“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. […] It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:4-8 ).
In the morning, I’d go there with his Tim Horton’s coffee. We’d sit, not talking a whole lot, as neither of us really knew what to say. I could feel his love as a physical manifestation. I could feel the weight of it on my shoulders. To call it a burden would be wrong, as how can love be a burden? But it felt like a burden nonetheless. It felt like a load I had to carry. It felt like a debt I owed that could never fully be paid back.
My siblings and I were so fortunate to have a father who loved us. He tried to put the ones he loved first. So many people grow up without that kind of love. Maybe that’s why there are angry young men. Have too many grown up without shouldering the burden of their father’s love? What would it be like to grow up without that love encircling you?
My father wasn’t a perfect man by any means. He liked to have things his way; he didn’t like to change, and he could be very impatient. But over the years I witnessed him apologize to people he had wronged, admit mistakes he made, and openly talk about his regrets. Even through his missteps he guided me.
Some mornings I would get to the hospital early and he would be asleep. His breathing would be normal, and I would try to match my breath with his. I would remember going along with him when I was around six years old, as he made visits to members of the church. Silly little things come into my mind: I remember hiding in the backseat of the LTD as he ran into the store to drop something off, worried that someone was going to kidnap me. I remember picking fairy ring mushrooms in Mrs. Day’s yard and giving them to him to fry up for the two of us. I remember being so jealous of my older three brothers, as they could relate to him in a way that, as a young child, I just couldn’t do. I remember so much. Grief is a strange thing. Now that he has died, I expected sadness to overwhelm me, and it does on occasion, but it comes in waves of memory.
On the morning of his last day with us, the nurse said he had been asking for me. The childish part of my brain thought, “Oh, maybe he is starting to feel better.” But in my heart, I knew this wasn’t so. I gave him his coffee, and he tried to take a drink but he didn’t have the strength. I raised it to his lips and gave him a sip. I sat with him a while, then kissed his head and hurried off to work. Before leaving I told him I loved him, and he told me that he loved me. I backed out, walking into the wall. He laughed and I laughed with tears in my eyes.
Debt of love
I never felt like I had to do anything to win Dad’s love. It was always there, wrapping around me like a blanket. I truly felt the need to please him, but not to win his love, not to abate his anger, and not to reach some lofty goal. I wanted to do things for him to try and pay back the debt of love that I owe. So here I sit with a debt of love that can no longer be paid. His love envelops me still. And all I can do with this burden of love is to pass it on.
“O Lord, support us all the day long of this troublous life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over and our work is done; then Lord, in thy mercy, grant us safe lodging, a holy rest and peace at the last.”
John Henry Newman