Forty-one years ago today was the beginning of my “sweetest sorrow” or “the great sadness”. I was seven, an innocent child, with the weight of the world on my shoulders.
The cancer diagnosis came when I was one and my dad was thirty. A mole mom discovered on his back. They removed the mole and it was malignant Melanoma. After successfully removing the mole they had to continue cutting around the perimeter. Finally, after leaving a crater sized hole in my dad’s back, margins were clear.
He was told by doctors at the time if he didn’t have any recurrence for two years, he would be fine. Close to the end of the two-year period, he had a spot on his leg. The Melanoma had returned. This time, however, it had spread. Chemo would be necessary. So, the arduous process began.
Every month for a week at time, he would travel to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem for treatments. This continued for approximately four years. In late February of 1976 while waiting to be checked-in, he told my mom that he couldn’t feel his legs. Immediately, they rushed him for x-ray. A large tumor was pressing on his spine. It was inoperable. My dad was paralyzed from his waist down. He knew the end was drawing near and wanted to be closer to home. The decision was made to transport him to Pardee Hospital in Hendersonville. This would be his home for the next seven weeks.
We would visit frequently. My dad had a pull-up bar in his room. He still had strength in the upper part of his body and could pull himself to an upright position. We called it his “monkey bar”.
On the evening of April 4, 1976, we went to visit. Daddy was very weak and didn’t have strength to pull himself up. He talked and laughed with us like normal but then as we were leaving he asked me to come hold his hand. He looked at me with his beautiful sky blue eyes and told me how proud he was of me. He told me how much he loved me and then the very last thing was, “Honey, you’re the oldest and I need you to help your Mama take care of your sister and brother. Now, you be a good girl and remember I love you.” Then he kissed me.
Here I sit, forty-one years later and it still rips my heart into tiny little pieces. I was given a task by my dying father that I could not fulfill. I was far too young to take on responsibility of my younger siblings but at the time, I was determined to try. I wanted to do what my daddy asked me to do. I wanted to be his good little girl and I wanted him to be proud of me.
It wasn’t long after he died that I realized that I wasn’t able to live up to the promise I made to him and I began to feel like a failure. Yes, at seven, I was a failure, a flop, or at least in my mind. Thus began the compartmentalization of my heart. I took each hurt and disappointment and tidied it up and put it in a box in my heart. I shoved and stuffed for as long as I can remember. In my mind, I yelled and screamed at God asking “Why”? Why did my daddy have to die? Why did you not answer my prayer? Why did you send someone new into mom’s life? Why?”
At night, I would bury my head under my pillow and cry myself to sleep. I couldn’t let anyone see my misery, especially not my mom. It was much easier for me to conceal than to feel. Because I was hiding my pain, my anger grew. It was intense and, at times, quite explosive. In fact, this anger I carried into my relationship with my first husband, my children and even with Terry. Oh, I had control over it, most days, but when it came out, it was ugly. (My kids can attest) The sad thing was I never really understood why I had these horrible explosive outbursts and most of them happened over the most random incidents.
I didn’t understand until I read “The Shack”. Now, before you tune me out because you don’t agree with the book, hear me out. As I read the book, it was as if God was taking me back to “my shack”, “my sweetest sorrow” or “the great sadness”. Just as Mack, in the book, learns how to trust God with his deepest hurt and pain, I had to learn the same thing. I had to allow myself to feel the grief of my father’s death. I had to learn to let God help me work through the feelings of worthlessness and failure I felt for not being able to fulfill my dad’s wish. What I really had to learn was to get over the anger I held in my heart towards God. This was a pivotal moment. It was the recognition that my anger towards God for letting my daddy die was the reason I burned so fiercely with anger. I had to let that anger go. The only way to let it go was to tell God all about it and allow him to begin the healing process.
Remember, I told you in my post, “Binding Wounds”, that most of the time we don’t want the wound to be pulled apart because it hurts too much. Well, it hurt like hell. I felt as if my whole entire soul was being ripped apart. It was. It needed to be. I needed to feel the pain of being seven and losing a most beautiful life. For the first time, I grieved. I grieved not just the loss of my dad but the loss of my innocence. Through the grief of “my sweetest sorrow” I began to heal. I began to be able to feel the anger subside. Do I still get angry? Sure, I do. I just don’t have the feelings of irrational rage. Most times, I am able, with God’s help, to prevent an outburst before it happens.
For years, this day has been much harder than tomorrow, the day my daddy died. It was hard because I never wanted to talk about what happened the night before. I didn’t want to share my deepest hurt because it hurt too much.
My prayer through sharing this story is that it will help you to understand a little more of who I am. I am wired differently and think differently because of the events that happened in my childhood. My hope is also that my story will benefit others.
I am here today sharing this story only by the grace of God.
“The Lord says, ‘I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer. I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them.” Psalms 91 14-15