I went to the funeral of a friend/colleague’s dad on Saturday. The friend/colleague is a pastor. He preached his dad’s funeral. He did a great job. I sat in the congregation almost teary eyed remembering how difficult it was to preach my own father’s funeral. I prayed for my friend the entire service. I’m not sure if my prayers made any difference, but my friend honored his dad in a magnificent way. The most powerful point in the service (the most meaningful for me, anyway) came as my friend shared about baptizing his own father. That was a special moment, and it probably has a lot to do with why I’m writing this morning. Of course, it could be that Father’s Day is right around the corner, too. The episode caused me to come home and “Google” my dad just to see what I found. All I found was his obituary.
My dad (Terry Lynn Malone, Sr.) died on March 24, 2006. It was a Friday, and it’s a day I’ll never forget. Vanessa and I were living in Benton, LA at the time, and I had gotten up early to make the trek to Monroe for his scheduled surgery. We knew it was going to be a long surgery, but we weren’t expecting any major complications. I rushed to get to Monroe, and I prayed the whole trip that I’d make it before he went in to surgery. We arrived at St. Francis Medical Center, rushed up to the surgery floor and found my step-mom in the waiting room. I was afraid I’d missed him, but the nurse told us he was still in the holding area. They were gracious enough to allow me to go back to see him before they took him to surgery.
I went into the holding area. It was a large room designed to “hold” many patients as they prepared for surgery. He was the only one left in the room when I arrived. I walked over to him, asked how he was doing, and we chatted briefly about the surgery and the coming recovery period. I can’t quite remember, but the entire conversation couldn’t have been more than two minutes. The nurse called over to us and said they were coming to take him back. I said a prayer for my dad, gave him a hug and told him I’d see him later. I never saw my dad alive again.
I returned to the waiting room more than a little unsettled because I knew I wouldn’t be staying for the entire surgery. Ever the pastor, I was officiating a wedding that weekend, and the rehearsal was on Friday. Duty was calling, and I was responding. After sitting a while with my step-mom, my other brothers (I have three) began arriving one-by-one. After everyone was there, and a few other friends arrived to provide support and comfort, Vanessa and I headed back to Benton with my dad still in surgery. I thought I had done all I could do. No sense in sitting in a waiting room. I couldn’t be there when he was scheduled to come out, so there was work to be done. By noon, we were headed back to Benton.
Five o’clock came, and we had still heard nothing from my dad. I was getting a little worried but had to get to the church anyway. The rehearsal was scheduled for 6:00 p.m. I arrived at the church around 5:15 p.m. As I was preparing for the rehearsal my phone rang. It was my oldest brother. The somber words still ring in my ears…”He didn’t make it.” As my brother was speaking those words, the wedding party was coming in the front door of the church. I’ve never felt more helpless than I did in that moment. I asked the wedding party to go into the sanctuary. I went to my office. I cried.
I’d like to tell you I soldiered on through the evening…that I led the wedding rehearsal and the subsequent ceremony…but, I didn’t (after all, I’m not the perfect pastor). Let’s just say, “Thank God for retired clergy in the congregation.” Vanessa and I, and the girls left immediately to return to Monroe. It was where we needed to be…it was where I had to be.
I’m not sure that I’ve sufficiently processed that entire episode, or that I’ve fully forgiven myself for not staying with the family during the surgery. Maybe writing this blog will aid in that process. Maybe the act of listening to my friend talk about his dad just brought a lot of emotions I thought I had dealt with back to the surface. I’m not sure, but I’m writing. Some wise person said, “When we don’t know what to do, we do what we know.”
I still don’t remember what I said at my dad’s funeral…something about leaving things unsaid (we shouldn’t leave things unsaid, especially important things)…I was just doing what I knew to do. We each process grief differently. I guess that’s how I was processing it.
I’ve held on to one thing through these years, and that one thing came back to me when my friend talked about baptizing his father. I didn’t have the opportunity to baptize my dad (he was a charter member of Faith UMC in West Monroe, LA), but I’ve rested in the knowledge that the last thing I ever said to my dad was a prayer entrusting him into the hands of Jesus. I still count that prayer as grace, and also as a precious gift, both to him and to me. Yeah, I’ve thought of a million things I’d like to have said since then, but then I think those things wouldn’t have been quite the gift that prayer was that day.
I still miss him. I guess I always will. I know how hard it was for my friend this past week. I suspect he was doing the only thing he knew to do.
Until next time, keep looking up…