On Saturday night, Chris and I were tucking our little ones into a king sized bed at the resort where we were having our back-to-school stay cation, and the phone rang. It was 9:30 at night, and it was a call from my mom. Such a strange time for her to call.
She said, “Something’s happened.”
She didn’t have any information yet, but the hospital had called her. My dad had been in an accident and was unconscious in the ER. She didn’t know what had happened, or how bad it was, but she was heading to the hospital and would call us when she heard anything. I told her we were packing our bags right then, and would drive the hour and a half to meet her and my dad at the hospital.
“Katie,” she said, her voice cracking. “I think it’s bad.”
I told her whatever happened, we would be right there with her. We were on our way.
My dad passed away before I could get to the hospital. He’d had a heart attack while riding in a friend’s golf cart. He had fallen out of the cart, and so the initial reports to my mom were that he’d been in an accident, but we are fairly certain that he had actually died of a heart attack.
In those first few hours in the middle of the night, it seemed really important how my dad died – was it the golf cart fall or the heart attack? – but over the past two days as my family has dealt with this surprising and abrupt event, the cause has become less and less important to me. To all of us, actually. My dad isn’t here with us anymore, and I don’t care why or how.
Let me tell you what’s important to me right now. What’s important to me is that my dad died on his way home from a round of golf with some of his best buddies. What’s important to me is that he talked to my mom, my sister, and me that day. What’s important to me is that even though his death was unexpected and certainly devastating, our family left nothing unsaid before his passing. As my sister has said, we knew how much he loved us and he knew how much we loved him. What’s important to me is that my mom, sister, and family have deep, resounding faith that brings us comfort and peace, even in the midst of tragedy. What’s important to me is that I know my dad is with his maker right now, and that my sweet Lord is saying to him, “Come unto me.”
I’ve spent the past two days with my mom and some of our family, making funeral arrangements and taking care of the logistics of death. And in between those transactions, there have been many tears. My dad was a force of life, and he will leave a huge hole in all of our hearts. But for as many tears as we have shed, we have shared just as many laughs and funny stories about him.
The sadness creeps up on me, but the happiness that he brought to my life is ever present. I see it in my mom and sister, in the family we have, in the love that hold us all together. Mostly, I see my dad in the sweet faces of my babies. It has been hard to be around my kids, really. Lord, how my dad loved being a granddad. He loved those two like nothing else I’ve ever seen. And I see his happiness in them.
My dad was days away from becoming a granddad again with the birth of my sister’s baby boy. Ginny hasn’t been able to be here with us because she is nine months pregnant, and can’t travel. That in and of itself has been really hard on all of us. What has truly broken my heart is that my dad passed before her baby was born.
But as the day has gone on today, Ginny and I have decided that the birth of that sweet baby is part of the divine rhythm of life. How merciful is our Lord to give us such a blessing in the midst of such heartbreak? At the funeral home today, the funeral director told us as we were leaving, “I’m so sorry for your loss. And congratulations, as well.” How many people are able to receiving condolences AND exaltations at the same time? What a blessing that baby will be to our family.
Life is short, precious, and unpredictable. But, I’ll tell you something, life is good. My dad’s life was good. It was full of all the things he loved – his wife of 32 years, his two daughters who adored him, grandchildren he spoiled, more friends and golfing buddies than I can count, and thousands of dollars paid in greens fees over his lifetime. He left no words unspoken, no adventure unexplored, and no questions unanswered.
I love that even in his death, my dad continues to teach me how to be a better person.
David H. Tillman
December 26, 1941 – August 11, 2012