I made a video to honor my dad, Al Hintz, who died in a tragic motorcycle accident. I wanted to share this with all those who have been Sitting Shiva with me.
I made a video to honor my dad, Al Hintz, who died in a tragic motorcycle accident. I wanted to share this with all those who have been Sitting Shiva with me.
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 stares at me for about 15-20 seconds and then walks into a thick forested area.
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.”
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!
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.
“You’re right buddy. We need to get caught up. How about we start again tonight?”
“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.
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 flag. But, 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.
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.