25 Years Ago

October 31, 1999

I do not remember much about the day itself. A few days earlier we had flown from Dallas to Birmingham to see my father one last time. The three weeks before that are a blur in my mind, starting with the late-night phone call from my mother saying that my father had suddenly become very ill. That in itself was strange to me because my father was a doctor. He made sick people better. How could he be so sick, so suddenly? We made several trips to Birmingham and then back to Dallas where I was trying to survive my first year of seminary and learning how to be a husband with less than three months experience. The first time I saw my father in the hospital, I knew he was gravely ill but he was glad to see me and said, “Don’t worry, Son. I’ll be alright.” Did he know the truth then? Probably, but like all good fathers he wanted to spare me if he could.

Then he was gone. It happened that fast. The doctor broke the news with great compassion to my mother. “It’s over,” he said. Only two words, but how they changed the world for me. In one of his novels Tom Wolfe remarks that as long as your father is alive, the world seems like a safe place. Even if you are an adult and your father is much older, having him around is a like a protective blanket against the uncertainties of life. Without him, the world seems dangerous. I confess that I’ve felt that way ever since he died and many times wondered how life would have been if only he had lived a few more years.

In one of his great hymns, Isaac Watts reminds us that “Time like an ever-rolling stream bears all its sons away, they fly forgotten as a dream dies at the opening day.” Death reigns like a towering monarch over the earth and stalks our trail. We are told that the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:26). But that day has not yet come. Until then we live in hope. And we bury our loved ones in the confidence that death shall not have the last word.

In my life I have very few sorrows, too few to mention compared to the genuine suffering I see all around me. My greatest regret is not that my father died, but that he never got to know my three sons and they never got to know him. Tears flow as I write these words and think about what might have been.

My father died 25 years ago this week. I still miss him. He was the best man I ever knew.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?