I was in Virginia Beach, Virginia meeting up with two of my very best friends, Kelly and Holly, at the boardwalk. It was a lovely day. Water was glistening and sun was shining just as it should be when you’re sharing a day with your people. They wanted to take the ferry over to a restaurant and bar, and, although I wasn’t quite ready to go with them, I decided to just ride over with them and then ride the ferry back. Once the ferry stopped, Kelly and Holly stepped off and I stayed on. The captain said, “Everyone off.” I stayed on. He said, “Everyone off and that means you, too, ma’am.” I said, “I was just riding over with my friends. I’m riding back so that I can get to my Dad. He’s disabled.” The driver replied, “I’m sorry. It’s policy. Everyone has to get off the ferry.”
When I woke from that dream, tears were streaming down my face. I knew that the day was coming, and faster than I’d hoped, when I’d no longer be able to get to my Dad- to see him, talk to him, joke with him, seek his counsel, love on him, spoil him, just BE with him. Well into my second trimester, I hustled to get myself ready and waddled to my car to hurriedly get to my Dad who, since August of 2016, had been living in a skilled nursing facility not far from his actual home he shared with my Mom. When I got there, he was resting and looked somewhat grey. I let him know I was there, sugared him up, stroked his hair and encouraged him to rest as I sat in a chair by his bed.
Less than five minutes into the quiet of sitting with him, he spoke loud and clear. Because my Dad suffered a debilitating stroke almost five years prior, speaking loud and clear was a feat. It was something he was able to do on occasion, something he’d worked so hard to regain with years of speech therapy. He said, “I’m dying. And, I’m ready to go.” I stood up, leaned over him and asked if he’d repeat what I thought he said. And, again, he said, “I’m dying. And, I’m ready to go.” I let him know, with tears falling out of my eyes like rain upon him, that losing him would be very hard on me. He looked away. Then I said, “You know, Jimmy (that’s what we called him), only God knows when it’s our time. So, while we’re here, we’ve got to live it up and love it up. Now, when it is your time, you know where you’re going, right?” He replied, “Yes.” I said, “Well, ok. I’m glad we got that out of the way. Now, tell me this. Are you going to hang around to meet this baby (his grandson)?” Once again, he nodded and replied “Yes.” As sure as he was that he was going to heaven when it was his time, he was also sure and downright determined to meet my son, his grandson.
Being pregnant was such a gift. I mean, in general, it’s just such an incredible gift. The greater gift was that, not only had I waited a long time to have a child, but that, in a season when my Dad’s life was coming to an end, a new life was taking shape. And, by the absolute grace of God, he not only allowed me to be the recipient of such a gift but to share it with Jimmy. Every single time I’d see him, I’d raise my shirt, show him my belly and get close enough for him to touch it. Though he couldn’t remember my actual name since his stroke, he knew me, who I was to him and that, by golly, I was having a baby. He was, in the sweetest way, completely and totally invested in this kiddo growing inside of me. My sister, Susan, would tell me that when she’d come to see him, he would often use his good hand to show her how far out my bump was. To this day, envisioning that, makes my heart swell.
As I got closer to my due date, Jimmy was declining. But, again, he was on the baby train, waiting patiently to learn about the arrival of his youngest grandchild. And, just one week after River was born, we were able to make the trip out to see Jimmy. He was weak. I was weak. We were all making a concerted effort for Jimmy to meet River and, more importantly, for River to meet my Dad, his Grandad. It was a precious, precious time. I don’t know, quite frankly, if I’d ever been so proud and grateful to share something with him. God had blessed my husband and I with a child, my parents and his parents with a grandchild and, while Jimmy had the desire and determination to meet River, a very sovereign God persevered him through the final weeks of his life to meet his grandson.
Two weeks later, Jimmy finished “living it up and loving it up” here on earth and made the ultimate trip to be with his Savior. The word “bittersweet” could not be more fitting for that season in my life. I’d lost the second Dad I was so graciously given. And, I’d become a mother to River all in a matter of weeks.
You see Jimmy was our “other Dad.” My biological father and first Dad in life passed when I was seven years old. He was a wonderful human being and father to my sister and I. And, in the mausoleum of my mind, I preserved him as saint. Lord knows, he was very human, and I’m sure he would not want to be remembered that way. Nevertheless, I kept him pretty perfect in my heart and mind. So, when Jimmy came along, three years after my Dad’s passing, I wasn’t sure how that was going to work. I mean, I had a Dad. He passed away. But, he was still, first and foremost, MY Dad, and Jimmy coming into the picture was absolutely not, in my mind, going to compromise that.
But, in true Jimmy fashion, he had the emotional intelligence to pick up on both mine and my sister’s feelings of who OUR Dad was. He made it clear on more than one occasion that he would never take the place of our Dad, who was, in his words, “a great man.” But, that he’d like to love us, too. That was conflicting for me and probably my sister for many years. In my mind, I needed to keep them separate. There’s my Dad and, then, there’s Jimmy. And, I like him. I want to love him. But, he needs to know his place.
Thirty-one years later, nobody knew his place better. Over time, he’d become the king of our hearts. After being married to a lovely woman, Shirley, for many years (and, way before my Mom came into his life) and conceiving and raising two of the most beautiful girls inside and out, our “sisters by love,” Vicki and Pam, he married my Mom. And, along with his new (and, quite a bit younger ) wife, he inherited two kids who were resistant to any man other than their Dad being in their lives and home.
And, you know what, Jimmy rocked it. Day in and out, he edified us, encouraged us, corrected us and loved us. He didn’t have to, but he did. And, it paid off in spades for us and him. As he would say, he had “two daughters by blood and two daughters by love.” We were not bound to Jimmy genetically, but through thirty-one years of life with him, we were and will always be bound to him by spirit.
In our grief, it’s so hard to find a silver lining. But, the truth is, in order to find that silver lining, there’s got to be a cloudy day. After losing our beloved Dad, God sent us an unlikely angel in Jimmy who loved us up and raised us up in our Dad’s physical absence. And, in the wake of losing Jimmy, God delivered the most precious baby boy in River. The greatest gift is that God saw to it that Jimmy was able to meet his grandson before he made the ultimate trip to heaven.
While my heart grieves, my mind knows that, without question, I was twice blessed with the two greatest Dads that any child could ever ask for. I also feel pressed to find the silver lining, cling to the blessing that both my Dads were and will always be and pour every ounce of love they blessed me with into this beautiful baby boy.
Friends, I know this “blob” is heavier than most. But, it’s really a declaration of gratitude and great reminder that though sometimes the clouds seem to roll in, there’s always a silver lining if we look hard enough.
Just as I encourage myself, I encourage each of you to look for it. Reach for it. Live it. Life is short and precious. BE the sunshine, the blessing of a silver lining in someone’s cloudy day.
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