My dad died seven years and three months ago. Writing it down is almost as painful as saying it out loud. That sentence, simple in nature, still shocks me. A sentence that simple does not do the grief justice. To some, the sentence does not carry much weight. To me, the sentence is a reflection of sleepless nights, grief mixed all-too-often with tequila, unanswered questions, anger, insecurity and a struggle of faith.
The thing people don’t recognize about grief is that it doesn’t end. It’s human nature to cling to survival mode and focus on making it through “one day at a time.” We fool ourselves into believing that if we can just make it through the next day, and maybe the day after that, that eventually we can come out on the other side of tragedy. But grief doesn’t end. It has no limitations. No boundaries. No sense of when it’s appropriate or convenient to show up with its unbearable and overwhelming waves of feelings. Grief doesn’t end. It just changes. It doesn’t change the tragedy or the loss. It changes us.
Sometimes it changes us into bitter people who feel left behind with unresolved pain. Nothing makes people bitter at God more than an unanswered prayer. I was bitter once. But I’ve evolved into someone who has the occasional bitter feeling, rather than someone consumed by it. Looking back, I now understand that it was when God did not answer my prayers, that I found faith. Not the go-to-church, follow-the-rules, go-to-heaven kind of faith that I had always relied on. I found the God-works-all-things-according-to-His-purpose kind of faith.
The following is from an article I wrote in 2009 about my biggest test of faith in my life thus far:
Nothing had ever felt so close to paralysis like the very moment before me. I didn’t cry. I couldn’t speak. It was as though I had stepped outside my own life and stepped into the role of a silent bystander, unaware that my world as I knew it, was about to change. As I watched an ambulance crew lift my dad onto a stretcher, I barely noticed the people crying in the middle of the accident scene. I paid no attention to the helicopter waiting impatiently nearby. I hardly recognized the now-mangled symbol of my dad’s pride and passion: his Harley Davidson motorcycle.
I could feel every emotion abandoning me as the scene that surrounded me faded away. And then I’m five years old again. My dad tucks me into bed. He kneels beside my bed to pray, just as he does every night. His head is bowed and my hands are clasped tightly together, just like he taught me. As he prays, I find my five-year-old skepticism questioning how he knows this will work, how he knows God is listening. “I have faith” is his reply. For a five year old, a simple answer like that, that offered little explanation, was unsatisfying. I’m five. I need reasons, facts and evidence. “But why?” I persist. He goes on to explain how he trusts God without knowing His plan or understanding His reasons. And this is where I learn everything I needed to know about faith.
As I welcomed myself back into the reality before me, I felt an overwhelming sense of comfort. I had faith. I found myself wanting to comfort the people around me—to reassure them that everything would be fine. That with a faith as unshakeable as mine was that day, everything. would. be. just. fine. As we drove to the hospital, words had no place in the car. I was too preoccupied preparing my contract with God. I bargained. I pleaded. I promised promises that would have been impossible to keep.
The hospital greeted us with tension and waves of nausea. As family and friends gathered in the waiting room, prayers were whispered and Bible verses were recited. The moment the doctor walked into the room, I held hands with my mom and sister—all of us bracing ourselves for a life change. The doctor cleared his throat uncomfortably. My confidence grew as he explained the series of injuries my dad had sustained. As serious as they sounded, I was confident of not only my faith, but of my dad’s resiliency. I tried to ignore the words “severe head trauma” and “no helmet.”
And then it came…the word that left me choking for air: “unsurvivable.” My heart refused to connect to those words. I disregarded those and instead held on to the doctor’s next words with all my might: “miracles do happen.”
I refused to listen to anyone who didn’t believe we would witness a miracle that day. When my dad’s brain pressure displayed shocking numbers, I blamed the machine. I shook everything off as a test of faith. Then my dad’s brain pressure increased. A healthy brain’s intracranial pressure should be between zero and 10. Anything over 40 usually leads to neurological dysfunction. The pressure of my dad’s brain had reached 60. The number 60 was synonymous to fatality.
For the first time that day, I felt hope leaving me behind. One medical test later, the brain dead diagnosis shattered any illusion of faith that I was clinging to. I felt betrayed. I wanted to scream in the midst of tears and hugs, to accuse God of leading me on with false promises.
And then I’m five years old again. My dad promises me he won’t let anything happen to me as I ride my bike for the first time. Upon falling, I demand to know why my dad lied, why he let me fall. He explains that falling is part of the process. That if I don’t fall, I’ll never learn. And this is where I learn everything I needed to know about faith.
Months after my dad’s death, I recognized my misconception about faith. I read this somewhere: “Not being able to fully understand God is frustrating, but it is ridiculous for us to think we have the right to limit God to something we are capable of comprehending.” Faith was not asking God for something and believing it would be handed to you. It was not a guarantee that my prayers would be answered my way, on my time. Faith was trusting in a plan that I had yet to fully comprehend—and maybe never would.
Years later, I understand and trust that God had His reasons, and although they were unknown to me, they served their purpose. My dad saved six lives when he died. God put my prayers on hold to answer the prayers of six other people awaiting a transplant of some kind. My dad always was adamant about being a donor to save someone’s life. He also used to tell us girls “when I go out, I want to go out on my bike.” His wishes were granted.
I asked God to spare my dad’s life. He didn’t. Instead, I was given the opportunity to experience an authentic journey to discover what “faith” really means to me. I was given a new perspective of how to live life. Life changes when you realize how fast life changes. You get this rare opportunity to genuinely understand the significance of loving more completely and living with enthusiasm. So I didn’t get what I asked for. I got more. Because I have faith that one day, I will see my dad again. In the meantime, I was given the gift to live life in the way that God intended for me.