Losing Grandma – My First Experience With Death
It was the spring of my 6th grade year. I was in the middle of the joys of standardized testing. I remember the phone ringing in the middle of the night and waking up in fear. I left my bed and went to my parents bedroom where I found out that the call was to let us know than my Grandma, my Daddy’s mom, had died of a heart attack in her sleep.
This was the first person I loved to pass away. It was my first time to go to the funeral home, to a visitation, to see a dead body, to see a casket lowered into the ground, to smell the nauseatingly sweet fragrance of too many flowers crammed into too small of an area.
It would be the first, but certainly not the last.
Camp Wesley Pines – Summer Camp & Encountering Jesus
During the summer of this same year I attended summer camp at Wesley Pines for the first time. Wesley Pines is a Methodist camp in central Mississippi. While camp was mostly about meeting friends and having fun in the woods, I remember a moment during a devotional where I just knew that Jesus was real. I knew that the stories I had been taught were more than fairy tails. This would be my first encounter with Jesus.
A year later as I entered seventh grade I began to get involved in the youth group at my church. While I learned some about Jesus in church and in youth group, my faith was based on religion and works and not on a relationship with Christ.
Losing Daddy: The Day It All Fell Apart
October 20, 1990 – It was a Saturday morning. I was 13 and Greg was 9. We were watching cartoons in the living room as was our normal Saturday morning routine. Daddy and Greg were suppose to be getting ready to leave for a Boy Scout campout, but Daddy’s cough was really bad that morning and Mom didn’t want them going. Greg was upset and disappointed as any nine year old would be, and I was trying to comfort him.
The next thing I remember, Mom came into the living room telling me to go outside and wait for the ambulance. I remember standing in the yard when our neighbor Mr. Larry from across the street ran over. He had heard the ambulance call on his scanner and came over to see what was going on. Thinking back I assume he went in the house, but don’t remember clearly. I remember sitting in the sunroom of our house with Greg and the preacher’s wife from another house across the street as the paramedics brought Daddy through the house on the gurney. They were performing CPR and one was yelling, “Breathe Allen, breathe!”
I remember being so calm, gathering a few things to take to the hospital. I simply thought we would be there for a while. It never crossed my mind that my Daddy wouldn’t make it. Mr. Larry drove us to River Oaks Hospital and Greg and I were left in a small private office. I remember Greg sitting in my lap. He was still so small then and I had my arms around him. I remember him looking up at me with tears in his big brown eyes and said “I think our dad just died.” My reply was simply “I know.” No one told us, we just knew.
The rest of the day is a blur. I remember sitting on the sidewalk outside the emergency room while mom smoked a cigarette. Then I remember being home, sitting in Daddy’s recliner and the phone ringing. I answered out of habit, not even thinking about it. It was Andy Sumrall, one of my dad’s closest friends, calling to talk to Daddy. I think this was the first time I cried. This was the first time what just happened became real. I remember curling up on my bed with my journal and my teddy bear in shock. My daddy just died. He wouldn’t be there to see me graduate, to give me away at my wedding, to meet his grandchildren. What does a daddy’s little girl do when she no longer has a daddy?
The next few days were filled with family and friends, people constantly coming and going, bringing food and flowers, constantly surrounded by people both at home and at the funeral home. I remember driving up to the church for the funeral and seeing a sea of people standing outside. There was a large crowd of people who were not able to fit in the church. The church was completely packed and people were literally overflowing out onto the grounds. As we walked down the center isle to the front row I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love as we gathered to say goodbye to my daddy.
The service was truly a celebration of life with many stories shared
On the drive to the cemetery we strained to see the end of the line of cars, but we never could. It seemed to be an endless procession of family and friends. It was then that I realized what a great impact my Daddy had on so many people.
Journal Entry – November 3, 1990
I just finished talking to Elissa. I thought I had problems. She lost her next door neighbor to cancer about the same time I lost Daddy. I’ve held back the tears for so long while everyone was here. I can’t cry in front of people. And then when I was ready to cry, I couldn’t. I don’t know why, I just couldn’t. But tonight I cried. And I’m still crying. I can’t even cry in front of mom, I feel like I should be strong and not let her know how hurt I really am so she won’t worry about me. But tonight I cried in front of Elissa, and I think she cried some to. I feel a lot better now. About Dad that is. But now I feel like I need to help Elisa. If we have youth tomorrow night I’m going to invite her to come with me. I don’t know if we will have youth since our youth director just left, but maybe someone will lead it for us. I hope that by taking her to youth and praying for her and being her friend I can help her help herself to solve her problems. I hope that by leading her to Christ He can help her. She needs help, and I’m going to be here for her to talk to, to cry with or whatever. But I will be here and she will know that I care.
I honestly don’t remember this friend, but there is a lot from this time in my life that is fuzzy at best. As I have been reading through old journals I see that my heart was for others. Looking back I see that my outward focus was an attempt to take the focus off my own pain.
The Gulf War
I vaguely remember Operation Desert Shield through the blur that is the fall of 1990. Many from our local National Guard base were deployed to the Middle East, and many families in our community were temporarily fatherless. Somehow, in this brief season, I wasn’t alone.
January 16, 1991. We walked out of the mall and climbed into my dad’s red Jeep Cherokee. As mom started the engine, the voice on the radio announced the beginning of the Gulf War. Our moods turned from joyful to somber. We rushed home and turned on the television. There on the screen we watched the first of what would become daily scenes of war from cameras onboard US bombers and fighter jets. For forty-two consecutive days and night, coalition forces subjected Iraq to one of the most invasive air bombardments in military history.
The war was short, and victory came quickly. The atmosphere was filled with celebration as our troops returned home to American flags and yellow ribbons. All the other dad’s come home. Except mine. This time the yellow ribbons were a reminder that my dad, while not lost to war, would never come home.