Sorry for Your Loss. . . (1 of 3)

Jamie and Dad and the “Stubby Coach” race car
LINK CORRECTION: the February newsletter link to part 2 of this series was incorrect. To see part 2, click here.
This being the inaugural post of our Seasons of Life blog, I thought I’d keep it light. But, then, I thought about how many of you have been so kind to ask how we’re doing since the loss of my Dad just before Christmas. Thus, our first post is about a new season in our life, one without the presence of someone who wasn’t really physically present in our lives, but gave us a great present when he left: joy and peace. Enjoy. -AP
“I’m so sorry for your loss… So sorry for your loss… I’m sorry for your loss…” It went on and on. Family members I had forgotten existed or didn’t even recognize me passed through the line shaking hands, hugging us 8 brothers and sisters, even shedding tears or telling riotous stories that got us all laughing. “I’m sorry for your loss…sorry for your loss… sorry for your loss.”
But, what had I lost?
The call came in late on Tuesday night, December 14th. “Dad’s taken a turn for the worse.” Translation: the end is near – very, very near. Bob Pina had suffered multiple heart attacks in his 40s and 50s, at least 7 strokes during his 50s, 60s, and 70s. Cumulatively, this meant at least two things: 1) if my dad could weather all that, I might be bulletproof. And, 2) vascular dementia for him. Vascular dementia is similar to Alzheimer’s in that the victim suffers a loss in cognitive function (reading/writing/word retrieval) and either periodic or gradual memory loss. Over the past 10 years
Dad’s been in and out of nursing homes and most recently moved from a hospital in Florida to a nursing home back home in Massachusetts where he spent the rest of his days.
Replacement hat for Dad’s Korean War Vet hat.
Dad and I had a “lost and found” kind of relationship. I began losing him (to his job, an affair, and other extracurricular activities) around 6 or 7. He and mom divorced when I was about 10. I spun my wheels in my early teens trying to “find” a father/son relationship with him, gaining only inches overall. As an adult in college we’d find each other for a few hours here and there on the phone, but I was busy with school and he had already begun suffering health troubles. Sometimes, an open heart surgery would give us some forced conversation, but I never “found” what I was looking for. Again, I lost him, to “life as usual” and the busyness that was my 20s.
As his health began to decline, I discovered he was failing mentally and finding what I sought might be biologically impossible: he was no longer the same “Dad” and I was no longer a kid seeking to play some catch in the back yard. I was losing what little I thought was left of him and had better make the best of the time left.
In 2001, I came to salvation in Christ by faith alone. The list of debts Dad owed me had grown long: a “normal childhood”, a father/son picnic, scouting, self esteem, an apology I’d never get for him not “being there” at performances, games, and other events, an “I’m so proud of you, son”. But, now, saved by grace, I thought if Christ forgave me when I was yet His enemy, how could I not forgive the man who brought me into this world?
I carved out time and opportunity to have a handful of “I forgive you” conversations. Not only did it bring us together despite the hundreds of miles between us, I found great freedom and comfort knowing there was no longer a debt/debtor relationship between us. I had wiped that account clean. Deep breath. Exhale. “Found,” again, but slipping away mentally and showing physical signs of age. Lost, this time in stages.
Jamie, Jeremy, Aarron, Robbie, Lori, Shanua, & Karen
Fast forward to the funeral I didn’t think I’d attend. My younger brother confirmed the news on December 15th, 2010 – after “winding down” for nearly a decade: “Dad died at 3:15 AM.” Our twins had been sick for several days, we were running on little sleep, funds were tight with Christmas ahead and I was busy manning our year end fundraising drive. A trip to Massachusetts just didn’t look feasible nor necessary. Having made peace with Dad and the loss that had been building over the years, I thought I’d buried my Dad a shovelful at a time with each fading neuron.
Somewhere in the midst of the long line of mourners and well-wishers, I caught a glimpse of my Uncle John, across the room. Just as I was about to give a sarcastic look to the next person shaking my hand and say “Lemme guess, ‘you’re sorry for my loss’? What do you know about my loss?!” I was hit with an epiphany – “I have no idea what it’s like to be in my 70s and lose a brother I’ve had for 70 years or more.”
Just when the cliché was becoming cliché, it dawned on me how specific this generalization really could be. I stepped out of the receiving line and went over to Uncle John, hugged him hard and said with more sincerity than I thought I had in me:
SORRY… for your loss… I’ve never lost a brother, just a dad. But, I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Suddenly, I saw everyone in the room with a new face: a brother, a dad, a grandfather, a dune-buggy racing buddy, a drinking buddy, a racing buddy, a cousin, an uncle – everyone lost someone in that room, it just happened he was my Dad. Lost… but peace and joy (at a funeral?!) I thought I’d already found was found anew, afresh, and in greater abundance.
Last year (2010), the truth of 2 Cor. 1.3-7 became a banner my wife and I carried around with grateful hearts as we followed our Lord and the calling He’d placed on our lives. The verse essentially talks about how God gives comfort to those who are afflicted not just so that they may receive comfort in and of itself. Rather, He comforts them so that they may have an inkling of understanding on how to comfort those experiencing the same affliction. My hope is that God consoled my Uncle John, Uncle Rufus, Uncle Kenny, Uncle Freddie, my Mom, Louise (Weezy) – Dad’s first wife, and the many others in that room through the overflow of comfort He poured out on me.
May you have an opportunity to minister to others not out of an empty cup of hypothesis, rather the overflow of a cup teeming with comfort akin to the suffering of those around you who need it. May your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. May you comfort those in any trouble with the comfort you yourself have received from Christ.
In it with you,