The kids brought home cake today and I couldn’t help but think of you.
I quietly entered the hospital room on the eve of your birthday to decorate for a milestone birthday. You were turning 80. My hands had a not-so-firm grip on the balloons and decorations the kids, and I gathered so we could celebrate you.
While I tried not to disturb you from your rest, you woke to me hanging a banner—that kept falling, a few balloons, and photos of those who loved you dearly.
The next day was your 80th birthday.
After hanging the birthday decorations with tape that did not want to stick, we had a very long chat. You were not your cheerful self, but it was still a good visit.
I held your hand in mine as we walked down memory lane. You were fighting to hold on, but in my heart, I knew you were showing signs you were ready to let go—to let go and let God.
I held your hand, not for the last time, but for a long time.
As I held your hand that day, I remembered how strong it always felt when it was wrapped around my tiny hand when you helped me crossed the street or as you twirled me across the floor at my high school father-daughter dance.
Though, I remember your tightest grip was when my hand rested in yours as you escorted me down the aisle on my wedding day. Thank God for that handkerchief between our hands. It kept our hands dry from the nervousness we both felt as we walked the long aisle and approached the altar.
Your grip was firm, as if you didn’t want to let go.
I didn’t want to let go.
We both knew it was time to let go.
I remembered another time when I knew it was time to let go of your guiding hand.
When you taught me to ride a bike along the rough and broken sidewalk, you loosely held the back of my banana seat as my white knuckles held tight to the wobbly and slightly rusty wide handlebars. Then, as I tried to balance the speed, the pedals, and the uneven concrete walk, I knew your hand was there, keeping me steady.
When I was ready for you to let go, I said with great confidence, “Okay Daddy, I am good, I can do this on my own now. You can let go.”
I hear silence and then your booming voice trailing away with a hint of laughter, “I already did, Heather. I knew you were ready, so I already let you go.”
I heard the familiar excited clap of your strong hands that held my bike steady, the same hand that proudly cupped my shoulder on my college graduation day with a teaching degree and certificate in hand, the same hand that left mine in Jon’s capable, loving, caring, faithful hands almost 24 years ago.
The same hand you held in each of those moments I shared in the last few sentences is also the hand I use to write what is on my heart.
Just as I know, you were cheering for me from behind the cage while playing softball (even if the umpire asked you not to be so loud). They are the same hands I hear clapping for me today. Even when I cannot see you, I know you are very near. You were/are always clapping for me all those times you carried me close even when I couldn’t see you, and I really did not know you were there.
I know today you are applauding me in the background as I abide in composing many words.
Dad, you knew my love for writing. You HAD to know how I loved to record thoughts and feelings, whether in words or photographs. I am sentimental like you. I know because you kept all of the photos, letters, cards, and notes I ever wrote tucked away exactly where you told me they would be. I still find them hidden in books that I gave you long ago, and I still treasure them today. You always knew how I cared for sacred treasures given to me.
The fact that you saved them and arranged them so tenderly was a testament to what the written words meant to you.
We often talked about you wanting to write a book. I wish you had the chance to write that book. Unfortunately, like many other things you wanted to do, this was one you were never able to check off your bucket list.
In high school, we read works by Maya Angelou and so many more great authors and poets. It was then I discovered a love for stitching together words and reading some mighty fine books. I told you of my dream to someday write. I just don’t think I was ever worthy even though you told me to put my pen (or pencil) on the paper. You reminded me I had to start somewhere.
I finally started two years ago. Like riding the bike, you already knew I was ready to let go of my fear. Words were bubbling up and overflowing on pages of journals and notes written in every book I have ever read. I could never NOT write ever again.
Like Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.”
A story has been written on my heart like one was written on yours, and the heart of each person who has been created in the image of the greatest Author of all. The truth is God has written a story in each of us. The question is, are we willing to overcome our fears and share our stories?
Dad, so long as I can write and when I feel the nudge from our Lord, I will continue to weave words since my confidence and courage in writing were birthed in your loss and in letting you go.
My first blog post, “Writing is my Cake,” was written to honor you on your first birthday without you here back in 2019. And I have continued to write and share ever since. I still hear you clapping from just a few feet away. The veil between heaven and earth feels thinner to me each day. Such is the mystery of life and how close our departed ones are to us.
When the kids, Jon and I, brought you that cake to celebrate your 80th, your last birthday here with us, it was unmistakably more for us and less for you.
You hardly ate any cake.
Then I remembered your hand in mine that night before—when I decorated— and every other time, my hand was in yours. We held tight, even while you slept, until the birthday banner fell once again because the tape would not stick.
I knew in my heart, soon it would be time to let go.
As we said our goodbyes at your bedside after our brief celebration of 80 years of you, I could not help but want to hold on as we cleaned up the cake and crumbs and remnants.
I gazed at you for a long time. You smiled so tenderly as I swallowed my tears, “It’s Okay Dad, I am good, we can do this. You can let go.” Our hands slowly released their grip.
Less than a month later, you were released from the hold this life had on you. May you rest in Peace.
Dad, you’ve been in the best hands now for some time. While it’s hard to believe it has been almost three years now, I am confident you are with the One who has His hand in everything.
I hope you met Mom with those hands wide open, clapping and cheering as she found her way back to you. Mom tried to be strong and pretended she could live without you. We know the truth. They may have been some of the hardest days as she learned to grieve and live without you. I am so glad she’s resting, maybe dancing and holding to you in the grace and joy of eternity.
I am glad you and mom are together again this June 22. I hope you are holding hands, clapping joyfully, and celebrating as you eat your birthday cake, with Mom by your side.
The kids brought home a cake today to celebrate the 2nd birthday of my little space, my blog called House of Love and Laughter, and to let go of the fear of sharing my vulnerable and sometimes raw words so publicly. I am so glad you helped me to let go of the firm grip fear had on me. And of course, on this date, June 22, we will ALWAYS celebrate YOU with cake.
Cheers to you, Dad, for always holding on with a firm grip and for guiding me so I knew when I was ready to let go. I love and miss you and Mom very much. I am just so happy to know she has found peace and healing.
Keep watching over us. That reminds me, Dad, could you hand-deliver some specific prayer requests for a certain guy whose hand I am gripping each night as I go to sleep? You know the journey he is on. It’s a fight for what matters. We will continue to raise an alleluia and offer it up for the many miracles we have seen on this journey, but please bring the prayers on my heart to our Good and Faithful Father.
“The angels gathered near your side
So very close to you
For they knew the pain and suffering
That you were going through
I thought about so many things
As I held tightly to your hand
Oh, how I wished that you were strong
And happy once again.
But your eyes were looking homeward
To that place beyond that sky
Where Jesus held his outstretched arms
It was time to say goodbye
I struggled with my selfish thoughts
For I wanted you to stay
So we could walk and talk again
Like we did…just yesterday
But Jesus knew the answer
And I knew you loved Him so
So I gave to you life’s greatest gift
The gift of letting go.”
–Judith Bulock Morse
And speaking of teaching our kids to ride a bike.
Not all of us need to have someone hold the bike seat when we need to balance the rough terrain. Some of us are not afraid to fall and get back up and start again.
I watched an old video of one of our little ones as she taught herself how to ride a bike. Her dad has a pretty firm grip, but she did not want anyone to touch her bike. She wanted to do it alone. She only wanted to know that her dad’s hands were close enough to catch her should she fall. And most certainly, his hands were there to cheer for her when, after about 20 minutes, our little one was a master at riding a two-wheeler without help.
We can always count on Jon to cheer for us when we celebrate an accomplishment, fall, or need extra help. I don’t know if I’ll be ever fully articulate how Jon’s support for my writing has only given me a reason to continue writing more.
And speaking of Jon, he is feeling great and continues on the path of fighting and healing. Keep cheering and praying for him and me and our kids. We are so glad we can count on you in this fight as you continue to pray with and for us and even when you are simply cheering or keeping us close in the background.
If you made it to the end of this post, thank you. Thank you for being here and supporting and meeting me (& my heart) in this space over the last two years. Click here to check out our shop to Go, Gray, Pray, and spread Love and Laughter.