It’s 5:30 a.m. and the phone is ringing again. Mike is so exhausted he doesn’t hear this time and I don’t hear his sister stirring, either. This is an answer to prayer because I want them to be able to rest. I get up to take the early morning shift.
I’m not quick enough and the answering machine is getting it, but I’m not concerned. It will ring again and as I reach the bottom of the stairs, it starts. I’m thankful he’s forgotten about the cell phones. Mike’s is in the bedroom and it’s jolted him awake several times already.
“Hello?” I answer.
“Uh, well…uh, is this Mike?”
“No, Dad. It’s Donna.”
“Can I talk to Mike?”
“No, Dad. It’s 5:30 and he’s in bed. He needs to sleep and I’m not waking him up.”
“Oh. Uh. Well, do you have a minute?”
“Yes, Dad,” and I sit on the stairs. It will be a while.
“I’m completely bewildered. I can’t find Anne.”
“No, Dad. She died.”
“No, Mike’s mother. Anne. Your Anne has died.”
“My mother, Anne?”
“No, Dad. Your wife.” His mother’s name was not Anne.
“How did that happen.”
“Her lungs wore out, Dad.”
“Where was I?”
“You were holding her hand.”
“Here in the house?”
“Yes, Dad, the apartment. You were holding her hand, I was reading the psalms to her, and Mike was stroking her hair.”
“Did she suffer?”
“No, Dad. It was peaceful.”
“Why can’t I remember?”
“Your memory has been bad for a few years, now.” He will accept this from me. He called Mike a liar last night.
“I can’t remember any of this.”
“Is Mother with you?”
“No, Dad. She died.”
“Was there a funeral?”
“No, Dad. It will be Friday.”
“What day is today?”
“What should I do?”
“Go back to bed, Dad.”
“I found a note here. Did something happen?”
“Mom’s gone, Dad.”
“I have to go get her.”
“You can’t, Dad. She’s died. We’ll have a private viewing today. Your daughter came to town yesterday and spent the day with you and we’re going to go see Mom one last time.”
“At 11 o’clock.”
“Will I go?”
“Yes, Dad. We’ll come get you.”
“Has there been a funeral?”
“Has something happened?”
And on it goes for another five minutes or so. Suddenly he’s done and hangs up.
I go to make a cup of coffee and clean up the kitchen a bit.
The phone rings.
On the 60th anniversary of D-Day, Ancestory.com made their database available to the public to research World War II veterans. That is how I found out that my father had been dead for over ten years.
If you've read any of my previous blog posts, you'll be aware that my father was absent for most of my life. He and my mother separated when I was three years old and divorced when I was four, in an era when divorce was not common. When I was a young adult, my mother told me he had visited once, when I was around six. She had asked him not to tell me he was my father because she feared (rightly so, it turned out) that he would never visit again.
It must have been a good visit, because at one point I put my arms around his neck and said to her, “I really like this man.” Try as I might, I cannot dredge up that memory, nor do I have any photos of him. He's a complete stranger to me.
Since he had nothing to do with my upbringing (on top of all his other sins, he was a deadbeat as well), you would think that learning about his death would have little impact. You would be wrong.
There's something deep inside us that longs to know who we belong to. Even though I was a middle aged adult, there was a faint hope in my heart that someday – someday – I would get a change to meet him. What I hoped to get out of that meeting, I couldn't tell you.
The pragmatic side of me figured he'd probably hit me up for money I didn't have, or perhaps an organ donation after a lifetime of dissipation. Was this a road I really wanted to go down? But the abandoned child in me was hoping for a daddy. I grew up with an orphaned spirit.
Please understand that I am not comparing myself to children in third world countries who are completely destitute. I am well aware I was blessed to have a grandmother who cared for me. I was fed and clothed. Nor am I saying that I am a victim; I am not playing the fatherless card. But I had been abandoned by the most important figures in my life – my parents. Because of that, the idea of relating to God as a Father has been a challenge throughout my life.
It’s not that God hasn’t been demonstrating or speaking of His love to me. Rather, it’s that I haven’t been able to receive it. Trust was damaged, and once broken it is very difficult to repair. Nonetheless, God is persistent. Over the years, through countless situations, He has revealed Himself to really care about even the smallest areas of my life. Proving that someone, indeed, claimed me for His own. I wasn’t orphaned, I was adopted…by the best Dad in the world.
Healing has been slow. It’s taken decades and I’m not completely whole even now. There have been powerful Divine encounters that completely blew the lid off of everything I thought I knew. There have been quiet moments that affirmed His love. It begs the question – why doesn’t He just do one big healing, set me straight and get it all over with?
I really don’t know.
We have experienced another death in the family. While we are attending to this, I thought I'd post something I wrote while caring for Dad in the hospital. For those who have asked, he is recovering at home now.
Contrary to Hollywood and Hallmark, love is not a warm, fuzzy feeling, nor is it passion. While there is room for that in love, love is primarily sacrifice.
One of the things I really enjoy is travel. I enjoy seeing the landscape go by, whether by car, train, bus or overhead by plane. I enjoy new cultures, eating new things, meeting new people, learning about history, and visiting museums. Because I've made my living as an artist (i.e. no living at all), my travel budget is slim. Usually, best I can do is a road trip from time to time.
Wanderlust was hitting me hard this summer and I had started thinking about another road trip. Nothing had been formalized, but I had contacted some friends on the east coast to see what the possibilities were to get together. Maybe I'd drive through the Shenandoah Valley, visit some people I met at Glen East (http://glenworkshop.com/ ) last year, go to Washington D.C., and then down to Atlanta. Maybe I could get someone to meet me in Manhattan or Boston. Part of the fun is thinking of the places I could go.
At the end of August, the Aluminum Overcast B-17 flew into Grand Rapids. This was the plane that my father-in-law served on as gunnery sergeant in World War II. He was stationed in Las Vegas and trained men to shoot in all of the gun turrets except the nose turret. I was running errands when I saw the plane fly into town, but I forgot to tell Mike about it. Fortunately, he saw an article in the paper and told me about it.
The Experimental Aircraft Association flies these planes to keep history alive (http://www.b17.org/ ). They offer tours on the planes and share the history of WWII. For a fee, you can have a ride in a B-17. Mike and I decided it would be great to take Dad up in the plane one more time. We made the arrangements, and took Dad on the ride of a lifetime. He was sharp as a tack that day, recalling his years during the war. He was delighted to be on the plane and the crew and passengers were delighted to have a WWII vet on the flight.
There went my road trip. I did get to go up on the plane and experience history for half an hour. I took lots of photos and created albums for Mike and Dad, which was greatly appreciated. But I did not wander the open roads this year. You sacrifice things you really want and/or enjoy for the love of someone else. My husband and his father had a magical day, and I got to be part of that.
Dad is currently recovering from major surgery and greatly confused by it all. Sometimes he thinks he's in a hotel. Other times he thinks he's in a storage unit. Sometimes he pulls out his IVs and gives the hospital staff quite a workout. Every day, though, is getting a little bit better. It's amazing to see how Mom – his bride of 70 years – can soothe and calm him. I was deeply touched when he first came out of surgery. His first words to Mom were, “Are you still my girlfriend?”
Mom could ask us to move Dad into nursing care sooner rather than later. But she'd rather care for Dad as best she can until it can't be done anymore. We're here to support her and help her make that happen.
There's sacrifice all around. This is what love looks like.
I think God has an excellent sense of humor, but I often find I'm the only one laughing. Voltaire (a French author from the 18th century) said, “God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.” Why is that? I think people have this image of God as someone really angry, ready to drop the hammer on anyone who screws up. This in spite of the fact that over and over again, God uses relational language in scripture to illustrate that He is a loving Father who wants only our best.
A better picture of God was given to me by Tim Cosby. Tim has been an associate pastor and now is a personal coach. He talked about God as a father with a two year old, bending over and gently coaxing the child saying, “Come, come, come.” A good father doesn't blame a two year old for being imperfect. A good father encourages, directs and gently corrects. A good father has a sense of humor.
An example of God's humor is this blog. Never have I dreamed of being a writer, nor would I have imagined I'd have anything worthwhile to share with a large audience. I know writers with a capital 'W'. Writers that are published, that have regular columns in weighty literary magazines. Writers of substance. Me? I have always struggled with words and been painfully aware of their limitations. You think you have expressed something clearly, yet you find instead there has been miscommunication and misunderstanding. Words have often frustrated me. I'm a painter. That's my medium.
So God thought He'd give me a compelling story. A story that needed to be told, not painted. I tried to explain to Him that I'm not a writer and that I couldn't do it. He reminded me that He delights in using the weak and the foolish. “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” I Corinthians 1:26-29.
Weak and foolish? Well, I certainly qualify for that!
God and I laughed.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.