Sitting Shiva… Stained Ties and a Big Pile of “Keep”

Boxes, old pictures and ties from another generation fill my vision as I start cleaning dad’s house.

My mom did many things for my dad. She covered over a lot of his flaws… she cooked three meals a day… and she cleaned really well. Without her, flaws were apparent… microwave dinners became his cuisine… and dust accumulated into a protective layer that covered everything. It is into this sea of dust that I find myself swimming today. Doing what I have always dreaded… separating all of my dad’s things into three distinctive piles… 

Throw Away. 

Sell.

Keep. 

A pile of stained ties and checkbook registrars from 1983 pepper the “throw away” pile. My dad was from a generation that kept things “just in case”. So, file upon file of papers must enter this pile. Some will be shredded. Some will just move from their heap in a drawer to their final resting place at the bottom of a trash compactor. But, there are some things that “may” be used by another person that I have no desire to have. These things move into the “sell” pile…

Furniture that is so heavy that it makes you want to cuss when you move it. Furniture made before particle board was chic… or prevalent. Knick knacks and drapes and pictures of things that have no meaning to me… they are piled together in preparation for their new homes… to be spread out throughout a community who will buy them at pennies to the dollar. These are all things that enter this ever growing pile.

But… there are other things that will mean nothing to anyone but me… and those things enter a pile to “keep”. 

My shoes that I wore before I could walk that are worn down on the tops from crawling instead of the bottoms. The picture of an old man praying before his meal which has followed my dad to every place he has ever lived and encapsulated his soul and depth of spirituality. The holiday dishes that have sat in the back of his closet for years that were never used because my dad didn’t want anything to happen to them. They have sat wrapped each Christmas for their safety. However, dishes weren’t meant to stay hidden, but to be used… just like us. We are not called to simply hide in our homes and be safe, but to live life and breathe deep and venture from our boxes on to the dining room table. And… in doing that… they may get damaged… and so may we. There may be chips in the plates from wear and tear and there may be cracks in our lives from use. But, we are meant to be used and active and it is a chance that we must take.

This year, those dishes will be on my dining room table.

I found a small book that I had given him for father’s day many years ago that I wrote in. I flipped open and there was a message written under my note to him. It was something that he had written to me. It had sat in his house unread until this moment. It was written many years ago for this moment. A message that transcended the grave. 

That book will sit on my shelf. 

I found pictures that are over half a century old buried in a box of junk. Picture after picture of my mom when she was a small child. Faded photos of another generation of the people who helped nurture the ones who brought me life. I had never seen them before. Jumbled and scattered at the bottom of a box they sat there waiting for me.

Those photos will be displayed for the world to see. 

Those things that really matter. Those things that are really important. Those things can’t be replaced with a dollar sign. They are in the “keep” pile.

I am not excited about a piece of technology that can be replaced at any WalMart or some car that will only rust and die. I am enamored by those possessions that hold a memory… those “things” that carry a thought… that property which has a story that I can use to carry the legacy of my family into the future generations. These are the things that mean the most to me.

As I look around my home today I ask myself a tough question. “Am I living my days to accumulate stuff that doesn’t really matter in the whole scheme of life? Am I getting goods when I should be cultivating memories? Am I providing my family with those things that rust and time can not destroy?”

I hope I am. 

Because I know that there will come a day when I will breathe my last breath and I want to know that they will be able to look at each other and smile… remembering things that we did together or time that we shared. I want them recounting the moments of laughter and joy instead of the pennies that are left in the bank.

I will continue to go through clothes that should have been discarded a generation ago and probably find that 1993 tax information that dad kept so safe. I will wipe down walls and sneeze from the dust. I will fill vaccum bags full and empty out closets. And… with each item I touch… I will make a decision.

What will I trash? What will I sell? What will I keep?

I already know what is making it into the “keep” pile. Are you building a life that will assure that this “keep” pile will be the largest when you are gone? I hope you take a moment to consider this and how you are living… it makes all the difference in the world.

Thanks for Sitting Shiva with me!

GP

Sitting Shiva… Bulldogs and Bullet Shells

So, I led my dad’s funeral service… again.

If one time wasn’t hard enough, I did it twice. This time, however, I wasn’t alone. The flesh that had housed my father for over 60 years was nestled in the corner… in a box… that has become his final resting place. He laid there void of soul… yet, I sought to bring him back to life.

With words, I sought to speak his soul back into existence. With my voice, I tried to create his presence one last time…

I don’t know if anyone else felt that… but I did. I felt him there. Not the man in the corner, but the spirit in our hearts and the memories in our minds. He was there with us. He was there.

The funeral director was a blessing… quirky and kind. He did everything he could to give us all that we needed to make the ceremony perfect… but couldn’t deliver when it came to technology. I looked at him and said… 

“So, what kind of technology do you have.”

He looked confidently back into my eyes and said, “We have a CD player.”

Long awkward pause as I looked at him… No, I was looking through him.

He smiled. 

“Uh… yeah. What else? Do you have a TV?”

“Nope. We have a CD player.”

The 21st century just collided with the 20th century and I remembered that I was back in Ohio. 

Needless to say, I went shopping. After purchasing cords and a projector and some speakers… we were ready to go.

The day of the service came and there is nothing that I have ever HAD to do that I looked forward to LESS than this. I dragged my feet… I took an extra long shower… I buttoned my shirt slowly… I finally fell in the car seat and made the drive. As I pull into the parking lot, I see that people are waiting for me.

I am nearly 40 minutes early and people are waiting for me. 

I get out of the car and say “Hello”. I grabbed my bags and turn towards the funeral home. The door opens and my quirky friend’s assistant is there to greet me. I walk in the foyer and look at the closed door that leads to the actual room.

I look at the door again. It’s closed. I want it to stay closed. I want to turn and run away. But… I don’t. 

He opens the door. I know what is waiting for me on the other side of the door. I move through the opening and speak in a hushed tone. 

“Don’t let anyone else in until I say so.” 

“Of course.” He closes the door behind my family and I while he stands like a British soldier guarding the Palace. 

I look at the corner. There he is. Open casket. Flowers perched on his bottom half… hands tucked beneath covers… mouth wired shut – flat and emotionless. Just like how I thought I should feel… but, I didn’t feel that way. I look to my son. 

“You ready?”

We walk as a unit, my wife and son and I. We stand there staring down at the open box. I talk to my son about finality. I ask him how he is doing. My wife watches as a tear falls down her face. We stand there. I glance at the flowers and then over at the flag and then at my dad’s face. It is… was… his body. He has moved on. He wasn’t with me anymore and this box is not how I wanted to remember him… so my eyes dart. But, this box was part of the process… so we stood there and paid our final respects.

I look at the bulldog guard who is perched by the door. “It’s time”. I mouth it with a quick upward shake on my head. The doors open and people begin to come in. Fifteen minutes before the official viewing is open and people are already shuffling in.

Some drove from Kentucky… others Tennessee… others from right down the street. There were cousins and brothers and friends and neighbors. There were young and old, but they were all impacted by my dad. We even had a Lieutenant Colonel from the Pentagon… (yeah… I didn’t see that one coming either). 

All in all… my dad touched a lot of people’s lives and they were going to take advantage of this moment to honor him. And… in honoring him, they truly honored me.

I spoke. We laughed. We cried. Friends and family shared their memories and stories and it was truly a time of healing. I was able to meet a man who saw my grandfather die and he recounted all the details with me. (If you want to know more, read this post). I heard about my grandpa… the hero.

With a flag laid over his coffin, myself and 5 other special men carried my dad’s body to the hearse. It was:

Herb Kenter (my dad’s best friend)

Chuck Kenter (a close family friend for many years)

Shawn Kenter (another close family friend for many years)

Roger Smith (my best friend growing up)

David Hintz (my dad’s brother)

At the gravesite, there were many people waiting for me. Dressed in uniforms with rifles shining… they waited for us. A long line of cars pulled into the graveyard and worked their way to the tent where we stood. I helped bring my dad’s body out of that hearse and we laid him down under the tent. I took a few steps back as the people gathered and I let the soldiers take over.

I can’t explain in words right now what this ceremony meant to me… but I may in a future post. Let me simply say that it was the most powerful and honoring thing that I have ever been a part of. They spoke. They gave him a 21 gun salute. They played taps. They folded his flag and placed it into my arms. The commander saluted me and I returned it. I was then given the bullet casings from the 21 gun salute. I cherish them as much as I do the flag.

Those bullet casings mean something. They were filled with something at one point. They were filled with energy and have accomplished their purpose on earth. They are but a shell today… but a shell that reminds me of the most powerful moment of my life. A reminder of something far deeper than the actual metal casing… a reminder of my hero. 

Life is sort of like that… isn’t it. Each of us will be a spent casing one day. Each of us  will have accomplished our purposes on this earth and we will be done. However, we would have given each person who was part of our life a memory… or a casing… to remember. These memories point back to the purpose of our lives and live on far longer than we do. 

I want to leave casings… like my dad did. I want to leave memories… like my dad did. I want to touch lives and be able to say that my purpose was accomplished. Not only in what was given in the moment, but in the casings that lay scattered on the floors of those that I know and love.

My life is littered with the casings of others. People, who even in this season of my life, have changed me. Those who have loved me. Those who have stepped up to help carry the burden in these long days. I simply want to thank you and ask you to keep pulling that trigger in my life and I will commit to pull the trigger in yours. Together… we can make an incredible difference and leave casings littering the floors of each other. 

Thank you for Sitting Shiva with me.

GP 

Sitting Shiva… I Met a Deer Today in Clouds of Sadness

So I ran today.

If you know me at all… this is not surprising. Except for the fact that I haven’t ran in weeks. I haven’t even walked fast since I learned of my dad’s death, so running was long overdue. With Ohio clouds beckoning me on… I chose to lace up the shoes and run. 

I started with legs that felt more like tree trunks. I plodded on… step after step… until my breaths found their cadence and each movement of my leg brought the momentum necessary for the next. Steps turned into miles as I let my mind drift.

Here I am in Ohio… again. 

It is a place I don’t want to be… but I know I must be. I have an appointment here… an agenda… a purpose. I am here to send my father to his final resting place. In less than 12 hours I will be leading the last service that my dad will ever physically attend.

Ouch. That last sentence just flowed out of me, but it hurt. I didn’t like it and I don’t like it. It sounds final and sad… I guess it is. 

As I run I let my mind run. It has been caged up lately and it needs to run free. It needs release, but I am not always happy with the places my uncaged mind takes me… because sometimes it goes to places that I don’t want to be. 

Like that first moment tomorrow when I will see my dad at the funeral home. I haven’t seen him since the night before he left. He came to my house and brought ice cream over to share. He was celebrating his trip the next day. He wanted to celebrate with his family before his final ride.

I don’t know that I want to see him again… but I know I must. I don’t know if I want my kids to see him primped up in some box… but I know they must. I don’t know if my family wants to stand before his open casket and pay their final respects… but I know they must. I must. They must. We must. 

That is part of healing. 

I know that the  tears aren’t done for me. I haven’t cried in a few days, but my tears don’t run easy surrounded by people. There is no escape from people in the fresh dawn of tragedy. But, people won’t matter tomorrow. That’s my dad in the box and it’s the last time I will see him before heaven. However, he will live on in my heart and mind and life. I will live to shine bright for him. And, I will honor him tomorrow with my tears and my voice.

This is but one thought that I can’t escape, but the only one that won’t leave me… the one that returns… that one that won’t leave me alone… my dad in a box. 

I check my pulse a few miles from home. It is 178. Time to walk for a bit. It has been too long. 

I walk and think. I can’t wait for my time in Ohio to be over. The clouds cast a dank depression over a soul who needs no help being sad right now. 

I check my pulse. 143. Time to run. I start again. 

As I try not to think about my current reality a movement catches my attention to my left. My eyes shoot over and about 50 feet in front of me I see a buck darting across the street.

I am in a city called Berea… yes, I said “city”. There is a four lane street with a 5th suicide lane in the middle. We are not in “God’s country” and I surely wasn’t planning for Bambi to run out in front of me right now. But, it’s not a “Bambi”… it’s a buck…

My pace slows and I watch the deer. 

The buck darts across the street and takes a few more beautiful strides. I stumble for my camera on my phone, but in moments like this it never moves fast. I put the phone down and just stare at the beast before me.

He slows…

He stops….

He turns…

He stares at me for about 15-20 seconds and then walks into a thick forested area.

I stop. 

I think back to all my thoughts and the place where I was right now and the reason for my journey. I felt a whisper in my soul. “It’s fine, son. I’m home now. It’s time for you to leave me here.”

I smiled. 

Please don’t think that I’m talking to animals or anything like that… but God has a beautiful way of communicating to our souls and He can use our experiences to communicate His purposes in our life. In this moment in my life, God chose to use a deer and I chose to listen.

My dad is home. 

My dad is in heaven with his Father. My dad rejoices with the angels because of his faith in Jesus Christ and, after tomorrow, his bones will rest in the place of his childhood… next to the love of his life.

All in all… that is pretty sweet!

My job is simply to drop him off… to see him off… and to honor him with my words.

I ran home and it started raining… but Ohio wasn’t that terrible anymore. It was a piece of my puzzle… a chapter in the novel of my life and the rain become a “washing away of what was” and a “watering of what would be”. 

I reached my destination lighter than when I left. Even though I was soaking wet and smelled like a locker room, there was a freedom growing in my heart that I know would only grow in the next 24 hours. Tears will come… but they will water my soul and honor my dad… and those are the best tears to have.

After the run I took my family to see a movie called “Inside Out”. Again, God showed up. 

I don’t have time to tell you all that God spoke to me through that movie, but let me just point out one crucial, life changing, important fact.

IT’S OK TO BE SAD.

It’s OK to cry and be sad and when we try to stop experiencing this emotion… all other emotions can die too and we simply end up a stale and dark human being. This is not the man I long to be. I have been…  I am… and I will be sad.

But, I’m not sad for my dad’s life… for that I rejoice. 

I’m sad for those moments that I will never have… those conversations that will never be spoken… those smiles that I will never see. But… that’s OK too.

If you are sad today, I want you to know that it’s OK to be sad. Don’t put on a mask. Don’t pretend. Be real. Those tears are seeds of healing that need to be sown and you are the only farmer of your soul. 

Thanks for Sitting Shiva Still!

Blessings!

GP

Sitting Shiva… Meaningful Suffering and a Perch Sandwich

So, I led my dad’s memorial service the other day.

The question came from someone who cared deeply for me. “So, who are you going to get to do your dad’s service?” I looked back without any thought or hesitation. “Me. I am doing it. There is no one on earth who will do what I want to be done. I am the only one who knew my dad good enough to do his memorial and I am the one doing it.” 

They smiled… almost as if they knew the answer before they asked the question.

I meant those words. No matter how much care or preparation someone could put into a service for my dad, it would still leave me wanting more. I knew the purpose of the day and it was so simple. It is to celebrate my dad’s life and the man that he was… to share his struggles and triumphs in life… to let my mom (the absolute love of his life) shine as I knew that he would want… and to let his life inspire everyone who chose to be there.

And, I get to do this twice. My dad is blessed. He will get two services. One in Arizona and one in Ohio. 

His life could be broken down into three seasons. Life before my mom. Life until the death of my mom. Then, the last 10 years spent in the Grand Canyon State… Arizona. Those who have met him and cared for him in this final decade of years came out to celebrate his life this week. Over 100 people were cramped into church. Through tears… smiles and stories were shared. 

I heard a lot of stories that day.

I heard from those who had ridden motorcycles with my dad. They spoke of the love that he had when they were on the open road. They spoke of the stories they shared and the miles that they drove… together. Before my dad’s last ride. 

I heard from people who knew him at church. They spoke of his smile and the time that they spent serving God together in ministry. They told of how he would be missed. 

I heard from others who met my dad through the town. From his time working at the school to those things that he did to help the community, I heard many stories that continued to bring healing to my heart.

I heard from many who were near my dad’s age. They understood how young he was… how tragic is was… how it could have been any of them… how it could have been any of us. 

Tragedy makes you stop and think. That’s what it does… doesn’t it? There was no long sickness or extended goodbyes. There were no last words that were spoken or plans that were made. There was simply a man who was full of life and embracing adventure and then… nothing.

Or was there something?

I wonder if we speak more through our death sometimes than in our life. I wonder if the unspoken sentences still bounce around in souls and minister to minds who are left asking the question “What if?”

I would ask “what if”. But, my “what ifs” would be different than what you may think. They wouldn’t be…

“What if my dad didn’t take that motorcycle trip?” or

“What if I could have stopped him?” or

“What if someone would have done something that could have caused this nightmare to never have become my reality?”

No. I wouldn’t waste breath on questions like that. But, I would ask something like...

“What if God took my dad home and I am still here to take what he left me and live in such a way to make him proud?” or

“What if those lessons my dad gave me were for a greater purpose in my life?” or 

“What if there is not only meaning in my dad’s life… but also in his death?”

You see… these are better questions for me. I will still ask “what ifs”, but they will be questions that propel me forward and not drag me back. They will be questions that bring glory to the name of God and the Surname “Hintz” which was given to me by my father. I will seek to shine bright on this earth and let people know that the years of hard work, sweat and tears shed by my father were not in vain. They have a sense of purpose… great purpose… and they are not meaningless.

There’s no scarier word for me… “meaningless”.

At the memorial service this week I showed a video of a beautiful song called “Though You Slay Me” with a section that talks about “meaning”. And the message is simple… there is nothing that is “meaningless” in your life. It all has meaning. Everything has meaning.

Even the suffering. 

Even the tears. 

Even the pain.

Even the questions.

It all has meaning. 

I’m sitting in Ohio now and if there was ever a place that encapsulates the word “meaningless” to me… It’s Ohio… I know that some Ohioans are reading this right now and I am glad that you love your state… but I don’t.

But… you see… that doesn’t matter because MY DAD DID. And, because my dad did… there is meaning in me being here right now. In two days I will gather together with a new group of people. These people are from the first two seasons of my dad’s life. From his childhood… from his work years… from before he became a widower. We will gather together in the state that he always called “home”. And, it is in this place, where he will be laid to rest. Right next to my mom. They will be together again. 

I will seek to share his story with an audience that lived that story with him. They will hear about his life and the seasons that made up his years. I will hear some stories that I’ve never heard before. We will laugh together and… we will cry together. And… my hope for all of us… is that we will heal together too.

And… in that healing… we can all find meaning.

I ate perch today. 

I did it for dad. Fried Perch sandwich and steak fries smothered with malted vinegar and lots of salt. I know that it would have been his meal if he were sitting in my seat. And, I know that he would have taken one bite, clapped his hands and said… “Ahhhhh. There ain’t nothing like that Lake Erie Perch. There’s nothing like it.”

I didn’t clap my hands and I didn’t praise the heavens for Lake Erie… at least not out loud. However, in my mind I heard his voice. I hear his voice all the time. I hear his grateful praise for following his final wishes to the tee. I hear him comforting me when I’m sad. I hear his smile when he looks upon all those in his life that have cared for him and for those who have cared for my family in this difficult season. 

I hear him all the time.

Early on in my grief I was praying and I was asking about what to share at his funeral. I heard something that day too. I heard this…

“Tell them all that I loved them. Tell them that I loved them all very much.” 

I smiled. “Of course.” I whispered. “But I think they already know that.” 

And, sitting here today… I hope you do. 

Blessings!

GP

Sitting Shiva… Musty Gun Powder and a Fresh Start

I sat in my dad’s truck for a while today.

I had no reason to be there. I wasn’t looking for anything. I just wanted to be reminded of him so I sat. I breathed in an odor that belonged to him. It smelled like musty gun powder. I smiled. 

Sitting in that truck I knew that I was going to be OK. It’s been 7 days now. The reality is officially one week old and looking back… it feels like a foggy month of Mondays. One day bleeding into another… leaving a red pool at the foot of my bed that I have to step into each and every morning. The moments of sleep have brought comfort and have been appreciated and looked for. Today, however, I started to feel that same feeling… but awake.

I am starting to breathe deep again. I am starting to notice the moments as they pass me by. I am starting to talk to people without wishing that I could just disappear. I have left the house and not counted the seconds until my return. I have walked from my house into the stifling heat and saw things for the first time again. I am starting to heal.

The police sent my dad’s belongings to me. 

My wife sat the brown box on the table. I looked away. “Go ahead and open it.” I said, not wanting to see what I knew was there. It contained the things that he always had on him. The things that had sat locked up in a police locker until now. His keys… his phone… and his wallet.

Later in the day… I opened the wallet.

It smelled just like the inside of his truck. It was fat with memories. A picture of my mom when she was 18 years old is the first thing I saw as it flopped open. It was the first thing that he saw every time he released it. I know that he wanted it that way. Everything was positioned that way. She has been gone ten years now… but she was still the first face that he saw each morning. 

I turned the plastic photo cover in his wallet to expose another dated picture. This one is of a little baby’s first photo. The first photo taken in a hospital after the blood is wiped away. The baby staring back at me is me… many years prior. It was my first photo and one that never left my dad’s side. I was always with him… and now I was face to face with myself.

I speak to me. “I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t want this. But… who does?” 

No one imagines this day. No one knows how they will act… what they will say… how they will heal. You just hold your breath and go through it… one day at a time. And, that is what I am doing. One day at a time and this is just another day. I feel better today. The tidal wave hasn’t crashed… yet. It still might and I am OK with that. I don’t fear it anymore. In fact… I welcome it now.

It has been a week since my dad died, but he is more alive in me today than ever before. 

I am filled with his memories and stories and life. I am reminded of the lessons and principles that he put to work in my life. I am awed by the man that he was and who he is helping me to become. 

You see, he is still working in my life today. There are principles that he gave me that are still being defined and molded in my mind and family. Obstacles that I’ve never hit before will come and I will be reminded of the lessons that he has given me to overcome them. I know that his lessons will continue to be developing for the rest of my life. I wait in eager expectation to see what my dad will teach me next year with the principles that he planted in my life for nearly the last four decades. I know that there will be many. 

My six year old was walking away from me today and… all of a sudden… he turns around to look at me and his eyes are as big as saucers as he said…

“Dad! We haven’t read the Bible in a lot of days!”

You see, before the news of my dad’s death, we had been on a streak of reading the Bible each day for around 80 straight days.

I smiled. 

“You’re right buddy. We need to get caught up. How about we start again tonight?”

He smiled. 

“Sounds great!” He turned and took off into the next room.

How about we start again tonight?

I am so happy for the last 7 days. I am happy I stopped. I am happy I took time to breathe and cry and remember. I am happy that I turned my phone off and ignored the endless dronings of social media. I am happy I lost my shoes and drew my shades. I am so grateful for this time.

I know that I will have many more sad days and I know that tears will find their way to my cheeks again. I will get angry and frustrated and question why and have trouble sleeping and want to crawl the wall and feel like there is an elephant on my chest and… and… breathe.

I will breathe and I will heal and I will be OK. 

Because of this time that I’ve had for the past seven days… I know that I will be able to start again. I won’t be the same… I will never be the same… but, I know that this is all part of the process and the change that I will go through. I embrace it and am excited about what is next.

I sit in the truck. 

I don’t sit there to look back, but to look ahead. The smell will fade, but these memories will shape me and make me into something more than I was. I am thankful for these moments now. I breathe in deep.

I shut the door and walk away… back to my house. My step is lighter. My heart is open. My mind is clear.

I’m ready. Tomorrow… we start again. Tomorrow… we begin anew. 

Today… we rest and remember. 

Thank you for sitting with me today.

Blessings!

GP 

Sitting Shiva… Tire Swings, Tidal Waves and My Vacant Stare

So, I had to find my shoes today.

Literally. I had no idea where they were. I haven’t really left the house lately and today was the day when I told my wife I’d ride with her to the next city… about 30 miles away. I found the shoes in the corner of my closet and slipped them on… thinking that what I was about to do was really no big deal. I was wrong. 

After loading my family of six into the car I slithered into the passenger seat and felt myself melt. We start driving… one mile away from home and I am ready to return. I don’t want to be in this car and I don’t want to be driving to the next city and I don’t want to be wearing these stupid shoes!

But… I do.

I stare out of the car window at the desert. My dad loved the desert. He hated the heat… but loved the desert. He grew to know its beauty and appreciated it. He would love to hop on his motorcycle and go on long drives through the desert highways. It is one of those highways that I find myself on today and a lump enters my throat.

My ambition is gone. My energy is gone. I sit with my hands folded and my arms weighted down. I stare behind sunglasses into nothingness. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know how to fix me… 

Maybe I’m unfixable or not meant to be fixed. Maybe this is the new me. 

As we drive I tell my wife that I’m not going into the doctor’s office… I tell her I’m staying in the car. I hear a voice come from the backseat. It is my six year old. He says, 

“I am sitting in the car with daddy.” 

I don’t even think… just speak in a flat, unearthed tone.

“OK. But I just want to let you know that I’m not talking to you.”

My wife gasps and I realize what I just said. When my words register in my consciousness I start to laugh.

I really laughed. It felt good. Who am I anymore?

I told my son that I was kidding and that he could talk my ear off if he wanted. He continued to play in the backseat… unaffected by me. And then I thought again…

Who am I anymore?

I mean… I know my name and my job and my position in life. I know my faith and my voice and my past, but who am I?

Death does that?

I am a son… No, I was a son. Now, I’m a father of sons… but I have been that for years. It is hard to stop being that which you have always been when there is nothing there to take its place. 

A Toyota truck loaded with tires sits in the passing lane as we continue down the highway. The tires remind me of days at the park with dad and my favorite attraction… the tire swing. I could play on that thing all day. I remember wanting to be pushed and pulled and spun in every direction. I remember getting so dizzy that I thought I was going to puke. It was sickening and fun at the same time. I remember leaving that park and looking down at my arms and legs. They were marked black from the tire. The rubber had left its mark on me. I didn’t notice it when I was playing… but now could easily differentiate each and every one of those marks.

My life with dad has been like that. Our relationship has been pushed and pulled and spun around in a million different directions. We have had our fights and arguments and hugs and special moments. We have disappointed and forgiven… made mistakes and apologized… loved and loved some more. Our relationship has been like my time on the tire swing. Scary and fun and filled with laughter. But now the ride is over. 

There is no more swing and no more park and no more time for us to share. It has ceased to swing and I have climbed off and now I look down at my life and see the marks that have been placed on me. Marks from our time together… our talks… and from the life that has passed between us. Except these marks won’t wash away, but have become etched into my soul like grooves that lead somewhere… someplace meaningful and everlasting. 

I thought it would be easier. I thought the pain would systematically subside each day until it just simply disappeared. But… it doesn’t. It shows up today worse than yesterday. I can’t stand the unpredictable tides of my life. I just want it to be methodical… like time. The clock ticks each second which leads to each minute that passes the hours. Grief should start like a full hourglass that loses it’s power over you in time. With each tick becoming weaker and weaker. But, instead, it chooses to hide around corners and jump out when you least expect it. It chooses to live in the songs you hear and the things that you see and the silent whispers in the back of your mind. It comes like a mouse one moment and a tidal wave the next. You are never safe.

And so you simply sit and wait for it. 

Then you sit through it. 

Then you wait again. 

On my way back home today I couldn’t wait to get there. I wanted my shoes to disappear into the back of my closet again. I wanted to close the door. I feel safe at home. I know where all the mice hide and the source of the tidal waves there. I know how to control it… I know how to check out… I know how to breath. 

It’s hard to breath when there is a lump in your throat around a crowd of people. It feels like an elephant is sitting on your chest while your body is paralyzed. I have never, ever felt this way before. 

I am present… but I am vacant. My family of 5 whirls around me as I become the sun in their solar system. They all move around me as I simply sit still. I love them. I just don’t have any strength to circle around them right now. But, I guess the sun wasn’t designed to circle.

This is my moment to be the sun. This is my moment to be still. I can’t feel guilty for it or bad about it or wish that I was anything else right now. I have to allow myself to feel this. I have to let the elephant sit.

You see, broken isn’t bad. 

I am not created to be perfect. I am not created to always be happy. I am not created to be flawless. I am created to feel and love and hurt and cry and laugh and rejoice and be paralyzed by grief. It’s OK. God has me in his arms. I am starting to learn things that can never be taught in a book… see things that can never be viewed with an eye… and feel things that I have never felt. And… in that… I trust my Creator is going to get me to the other side. 

A wonderful person shared a song with me yesterday that was so powerful. It was by a group called “Shane and Shane” and the song was called Though You Slay Me. The lyrics were timely and deep and ended like this:

Though tonight I’m crying out
Let this cup pass from me now
You’re still all that I need
You’re enough for me
You’re enough for me

Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need

I know this this too shall pass. I know that my God will restore me. But, I also know that God is changing me through this season. I surrender to His love. I surrender to His hand. I surrender to the One who’s all I need. I surrender to the work that He is doing. 

Thank you for sitting Shiva with me today. It was a hard one, but it’s easier with each of you. 

Blessings!

GP 

Sitting Shiva… Heroes, Folding Flags and a 21 Gun Salute

So, I guess I get a flag.

At least that is what I’ve been told. I hear that is what happens when a “hero” dies.

They use the word “hero” because my dad fought for his country and I am glad that they will honor him in his death. They will send out men with guns and shoot fake bullets into the air. They will salute and they will hand me a flag. And… I know that my dad will be smiling down. He was always very patriotic and was proud to have served his country.

Sometimes, on holidays like Memorial Day, he would sneak away to a cemetery and visit the graves of the vets. He would look at the flags by their graves and bow his head and pray with moving lips before their headstones. He would finish his prayer and look at the name one last time and mouth these words… “Thank You”.

That was who he was. He was very sentimental and traditional and was a man of honor. I understand why he deserves a flagBut, it is not only because of what he did on a far away shore… but for how he lived his life and the example he set for me.

He was a hero in his marriage.

He was in love with my mom since she was 15 years old. When she was only 17 my dad was drafted into the Vietnam War and was shipped across an ocean where he served his country in the 101st Airborne – Artillery Division. However, while he was there fighting, he was given a short leave… a small window to escape the jungle and the turmoil that raged around him to find solace in the arms of the one he loved. The only problem is that she was not yet 18, her mom didn’t like him, and she was still planted firmly in the United States of America.

But… as my dad would often quote from one of his favorite shows… “The A-Team”.

“I love it when a plan comes together.”

The plan was simple. My mom would run away from home days before her 18th birthday with my dad’s brother. They would hop on a plane to Hawaii where my dad would be there waiting. My mom would turn 18 in Hawaii and then… in a Catholic Church in Waikiki… they would tie the knot.

I don’t know how they did it… but they pulled it off. My mom made it to Hawaii… but was chased by her mom (my grandma) and her sister (my aunt). They searched all over Hawaii trying to find her… but never did. Instead, Ms. Janice Elaine Stock became Mrs. Janice E. Hintz and the rest was history.

I couldn’t blame my grandma for wanting to stop it. My dad was fighting a war. Her daughter had just turned 18. Statistically… it would never work. But, somehow it did. My parents were happily married until the day my mom breathed her last breath on earth. And… if you knew my dad… you would know that their marriage lasted long past my mother’s death. People come to me now and make statements like…

“Your father sure loved your mom.”

“Your dad still talks about your mom all the time.”

“I watched some of your home movies with your mom in them.”

I would try to coach him to not talk about my mom so much, but it didn’t matter. My mom was with him and part of him and there was nothing that I was ever going to say that was going to change that. I stopped trying.

I now smile when I think of how deep my dad’s love was for my mom. He had something that was so special that many never have the opportunity to experience today. It was true love. It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t always pretty. They had many mountaintop moments and they also shared time in the valley together. There was the moment when my dad was downsized and lost his job and they had to reinvent what life looked like. There was the moment my mom was diagnosed with lymphoma and they had to balance the “good days” with the “bad”. There was the moment they had to say “Goodbye”. My mom from heaven and my dad pressing hard against the earth. But, through it all, I saw a grace and love that I long to emulate in my life.

I saw my hero.

I look back to the moment when his idiot 16 year old son (Yeah… ME) ran away from home and ended up going to Florida from Ohio. I remember getting stranded on a freeway in South Carolina and I remember the long Greyhound Bus ride back to Ohio. I remember getting off a bus… broken and lost with a chip on my shoulder… and I remember who was waiting for me. It was him. In spite of all that I had done. In spite of all the lies and the manipulation and the shame that I had brought upon my family’s name… he stood there waiting for me. Why? To bring me home. I didn’t know it at the time, but when I saw his face as I looked through the bus’s side window…

I saw my hero.

You see, that’s what a hero is. Some believe that a hero is someone who does something for themselves… but that is not a hero. A hero is someone who looks beyond themselves for the sake of another. One who puts the needs of another above their own. One who chooses to sacrifice their wants for the sake of another human being.

My dad did that in the jungles of Vietnam… He did that through the journey of life with my mom… And he did it in a punk kid like myself. He gave of himself for the sake of another. 

I have pictures scattered all over my house. Some are black and white and some are tattered… some are yellowed out and some are crisp as can be. And, as I look at each one of them I realize the similarity that each one of them has. In each of them…

I see my hero.

His name was Al to many of you, but to me… his name is DAD. It always was and it always will be.

He is my hero because of the example he set. He is my hero for the memories he left me. He is my hero because he chose to live his life for something more than just himself… he chose to live for me.

I know that this may sound selfish, but I know that it’s true. When he went to work each day… he did it for his family. When he said yes to the opportunities and no to the temptations that surrounded him each day… he did it for his family. When he looked to the future, he never looked to it solely for himself… he looked for his family.

Now, I look away from the photos and I look in the mirror and I ask what he left behind. I look through the tears to see a mind that has been formed and a soul that has been touched by a hero. I know that many seeds have been planted in my heart over the last 38 years and I know that it is now my job to cultivate the soil of my soul and produce a harvest. To look back and remember the lessons that have been modeled for me… by my hero.

I look forward to receiving a flag and placing it on my mantle for the world to see. I will set it right next to another flag… the flag that my grandfather… my father’s father…  received for being a hero. I will look at both of these flags differently after today. I will see them for what they are… one man’s attempt to honor another. But, I will also see them for what they mean to me. A legacy of heroes passing down the mantle from generation to generation.

With my father’s last breath he passed the baton to me. I am now running the race for my family. I am striving to become a hero. Not for the sake of 21 gun salutes or pats on the back… but for the possibility that my kids will look at a ragged old picture of me one day and honestly say…

I see my hero.

Thanks for Sitting Shiva with me again today.

Blessings,

GP

Sitting Shiva… A Bad Friend, 5 o’clock Shadow and Tears of Change

It is going on two days since I’ve been outside and I don’t plan on breaking that streak. I’ve sat on a couch covered in a blanket looking at pictures. Opening the door today I felt a triple digit Arizona hand slap me across my face as my three beasts busted through the door to relieve themselves. I closed the door and went back to the couch.

My phone is set to “do not disturb”. My shades are drawn. My five o’clock shadow is entering midnight and I am perfectly fine with that.

That’s what is so strange about this time. I have literally pulled the plug on my life and yet I feel a firm foundation beneath my feet. I am not worried about anything. I have a million things that “need” to be done, but I am simply focused on breathing deep and staying present in my grief and memories and this moment. 

There is an incredible peace in my life right now. It is the personification of a Bible verse that I’ve given to many other people. It was the words Jesus said to His friends when their world was falling apart. He said: 

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

It is truly a peace that surpasses all human understanding. And, I know that it is a peace that I have because of the many people who have surrounded me to help carry the burden. My amazing wife who was up at 5am making phone calls while I slept. My fabulous church body that is sending their prayers, thoughts and food in my direction. My friends and family who let me know that they are there… yet understand that the greatest gift that they can give me is to simply sit with me in this season… in this “Sitting Shiva”. 

I know that this time will come to an end and I know that I will go back to life… but I don’t think that I can go back to life as it was. I don’t think that we ever can. Not if we are allowing ourselves to be changed through our grief.

I am changing. I know that I am. 

I am viewing life through the rearview mirror and realizing how much I am missing in my life now. I accomplish and I do and I achieve and I win… but in winning, I lose.

I lose relationships because they take time to cultivate. I lose memories because they take planning to be achieved. I lose personal conversations to electronic chatter. I lose friends to accomplishments… moments to memories… and realize that which the world deems important is not important at all in the end. 

Another degree from college will never mourn my death. An award will never be changed by my life. Another victory will never sit with me in silence as I mourn the one I love. But, you will. 

People… this is all that really matters when it is all said and done. You, me, each other, us. And, just not in the good times or the convenient times… but when it is difficult and hard and ugly and takes work. When we don’t want to care about people is when we need to surround ourselves with others because people are really the only thing that matters.

As I flip through picture after picture of my “family” I realize how far away from them that I am. I have cousins that I only know through Facebook feeds. I have uncles and aunts that I don’t even send a Christmas card to. I have childhood friends that I haven’t called in decades. DECADES! Why?

Because I am busy. 

Busy with what? “Trying to change the world” is what I tell myself. It is what I tell others. But, in all reality… the only way that I’m ever going to change the world is by investing in the people that are around me and then, one by one, WE can work to change the world together.

I had two best friends growing up. Neither have I talked to in a long time. One, because our lives went in different directions and the other because I selfishly chose a speaking engagement in Georgia over marrying he and his fiancé. Think about that! One relationship blown because of my sloth and the other because of my selfishness. Embarrassing.

I called one out of the blue the day after my dad died. He had just hung up with his dad ten minutes prior. His dad had told him the news. It was awkward. I just needed him to know… not that my dad was dead, but that I was sorry. I was sorry for the time that had passed and I was sorry for my selfishness and now, in my time of need… I was selfishly asking him to be there for me. Even though I wasn’t there when he needed me… I asked him to be there for me.

I was humbled. 

He told me to stop apologizing. He told me he would be there. He told me that we had to let go of the past. He told me that we needed to pick up where we left off. 

I know I can’t do that though. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to pick up where we left off because that is the path that led us to where we are today. I want to start fresh. I want to begin anew. I want to be a real friend and care when there is nothing coming my way in return. I want to be part of his life. Because, I know that there will come a day when either he or I are going to be going through a box full of photos and I want the tears that we share to be tears of joy from the memories and love that we had for one another and not from the lost years that we missed from selfishness or pride.

And, I know that my dad would want it that way too. 

My other friend texted me out of the blue yesterday. This is my first friend… my next door neighbor for my entire life. We played together every day growing up. High School happened and our lives just began to drift. We drifted back together for a small season in my early 20’s and then quickly parted… never to be reunited again. Fifteen years later… when he heard through the grapevine that my dad had died… he sent me a text.

“Hey. This is… Some of the earliest and best memories of my life involve you. I mourn the loss of your father with you as my brother in Christ.”

I wept. 

I never knew. I didn’t think I mattered. I didn’t think “we” mattered… anymore. But, I was wrong. Over 30 years later and he still cares. I have neglected our friendship for over a decade, but he still cared enough to reach out with love in a season of my pain. That is the kind of friend I want to be.

Storm clouds have surrounded me for the past three days, but these moments have been breaks in the dark clouds… they have been rays of hope peeking through the clouds to shine on me. Encouragement and love has come from people around the globe. Those lives that I have been honored to be part of. Those people that I have had the privilege of encouraging have become my encouragers… and they keep me lifted above the flood waters of grief.

My life will change. 

This pain will pass and these moments will turn into distant memories, but the lessons that I’m learning will live on forever because I am demanding a change in my life because of them. I don’t want to be the same and I don’t have to remain in this same place… and neither do you.

Don’t wait for this. Don’t wait for a death or a sickness or a circumstance beyond your control to cause you to examine the real purpose of your existence. Are you fulfilling the best things in your life? Are you caring for the people that surround you or are you taking them for granted? Are you living for rewards or relationships?

If you allow yourself to invest in the latter… you may find yourself receiving the former. And, the rewards that follow relationships are so much better than anything that follows a dollar sign.

Thank you for sitting with me today.

Be Blessed.

GP 

Sitting Shiva… His Voice, a Picture and 1,000 Question Marks

It comes in waves… my grief… my pain… my tears. It drifts further away when people are around and storms the shore of my life around mid morning and late at night. The television drowns the memories at night, but simply fills me with a dull emptiness during the day. My temptation is to silence the subtle gnawing at my soul, but I know that will only irritate and inflame the wound of grief, so I force myself to sit in it… and and sit through it.

Thank you for sitting with me. 

Yesterday was photo day. An obvious place that anyone who has ever lost someone has found themselves. With the world of computers and home movies, this normally involves sitting in front of a screen and clicking a button or a mouse. However, the photos I sat with yesterday were ascertained long before you needed a plug to view a memory. Black and white… faded… ripped and worn… these were pictures of a different day and age. A day that I wish I knew better.

Pictures of people and homes and memories that were foreign to me. How I wish I could ask the one who recognized this time. “Who is this person? Where are you here? Describe this moment to me.” But I can’t… because he is gone. I look at the boxes of memories that sit before me and realize that I missed that opportunity… that moment will never be.

So, I piece together the photos… the faces… the dates.

I find that the pictures bring more questions than answers. I want to know about a family that I have only heard about. But, it’s not the story I want to hear… but the perspective of the one who took them. 

As I sit in this season, fog lifts from so much of my life. Those things that we deem important… those things that fill us with rage or passion… those things that steal our joy and peace… they are someone else’s battle. They are someone else’s story. They are someone else’s photographs.

And as we fight for another’s photos, our own photographs and memories become faded and ripped and worn. 

I need to sit in the moment more and share my stories with those I love. To dust off the memories and pass them down to my children. To share… to love… to not share someone else’s story, but to share mine… because it is “ours”. 

My dad did that in his own way. As decades past he was one of the first to get a camcorder… and he loved to use it. My dad’s only problem is that he wasn’t very good at using it. He would zoom in too close and everything would get blurry. He would shake the camera as he moved. He would point the camera at a tree and simply look at it for 3-4 minutes. Without sound, his videos would be so boring. (And honestly… with sound, some of them are pretty boring too.) But, what those videos have for me today is something that no dusty picture in a box is ever going to give me.

His Voice. 

He talks about trees and cows across the street. He talks about my mom as he zooms in too close to her face. He talks about the house that he built as he pans back and forth… and back and forth… and back again. He talks about the grass that was cut the day before and the neighbors who haven’t cut their grass for a week. He talks about cars that drive too fast down the street as he zooms in close to get their license plate. He talks about the snow on the ground and the sun in the sky and the pool in the backyard and the bird on the porch and anything else that filled the lens. But, for me I don’t really care what he is saying… I just love to hear his voice. 

It’s funny because often that which we take for granted is the one thing that we will miss the most. My dad drove me crazy telling me the same story over and over again. In one visit, he would tell me the same thing three different times. I would complain to my wife about it… but now I’d trade anything for a fourth time of hearing that same story again.

I want to hear him drone on about politics. 

I want to hear him talk about how hot it is in Arizona. 

I want to hear him talk about Lake Erie perch.

I want to hear him talk about how much he loved my mom. 

I want to hear him say how proud he is of me.

I want to hear… 

It’s funny. I know that I will never physically hear him say those words again, but all I have to do is close my eyes and I can hear them ringing in my ears. Because, he said them so much that they are no longer just memories, but they have etched themselves inside of my soul and have become part of who I am. 

I long to be like that. To not speak words that stop at ears, but that etch themselves in another’s soul. 

Will I do that for everyone? No. But, if just one… it’s worth it. If just my kids… it’s worth it. If just my wife… it’s worth it.

This is just one of many things that my dad has left with me. The desire to have a voice that leaves a mark long after I’m gone.

I have had a vision since the day the medical examiner called me on the phone. It fills my mind every time I close my eyes. It is one that I didn’t create, but came out of nowhere when I heard of my dad’s last ride. It was simple and true and no one can ever take it away from me. The minute I closed my eyes I saw my dad with my mom. They were so happy. His smile was so bright. He was looking down on me with a glint that I hadn’t seen in a long time. And then I heard his voice.

“Don’t worry about me. You’ve got work to do. Now make me proud boy. Make me proud. We will be reunited again, but right now you have work to do.”

I wanted to tell him, “NO! I AM GOING TO BE MAD AND ANGRY AND SAD AND BROKEN AND LOST AND QUESTION GOD AND RUN!” But, I couldn’t.

I couldn’t resist his voice. 

I knew that he was sent to reaffirm what I already knew… what I tell everyone else at every funeral I have ever been to. He was preaching to me. He was on the pulpit and I was in the pew. His voice was true and I knew that I could never escape truth. I simply closed my eyes and told him…

“I never cry… but I will cry for you. I will mourn you. I will be sad and I will miss you deeply. But… I will make you proud and I will use my voice to honor you.”

After that… I cried. 

I still cry. It’s hard. You are good one minute and then it just sneaks up on you. It’s not like a tidal wave for me… it is more like the tide coming in. I feel my emotional waters getting deeper. I feel a shift taking place. I feel a lump in my throat. I feel a sadness in my heart. And then I reach a place where I feel like the water is about to go over my head and then there is a shift. The water changes direction. It starts moving away from my shore. And… I can breathe again. I’m sure grief is different for everyone… but that’s what it is like for me.

So, I sit in the tide pool waiting for the next wave. I know that I won’t drown. I know that it won’t pull me out into dangerous waters. I know that it is something that I must sit through. This is my “Sitting Shiva”. This is our “Sitting Shiva”. Again, thank you so much for sitting with me. 

Through my ranting and my tears and my broken heart… it’s nice to know that I’m not alone. The support and love has been incredible and I want you to know that I wouldn’t be anybody without a “somebody” in my life called “dad”.

He never gave up on my… when everyone else did. May that same spirit be upon you… me… us. Let us never forget the faded memories that we’ve made or the voice that we leave on this earth. Let us never be ashamed to sit and wait… to taste tears… to remember… to open our ears… and listen for that voice.

Thank You!

GP