.

Still, it’s clear that there will be difficult days ahead. I just can’t stick my head in the sand and wait this out, I have to process it all.

While dealing with the aftermath of Jake’s death, I discovered journaling. Writing has become my exercise in healing. Doing so moves me into deep thought and empowers me to candidly articulate my emotions. Best of all, in those rare moments when I’m actually able to open up and find no one at hand to hear me out, my journal always listens.

I’m aching to reach the other side of this first anniversary. In doing so all the first milestones will have come to fruition; yet the second year may just be the hardest. The second Christmas, the second birthday, the second anything is when I will have to accept the fact that she is never, ever coming back to this life.

While these “never agains” may continue to have their way with me for a season, I’m confident they won’t last forever. As for now, I am more acutely aware of the value of one very pivotal never again:

Never again will I assume the people I care most about will always be here with me in this life.

I’m taking advantage of every single moment I can…maybe we all should.

Photo by Allec Gomes on Unsplash


Grieving Cherie

How’s it going you ask…

I know, being around me can feel awkward…truth be told, at times it isn’t exactly a picnic being around you either.

It’s obvious that you’re not sure how to act around me these days. Rest assured, I’m the same guy I was before her death. Same dry sense of humor, still flexibly dogmatic (if there is such a thing) and always a little on the cocky side. But mainly I’m just sad…very, very sad.

You may feel obligated to speak with me, and I might actually be eager for some conversation. But then again I might not. I don’t know what to tell you, it’s a crap shoot! 

You may be trying to avoid me. I hope you realize you’re not fooling anyone. I can see you devising an escape plan as I approach. Please know, I don’t expect you to have some deep-rooted words of wisdom,  a simple acknowledgement, a smile, or tap on the shoulder will do.   

Did you know that making excuses for not attending the funeral irks me. Not because you didn’t show, but because I’ve grown weary of having to make you feel better about your decision. Your feeling guilty about that is something you’ll just have to cope with on your own—it’s not my job!

I’m not interested in your position on Covid-19, masks or vaccinations. Choose something else to talk about—really choose something else.

I’m not seeking advice from people who have no concept of what its like to lose a child..much less two. You don’t know…you don’t know…believe me, you really don’t know.

It’s hard to put into words how taxing grief can be physically, mentally, and emotionally. Processing information is like trying to push thoughts through jello. There are some probing questions that are more than I can handle. Being forced to respond to what feels like unsolicited interrogations is exhausting. 

What I need right now are intervals of stillness. Moments that are mine and mine alone; short breaks where obligations and responsibilities take a step back. A span of time where curiosity and I are free to concentrate on just one single task of my own choosing.

For instance, today I crossed an item off my bucket list. Today I was determined to learn how to use chopsticks.  Just a set of chopsticks, YouTube and me alone on my remote cerebral island.   I’m not ready to catch houseflies in mid flight like Mr Miyagi just yet, but I am batting 1000 at snatching mini marshmallows from off a plate. Yay me!

Sounds crazy, right?  That’s because you have no concept of what its like to live in the wake of the death of a child. But I do, and I’ll take these little victories, small steps towards recovering my sanity.  

I don’t need to pour myself into yet another book on grief. I just need to bring simplicity back into my life — like chopsticks.  

Tomorrow I think I’m going to take a stab at the perfectly poached egg. But tonight, me and my chopsticks are going to strut our stuff at our local Chinese restaurant. 

So, that’s how I’m doing.  I will get past this. But for now, I just need some time to process it all. 

Photo by JRGould on Foter




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