The Missing and the Cross

Spring used to be my favorite season.

I loved it when winter would begin to fade away. Trees would blossom. Bulbs push up from the ground. The feeling of the warm sun on bare arms.

While the Spring is still really beautiful, it is no longer my favorite.

Sure, part of the reason for that is now living in the deep South the beginning of Spring is marked by a thick dusting of yellow pollen that blankets the entire outdoors, and gnats that fly into your eyeballs. Then after that, it’s basically Summer until late October.

Mostly though, it’s because I lost my Dad in the Spring.

March 22nd.

Every year now, as the Lenten season approaches and people all around me are giving things up in anticipation of Easter, I remember what I had to give up now six years ago. And then I think of all the other things that I have had to subsequently give up because of what was taken.

In some ways, it feels as if I’ve found myself in some sort of twisted forced upon Lent.

These weeks leading up to March 22nd, and subsequently Easter are heavy. The Missing, as I have named my grief, has grown in size and substance. It touches so many parts of my life that it’s hard to function some days. I just want to go live in that numb space where I don’t have to feel, think, or remember much of anything.

Then, there’s another part of me that never wants to stop remembering. I want to feel all the feelings and indulge The Missing as I become absorbed in myself and my feelings.

My Facebook memories walk me through a sort of stations of the cross and I re-live my pleas for prayer leading up to March 22, 2013. I am reminded of details that I want to forget, but don’t have the courage to delete. While I want to delete them, I also sort of want to obsess over them.  Grief has me constantly contradicting myself. I want to go numb, but I want to feel. I want to forget, but I want to remember.

My brain is in a constant state of making connections to my Dad.

The blossoms and bulbs that are making their yearly debut have me thinking of a wooden cross from my childhood. This cross my Dad constructed out of 2 x 4s and covered in chicken wire. Each year on Easter morning, we as a small, but mighty church congregation would fill that cross entirely with fresh flowers.

It was a sign of hope. That death never has the last word.

After the service was over, Dad would haul that cross outside to the front of the church building so that people driving by would see this flower adorned cross. A symbol of life. A colorful display of beauty and redemption.

The flowered cross became an Easter tradition.

I can’t think of this flower laden cross without remembering the flowers that filled my parents’ living room following my Dad’s funeral. Arrangements sent from friends and family along with their condolences.

The Missing was all consuming and violent that day. The stargazer lilies that I’d had in my own wedding bouquets, now gave off a sickening scent that brought waves of nausea along with the relentless waves of grief.

Running through my mind was the single question that Dad had posed to my young future husband asking for my hand in marriage: “Is that what Jesus is calling you to do?”

For my Dad, all things were put through that cruciform filter. It all came back to the cross.

Dad died on a Friday. The Friday that followed was Good Friday.

We filed into church as a family, as we had done so many times growing up to listen to our Dad preach the message of Easter.

Sitting there in that church in the wake of the trauma of the taking, the deep gut wrenching missing settled in.

And there was so much to miss. There was so much that he was going to miss. He was no longer in his spot at the pulpit, or on the end of our row.

I thought the death itself would be the hardest part. I see now how wrong I was.

The hardest part is carrying on with The Missing.

So, in weeks like this, The Missing saturates the lens through which I see life.

Nothing about his death makes sense, except for maybe the time of year that it happened.

The Easter message, and cruciform filter is common and ever present right now— Church signs, decorations, songs, sermons.

As was his life, his death is forever linked with the cross. As if it were his lasting way to keep the Easter sermon going. To keep reminding us in whom we should place our hope.

So, these days as I cope with the memory of my father on his death bed. I dive into The Missing to try to remember the way he smelled, or the way his voice sounded. I lament all that he is missing, and all that we have had to give up as a family.

I tuck his firstborn grandson into bed, who has begun wearing a tiny wooden cross necklace tucked under his shirt. It rests against his chest.

My Abba Father cuts through The Missing with one breath,

The message lives.

He is alive.

The cross blooms.

Dad with cross

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