Grief is weird. It comes to you in the midst of life.
I realized this morning while sitting in the Starbucks on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas, that today is second month anniversary of Daddy’s death. For several reasons, I haven’t been able to write anything about his death yet. Today seems to be the day. . .
When someone you love dies, there are parts of the experience that you do not want to remember. There are also parts of the experience that you want to hold on to. Mostly those parts are about the person. You just don’t want to forget.
That’s where I am right now. I want to remember.
Friday morning, August 26, 2016, at 3:25 a.m., my father, Clifton Rogers Hicks, died.
People often ask me how I’m doing. Fact: I don’t know. I’m learning a new way to live and in the process of learning this way, I want to hang on to as much of Daddy as I can. For me, this hanging on happens as I write down my thoughts – my long-time spiritual discipline. My written words may speak to you. You may consider how you want to be remembered. If so, that’s good but mostly I’m writing to process my grief, to remember – to never forget.
I want to remember:
Daddy praying for me when I went away to Carolina. We were like many families. We prayed at meals and at bedtime but the prayer leaving a lasting impact happened on the morning that I left to go to UNC-CH. Just before we left home, he gathered Mom, Gene and me in the kitchen and prayed for his oldest child who was about to venture out into the college world that he had not experienced. I don’t remember his exact words but his very act of prayer is the reason that I pray for Will at the beginning of every school year, preschool through this last year as a student at NCSU.
That if you’re going to do something, you should do it correctly. Daddy did not believe in “guess work” but rather precision. Example: If the package said plant the flower bulbs 18 inches apart, then Daddy used a string, stakes and a yard stick to make sure they were planted accordingly. Of course, he laughed later that his precision created a perfect map for the mole who ate all of the bulbs.
Laughter makes everything better. Daddy was the king of the corny joke. He loved to tell a joke or say something silly. Noah and I sometimes say to one another, “that sounds like something Cliff Hicks would say”.
Family time came first. Every Sunday we went to Grandma Ella’s house, playing with whatever cousins also there, sitting by the hot wood stove and reading the “funny paper”. I didn’t realize then that one day I would long to have that opportunity once more.
“Place” or home is foundational. Daddy’s family were tenant farmers, never owning their home or property. His family lived on the Boyd farm in Warren County, the longest of any place. This was “home” for them – filled with memories and stories of life on the farm. I drove Daddy down the Boyd farm road just this past March. To the unknowing eye, it looked like woods, a few over-grown wooden structures that once were barns or a farming shed. To Daddy, it was home.
The discipleship (membership) vows of the UMC were promises to be fulfilled. I don’t remember there ever being any question of whether we were going to church – Sunday school and “preaching”. If it was Sunday, we were there. Every Saturday, Daddy wrote a check to the church. It may not have been a large sum but it was faithful giving. Every Saturday night, he’d go “check on” the heat in the winter and the a/c in the summer. That was his service as the Sunday School superintendent – for over 30 years.
Life is for living. Daddy never got to the point that he said “ok, I’m ready to go.” Yes, he was ready to see Jesus. He had committed his life to Christ a long time ago but he loved being here. In those last weeks before he died, we cried together as he said “I just don’t want to leave you all.” We told him that we didn’t want him to go but he should not be afraid – that in the twinkling of the eye, we’d be with him. Every time I left him to drive back to Wilmington, not knowing if it was the last time that I’d see Daddy, I’d say: “remember Daddy: In the twinkling of an eye.”
In the last days of Daddy’s life, he often would look at us and say “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” I like to think Daddy was in that place between heaven and earth. Should he take the next step in heaven? Should he stay here? I asked him: “Daddy, what do you want to do?” Maybe he thought he was supposed to do something. He was a hard worker all of his life but now, there was nothing else to be done. He just needed to let go. Finally he did.
“Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.”