So my dad died yesterday.
I guess that’s how you do it… right? Like a bandaid that has been left too long and sealed itself to your skin, you pull it off and endure the pain that you know is bringing healing.
But, the statement isn’t really true. My dad actually died two days ago, but they didn’t tell me until yesterday. A ball dropped by a phone call to a police officer to a memo that sat on someone’s desk was the news that the one who grasped my hand as I took my first steps, hugged me tight when I graduated high school and sat each week to hear me speak in a church that he had been part of since the very beginning. That memo sat from night till morning and never made it to my ears until a “medical examiner” called me to question me about the death of my dad.
“Is this Greg Hintz?”
“By now you are aware of the passing of your father.”
“Uh. Well. Uh. Yeah. It tells me hear that you were notified about…”
“About what?” A heat starts to move up from my chest.
“Sir. I am so sorry to be the one to tell you this. This is not our normal protocol. We want family members to be informed in person and it tells me that you were notified. Again, sir, this is not the way…”
JUST HURRY UP AND TELL ME. I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR PROTOCOL OR YOUR MISTAKES OR YOUR STUPID MEMOS. JUST TELL ME WHAT I ALREADY KNOW BECAUSE OF YOUR BROKEN PROTOCOL!
“Around 9:30pm last night your father passed away…”
His words continued but I was disconnected from them. The heat transformed into a lump in my throat as I tried to swallow the flame.
I was driving… I pulled over.
“Sir, if you would like you can call me back. I just have a few questions about your father’s health history. Again, sir, this is not our normal protocol and I am so sorry to have to be the one to tell you this.”
“Yes.” The words slipped through gritted teeth. “I think that’s a good idea. I will call you back.”
My thumb pressed the big red button on my phone and I sat in disbelief staring at a mountain made of dirt in the middle of nowhere.
My dad had left yesterday morning on a motorcycle ride that he had been planning for months. He had found someone to go with him and they had left after breakfast that morning. I thought about the last text that I received from him the day before.
The time was 4:48pm and his text was an answer to my “How’s the ride?” text that I had sent him at 4:02pm.
“Heats awful, dumped the bike twice. We just left LV.”
At 5:42pm I read his answer and responded, “What!?!?!?!? Dumped the bike?”
I never received a response… and I never would.
My dad loved that bike. It brought him so much joy. He would wash it and wax it and would even put off riding it at night because the bugs would get all over it. For him to “dump it”, there had to be something wrong. And… there was. My dad was on his final ride. His ride to glory.
It is so sad and it makes me feel so alone. My mom died around 10 years ago, but I still had dad. He followed me to Arizona. He was part of my life. He was present at the holidays and went to my kids’ baseball and soccer games. He was a 12 minute drive away. He was still here… but now he’s gone.
I don’t have any brothers… no sisters… just me. I jokingly say, “God broke the mold with me.” And he did. But, I sometimes wish there were others who knew how I felt or could understand exactly what I’m going through.
No one else sat on his lap and ate popcorn out of a big green plastic bowl. No one else played catch in the front yard on Sunday afternoons after watching the Browns get beat. No one else remembers the way that he would look them in the eye and while patting their cheek say, “I’m so proud of you.” No one else can feel that. No one else can relate. And so I’m left in a sea of somebodies searching for the anybody that knows exactly where I am… and they will never exist.
I could easily try to turn back the clock and live in a place of “should have” or “could have”. Why didn’t I tell him not to go? Why wasn’t I more ‘present’ in his decision? Why didn’t I put my foot down? But I can’t stay here.
I was proud of him that he was going. I was glad that he was doing something that he was excited about. I didn’t want him sitting around watching TV all summer so I applauded his desire to seize life and do something crazy. Life is all we got… they tell me. But I know that this isn’t true. We are a sum total of our experiences… our dreams… our passions… our moments. And my dad had chosen to have some moments… and in his last moment… do something that he was passionate about.
He had a love for history and railroads and that is where he was heading. He talked about a place where the East met the West called Promontory Point where a Golden Spike still stood. He was heading to see that spike but never had the opportunity. Maybe someday I will go and see that spike for him.
Days before his death a good friend had moved. This man led a spiritual group that my dad had been part of since his time in Arizona. I was forwarded an email that my dad sent him. Here is what I read:
“I wish you two just a wonderful and safe trip on your move to Texas and that God will continue to bless all that you do as you go forward into a new chapter in life. One thing that can be a very positive item in what will be some sadness in your leaving us, God is taking both of you and your amazing Faith in Him and allowing you to shine in another part of the Country now. He truly is presenting you with a Golden Opportunity to carry His Word to others who may be in so dire need of hearing and seeing His love within you both, at least that’s how I kind of look at it.
So, even in some sorrow at your leaving, there can be great, great joy that only we, His people can bring to our fellow human beings that are so desperate for His love. I believe you two are being given an absolute great chance to live out that which we declare at THE PLACE Church each Sunday, taking the word of Jesus to those of our neighborhood, Country and the World and we ARE making a difference in this world.”
Those last words that my dad shared to his close friends are words that we use each and every week at THE PLACE Church. We reaffirm that God IS using each and every single person in a positive way in their worlds. Those words were planted deep in my dad. I truly believe that he knew that he was making a difference. And, I know without a shadow of a doubt, that he DID make a difference and that he will live forever in my heart and life.
But, not only mine, but also in the lives of his grandkids who he was so very proud of.
My oldest son, Dylan, wrote some special words on Facebook yesterday. He was very close to my dad and had even went on a cross country road trip with him that will forever be etched into his memory. I will let his words speak for themselves.
“In loving memory of my Grandpa Al,
The definition of grandpa says grandfather but he was more than that to me. He was my friend, my second father, he was someone who was there for me whenever I needed someone to lean on. Now as I have heard what happened I always want him to know that I will be the best I can be for him. He would expect nothing more as he told me from man to man talk that he gave me advice just like my dad did because he said “I am going to tell you EVERYTHING I have told your dad when he was your age.” I listened to every word he had to say at the end of the conversation the thing that stuck to me the most was these 4 words, “I love you kiddo.” I spent every minute that was given to me to be with him all the good times we have made together. The one I will honor the most is when last year 2014 when we did the across the states trip. There is nothing that will make me lose that memory. I love you too Grandpa I hope you are in a happy place now and I will do everything you told me and become the best I can to honor you! God Bless you Grandpa.
These words bring tears to my eyes. They are so pure and they hurt so much. I don’t hurt for my yesterdays… I don’t hurt for my memories… I hurt for the unknown tomorrows. The Christmases without him lighting a candle in honor of my mom. The many times that he would do the “pop in” at my house for no reason. The outdated clothes that he would wear that I would threaten to throw out when he was away. In fact, I told him that while he was on his trip I was going to go through his closet and clean it out for him. Little did I know that I would be fulfilling that threat and so much more.
Last night Dylan came out of his room and said these words…
“Xander is sobbing.”
Xander is my six year old. He had been fine all day, so we weren’t sure why he was crying. I went into his room and he was curled up in his top bunk filling his pillow with tears. I walked to his bed.
“What’s up buddy?” I said.
He turned his head towards the wall and I crawled up into his bed… lightly touching his arm.
“What’s wrong buddy? Are you sad?”
“Yeah.” Through big breaths and wet cheeks he spoke.
Then came the word… “Grandpa. I miss grandpa.”
Tears filled my eyes as they do now writing these words.
“I know buddy. Me too. I miss grandpa too.”
We laid there for some time. Both covered in tears. Both mourning the same man. Both staring at the wall.
After some time I told him that it was OK to be sad. We could be sad together. He smiled. I made a “fart joke” and he laughed. I laughed too. His tear stained blue eyes softened.
“I brought a photo album home and I have some pictures of me when I was your age and I looked just like you… well, you’re a little better looking, but it’s close.” I smiled.
He smiled back. “Really!? He jumped up. Let’s go see them.”
“Absolutely. There are some pictures of grandpa there too. He even has a mustache and is wearing some ‘shorty shorts’.”
“Cool. Let’s go.”
We spent the next 30 minutes surrounding an old photo album that had baby photos of me. As we flipped each page, Xander was filled with questions. “Who is this? Who is that? Where are you here?” I told each story as I remembered it. His smile returned and I thanked God for the tears.
I have heard it said that tears are words that the heart can’t express. I believe that. I also believe that tears are healing to the soul. As a family we choose to speak unexpressable words and heal together. With wet eyes and a hurting heart, we throw our arms around each other and strengthen one another.
I have never felt the healing power of family until now. There is no where else that I want to be. My phone rings. My email fills up. My Facebook continues to build ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ and they are all appreciated… they really are. But, the healing that I need can only be found in the circle of my family. They give me something deeper and richer than anything that I could get anywhere else. They don’t need to say a word… just be in my presence. Their souls radiate and strengthen me. Without them, I don’t know where I’d be.
This event will change me… is changing me. I will never be the same. I can only wish that it will make me a better man and a better dad. I hope to appreciate the little things much more after all this. Because, in the whole scheme of things… those little things that we worry about don’t really matter. These dreams and aspirations that I have are very shallow in the oceans of reality… family… and life.
I don’t remember my dad’s college degrees or his trophies. I don’t think about his salary or the things that he acquired. I remember the times on his knee and the times we embraced. I remember his caring conversations and his cards filled with love. I remember the joy in his eyes when he saw his grandkids and the days when he taught me how to shoot. I remember Cub Scout projects and shadowing him at his job. I remember tough love and his tears the day my mom died. I remember his passion for politics and his loyalty to friends. I remember the love that he had for me…
I know that he loved me. More than life. More than anything else. I know that he loved me.
And, if he were sitting here right now, I wouldn’t have to say a word for him to know that I loved him too. I would throw my arms around him. I would thank him for never giving up on me. I would honor him… because that is what he would deserve.
So, with these words I try to heal. It will take time, but I am not in a hurry. I openly embrace the tears and don’t try to swallow them back. I choose to take time to sit and remember and mourn.
I am reminded of the Jewish tradition of “Sitting Shivah”. This is a 7 day period where the mourners fulfill two main purposes. First, it is about honoring the dead. Secondly, it is about helping the mourner deal with their loss. I guess this writing is sort of my way of “Sitting Shivah” and by you being part of it, you are choosing to sit here with me.
I am so honored to have you on this journey with me. Thank you for sitting with me. Thank you for your encouragement. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your kind words. I am so glad that I don’t have to sit alone.