On Friday, July 8, 2011, Justin's father passed away from congenital heart failure after a heart attack on Father's Day and a quadruple bypass surgery. He had previously lost a kidney to cancer, so his one kidney was trying to function for two and his body just couldn't sustain itself after all of that damage.
The loss was unexpected and a total shock. And devastating to my husband, who loved his father more than words can ever express.
My mother in law called yesterday and asked if we would come up with some memories of Justin's dad to give to the minister who will be conducting the funeral service. This morning, I was thinking of the 25 years that have passed since I met Justin's dad and wondering what on earth I could possibly say that would encompass how much I came to love him. And how grateful I am that he gave his son to me.
I guess it's easy to take the people in your life for granted and I think I just assume that my parents and his will always be there. We don't like to think about the people in our lives getting older and getting sick and dying. How do you comfort someone who just lost her husband of 48 years after an heroic two and a half week fight to live? How do you comfort the children he left behind or the grandchildren? And how do I come to terms with the fact that I was unable to see him after his heart attack because I had to stay here to handle things with the kids and the house and the pets. It hurts my heart that I didn't get a chance to see him, but I am somewhat comforted by the fact that I was able to talk to him on the phone and tell him that I love him. And I know that he heard me because he told me he loved me too.
Justin's dad was a big man and he could be an intimidating man. I admit that when I first met him, he scared me. I was young and he seemed bigger than life. But as time went on and he mellowed and became softer and, after the grandchildren came along, I realized that this was a man who was incredibly proud of his oldest son and loved me and the grandchildren that we gave him beyond measure.
One of the best memories I have is of my father in law taking my children for rides on the tractor around the yard of the house that was their family home for over 40 years. I know I have pictures somewhere. I remember taking them and I remember exactly what they look like, but I have gone through the 2,000 or 3,000 loose photographs I have and cannot find them. I was crushed that I was unable to put my hands on these pictures.
The other thing that I keep thinking about is how concerned he was when my mother got sick, calling all the time to ask how she was doing and asking Justin how I was holding up. He was so concerned for me and for my mother and I will be forever grateful to him for how much he cared.
My father in law loved his wife more than life itself and I don't think he wanted her to have to take care of him. I think that in the end, he made the choice to go because he wanted her to remember him as he was. Not as an invalid. I know he wasn't ready to leave her, but his body just wouldn't let him stay. I know that my mother in law is simply beyond grief right now and I wish there was something, anything I could do to help her with this pain or to bring him back.
Grieving is hard. Yesterday, Jamie got upset with me about throwing out some of his t-shirts when they got holes in them. I told him that this wasn't a good time for us to be getting angry with each other and he said, "I know. I'm just mad." We're all mad, but who are we supposed to be mad at? I told him it was a normal part of the process. We're going to feel all of the stages of grief and not necessarily in order. You can be devastatingly sad and furious at the same time. You can be in denial that it happened while simultaneously bursting into tears at something small that brings back a memory.
Justin is seeing his children now as a way that his father lives on. A part of their grandfather will always be here because their grandfather had Justin. There are eight grandchildren and he loved them all without reservation. And they loved him right back.
I don't know how we will get through the next two days. But somehow, we will and afterwards we will be left with the good memories. Forty seven is so young to lose your father and it's scary to think of all the years we have left to live without him. But in some way, he will always be with us. Through our memories and through our children.