“This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas–
His hand the wonders wrought.”
Father’s day feels different after your dad has died.
There was no shopping for shaving cream or t-shirts or themed ties with tiny footballs on it.
In church, only my second time back in months, the Pastor talked about our earthly fathers and our Heavenly Father. That comparison never resonated much with me but today I heard it in a different way.
Sometimes we don’t have a positive relationship with our dads. Sometimes we don’t have a positive relationship with God or the Church. Both can be healed.
Heal the first wound to be a better parent and heal the second so you can be a better human.
Will Beck, in a beautiful social media shout out to me, mentioned the last few years of my father’s life that I spent trying to honor him. In truth, it was less about him and more about healing the wound inside myself. Like many, many others, my dad didn’t have much time for me. He was 42 by the time I was born and well into his own career and beginning the second half of his illustrious life. I knew he loved me but the connection wasn’t there. As I came into my own in my 30’s, we found our father-daughter stride as I started to become the person he had hoped I’d be.
And then he got sick.
And then he died.
Each one of us has a unique relationship with our fathers and some leave wounds that we spend the rest of our lives trying to fill with other things. It’s part of the human experience and as best we try, we will imprint something on our children, too.
Dennis Miller said it best,
In honor of Father’s Day, I want to tell you about the last day with my father.
About a week prior, he was slipping in and out of a coma but he had been there before so we really didn’t know. I called Chaplain Funk (WP ’80) and said, “I need you to come.” He said, “Let me check my schedule and I’ll get back to you.” I said, “No, now.” And he did. Our night nurse Pam, a magnificently kind and loyal woman from Long Island decided she was going to just stay a few more hours past her shift. She was with us continuously through the week. All day, all night, all the time.
On what ended up being his last day, none of us knew but none of us wanted to leave his side either. I suppose we felt something that we didn’t discuss. Instead, we brought chairs in from the lanai, mom opened the good wine and we had a little celebration. We told our favorite stories of crazy cadets, bats in the belfry (literally) all the characters he dressed up as to capture the very limited attention of some very tired cadets and that one time my father rode his motorcycle into the Mess Hall during Army-Navy week.
With more wine came more rousing stories and we laughed until tears streamed down our faces. His room was filled with joy. I believe he felt that.
In the early evening, still in a coma, his eyes BURST open and looked straight up over our heads. My mother threw herself on him and cried,
“You see Jesus! I know you see Jesus!”
And I believe he did.
As the evening progressed, his eyes settled a bit but his heart still beat strong.
He wasn’t ready to go.
Chaplain Funk had the thoughtfulness to grab his computer and pull up the Memorial Service that my father had prepared and we had honed with him over the past few years as he focused on his finish line. We went through it piece by piece, reading the passages and singing the hymns. At the end, we all felt indescribable peace.
But he wasn’t ready to go.
David Lyle, one of my father’s favorites stationed up at West Point, texted me and said he’d like to call and say the Cadet Prayer over my dad. When I put down the phone I thought, wait. Everyone needs to do this! I decided to set up a Zoom call – putting out a quick message on social media and hoping SOMEONE would see it and call in. I wasn’t sure who my father might have been waiting for – all his children and grandchildren had said goodbye. But he waited.
I sent a quick text to a friend asking if she’d log on so at least someone would be there.
None of us were prepared for the response that a social media post would generate in under one hour.
When the Zoom meeting launched, HUNDREDS of people from all over the country, representing every phase of my father’s life appeared before us. Family members that I didn’t know – that I have never met – friends from school, former churches, graduates spanning over 50 decades of USMA.
Eighty-four years of life represented right in front of us – a chorus and every instrument in the symphony of loved ones.
Together we said the Cadet Prayer which says,
“O God, our Father, Thou Searcher of Human hearts, help us to draw near to Thee in sincerity and truth. May our religion be filled with gladness and may our worship of Thee be natural.
Strengthen and increase our admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking, and suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and pretence ever to diminish. Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.
Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy.
Guard us against flippancy and irreverance in the sacred things of life. Grant us new ties of friendship and new opportunities of service. Kindle our hearts in fellowship with those of a cheerful countenance, and soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer.
Help us to maintain the honor of the Corps untarnished and unsullied and to show forth in our lives the ideals of West Point in doing our duty to Thee and to our Country.
All of which we ask in the name of the Great Friend and Master of all. Amen”
Immediately afterwards I turned to Chaplain Funk and said, “Should we sing?” and we did. We sang Jesus Loves Me together – a beautiful little song written for Cadets by their Bible Study teacher that lived across the Hudson a few hundred years ago.
The room was filled with so much love and joy – palpable joy – waves of peace – peace that no one understands.
Afterwards, one by one as if the entire Zoom was orchestrated by the greatest symphony conductor, people said goodbye and logged off.
One by one.
It took us a while to calm ourselves after the wave had washed over us but then incredible exhaustion came. Pam our nurse stayed in his room as she had every night for the past few years. Chaplain Funk stretched out on the sofa for a respite. My mother and I curled up with my little girl, already asleep in the next room.
At the moment when we all took a collective sigh and restful breath, my father died.
We Zoomed him to Heaven – an evening orchestrated by the Great Conductor, Creator and Sustainer of life.
I may not be able to continue my relationship with my earthly father but it’s never too late to work on my relationship with the father of the universe.
Wherever you are in your journey, it’s not too late. It’s not too late to heal your father wound, to be the father you want to be, to pursue your children, to get to know the Living God.
“This is my Father’s world:
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world:
Why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King: let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let earth be glad! “
Let Earth Be Glad!
A Celebration of Life Memorial Service will be held at the Cadet Chapel at West Point on October 9, 2021 at 2:00 PM. For more information contact Hello@kathycamp1.com.