My father-in-law passed away a couple of months ago. It’s a very complicated grief because Trever’s father was very loving, but also had some self-destructive behaviors that led to a later divorce from his wife, and a distant relationship with his sons. It was a sudden death and really quite a tragic one.
After we got the news, we headed out to his small town and walked into an empty home that was still thick with the presence of life. Glasses left out on the table, some fresh eggs in the fridge, sandals sitting by the front door, an unmade bed, and picture frames of his family scattered on tables - the very normal things of his father’s day to day life.
We were there to clean it out, to take the only tangible piece of this world still reflecting his life, and throw it away. We spent hours putting shirts into bags for goodwill, putting frames in boxes, towels in piles for trash with tears streaming down our faces. The reality of his gone-ness was so clear, none of the stuff mattered anymore but it was once his everyday everything.
We left and drove out to an open field to find silence and smoke some cigarettes, simultaneously alert and foggy we stared at the remaining orange glow from the sun falling behind the distant mountains. We wearily rested in the fields Trever knew so well when his father was a center point to his life, the smell of cigarette smoke lingering on his dad’s clothes, the hours watching planes pass by, the days spent on bikes while the same sun set behind the same mountains. I laid on the roof of my car looking at the profile of Trever outlined by the fading light and I was overcome by a helpless grief, because all I could do is be there, while we lived out a very significant scene in our life movie, one that would make the final cut of remembering.
We laid there for half an hour in complete silence because it’s all we had left, breathing and thoughtlessness and smoking. The stars reflected the vastness of eternity forcing into our ticking space and time the shear blunt truth of passing time, of lives come and gone, of the perpetual movement forward that we can’t control and hardly ever notice. Smoking cigarettes in the field of his childhood and moving forward into a life without his dad.
I looked up at the stars undimmed by artificial light and I thought of eternity. I was momentarily fully aware of how much it matters and how unavoidable and unknown it is. So many people comforted us with words of heaven and of his father as being in a better place. That wasn’t comforting to me. It should have been but it wasn’t. I don’t know that I have a concrete idea of afterlife right now, and I’m certainly not sure how we all get there, so some ethereal dimension was just child’s play to me, a cozy blanket for the ones that needed the comfort of hope.
I did find comfort though, in the fact that my father-in-law's legacy lived on in his sons. As he fought hard to keep back the demons of his past, he made space for his sons to be raised well. They were able to live a peaceful childhood as he stood, arms outstretched, holding back a lineage of abuse and addiction to allow excellence to grow in his boys. The burden was heavy and he fell under the weight of it, but his sons moved forward relatively unscathed by his afflictions and the world is forever indebted to him for that.
I wanted to find my peace in the now, determined to keep the unknown out, any false hope or positive Christian rhetoric felt like a cover-up for the real pain and the real peace… and then I kept staring at the stars. The millions I could see, the tiny snap shot into the huge expanse of the universe, so much larger than my mind or our numbers can grasp. I just kept staring and my prosaic heart softened, defeated by the ordinary view of an unexplored sky. The expanse of the universe battled my arrogant dust-made mind and forced me from my unbelief. I found in the light of the stars that I was comforted by God, even when I was pushing Him aside while clawing around our literature to define Him. My mind’s struggle aside, the sky held a wealth of wisdom and for once, I listened.