The phone rang…

I was asleep, when the sound of the phone started to weave itself into my dreams. Why is the phone ringing? It’s the middle of the night!

Something told me I shouldn’t ignore it, so I found my glasses and stumbled to the kitchen, where the phone promptly got to its allotted 8 rings and stopped to go to answerphone. I checked the number that had called – my parents’ number. Oh no. Dad. There are those times when you just know something bad has happened, and a call from my parents at 5 a.m. is one of those times.

I called and Mum answered promptly. “Did you just call me?” I asked, bleary. “Yes. Your dad has just had a massive stroke. The prognosis is NOT GOOD.” Mum answered tersely, bottled up.

This took me back to the time when a similar call came about my grandfather “Just like Grandad?” I asked. “Exactly like Grandad” Mum replied.

“We’re off to the hospital now, and I’ll call you when I know what’s happening”.

“OK Mum”.

I went back to bed and told my husband what had happened. My mind was whirling around.

“Can I get a  flight to Christchurch now, so I can see Dad before it’s too late?”

“No, it’s 5.30 in the morning and the airport won’t have any flights.”

The decision was made for me. At 6.30 my sister rang.

”Dad’s just died’” she said, and the tone of her voice will always stay with me.

As you can imagine, the rest of the day was a blur, trying to do what I had to do, telling the children, working out how to get down, and discussing the funeral arrangements with my family. We were all in shock, especially Mum. But somehow, even though Dad was only 71 it wasn’t unexpected. He had been declining for some time, and had suffered a stroke a year or so before. We all came to the consensus that it was better that he didn’t have to suffer, and that he wasn’t completely dependent. But all the same it was hard to comprehend.

Now it’s nearly a year since that phone call.It’s been a hard year for a variety of reasons, but losing a parent is a  strange thing to happen.People give their condolences, but somehow it seems as if their picture of your late parent is of a frail very elderly person who had lived a full life, and whose time had come. No one else seemed to share our outrage that he was only 71 (younger than my husband, which was hard for the children to handle), and that he had been so well the previous weekend, playing the organ beautifully in church.

Dad’s death gave me a gift though. Before he died, I had always struggled at funerals and watching other people grieve. I would get caught up in it, and find myself in floods of empathetic tears. This used to worry me – how could I deal with grieving families as a minister if I lose it? How can I stay on the river bank and not be drawn in? After Dad died and I discovered what my grief felt like, I was able to say to myself,“It’s not my grief, it’s theirs” when someone else was grieving. This has been Dad’s parting gift to me, and given me the right focus and stance to be with others who have lost someone.

I’m no expert on grief. Dad is the first person close to me that I have lost. I should count myself fortunate really.I know I will see Dad again. His strong faith, with Mum’s, was fundamental to our family life. My hope is that everyone who loses someone this week will have that assurance of seeing them again in eternity.

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