By My Side

I’m a Mary.

Any of you that grew up reading the Bible will for sure understand the meaning of that sentence – especially if I were to add “not a Martha”. It’s true. My family is full of Martha’s and I love that about them. My mama is the ultimate Martha. She’s a fantastic hostess. She decorates. She cooks. She finds so much joy in doing for others and her awareness of what needs to be done is something to be admired. I truly love it about her – and her Martha-ness is definitely a part of me. I also find a great deal of joy in doing things for Toby and the kids. My dream has always been to be a homemaker, which has Martha written all over it. So yes, I have my Martha qualities, but when it comes right down to the core of my heart, I’m a Mary. I love taking the time to just sit in someone’s presence, loving them with my entire being and soaking in all of their essence. Ok, I know it sounds weird when I say it like that, but seriously. It ignites my heart to just take a breath, sit down, and simply be with someone.

No one was that more true for than my dad. Part of it was his peaceful nature. Part of it was the unfathomable amount of wisdom that seeped out of every pore of him – you couldn’t spend time with Dad without learning something or being touched by his heart. He was the closest darn thing to perfect that I’ve ever witnessed. His boundless faith, his amazing sense of humor, his ability to both accept others and hold them to high standards, his overwhelming love, and the selfless manner with which he lived every moment of his life… it was truly something to behold. And I did. My family and I, along with so many people that Dad touched during his short time on this earth, were incredibly lucky to love him and learn from him. More than anyone else I’ve ever met, he warranted my Mary-like heart. There was so much to soak in while I was in his presence…

I remember as clear as day sitting next to Dad on the couch a few short months ago and being in my Mary state. I was feeling so peaceful just spending time with him. My family began to prep dinner in the kitchen and I looked at him and with a joking scrunch of my nose told him that I should probably go help. He smiled with the twinkle in his blue eyes and I told him how much I enjoyed just spending time with him. I told him with a chuckle that I’m definitely a Mary and he looked right at me with a laugh and said, “I’m not Jesus!” I smiled and told him that I knew, but inside I knew that he was the closest to Christ that I’d ever find on this earth (a sentiment that I’d shared with him before). He was too humble to really accept that statement, but I still believe that. I’m telling you guys… I don’t know of any kids that could be as lucky as my siblings and I have been to have the dad that we did.

It’s now been over three months since Dad passed away – I just tried to type “died” and it took me about three tries before my brain could force my fingers to spell it out. It hurts. Oh my word does it ever hurt… I thought I had experienced pain before, but really it was just a bunch of hurt that only slightly prepared me for the agony of knowing I will never hear my father’s laugh again. Nothing can prepare you for that, really. There’s nothing I’ve ever gone through that even touches the fact that I’ll never be able to ask for his advice, feel his embrace, or know for sure that he’s proud of me. Not a damn thing. And I’ve been through a decent amount in my thirty-four years.

The thing about grief is that it’s not a straightforward path. Life is like the path through the obstacles of Wipe Out and grief are the billion things that smack you into the water and force you to climb back up onto the path before you can keep going. Only grief hurts more. And it’s not funny.

Not even a little.

As someone who has always written about the things that affect my heart, especially the things that break it, I’ve been somewhat dismayed at my inability to process with words the grief that I’ve been dealing with for the last several months. There have been songs that have helped. Those of you that really know me are shaking your heads because – of course. Music is truly my second language and is definitely where I turn when my own words fail me… But last night it was music that finally allowed me to finally even begin to open the floodgates of the words that have been stirring inside me.

I’m preparing to photograph the St. Henry play. I do it every fall and spring and I absolutely adore it. I love plays, musicals, etc. and it’s been an honor to be involved in some small way with the fantastic program that St. Henry has. All of their productions have made me laugh and many have made me cry… sometimes bawl. I had their upcoming production of Godspell on my mind and I was reflecting on my favorite song in the show: By My Side. Those of you that knew me back in my college days may have heard me sing it at IHM (as often as possible). Godspell has always been a Lenten staple in my family and I’ve loved the song from the moment that I heard it as a kid. Shocking, I know. Honestly, give me the sound of an acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies and I’m a seriously happy camper. But this song was so much more than that. In the musical each disciple has their song/moment with Jesus and I’ve always known in my heart that By My Side was mine. It suits the Mary in me. If I had the opportunity to be with Christ, I’d sit at His feet and sing softly about walking the journey by His side and sharing my vulnerabilities – no matter the cost. I’d allow the weight of my deep love for Him to just hang in the air between us. I’d soak in His love for me. I’d find joy in the awesomeness of His presence… because honestly, what more could I ever wish for than to soak in the person of Jesus?

Then it hit me – By My Side was exactly what I felt when I spent time with my dad… And grief crashed over me like a breaker.

My heart took me back to the day of my dad’s funeral. In that moment when I had to find some sort of way to spend my last moments with him, I stood there next to the lifeless body of the man who was the greatest embodiment of life I have ever known and I did just what I’d always thought I’d do if I could spend time with Jesus. I couldn’t sit at my dad’s feet, but I stood on my tiptoes in order to lay my head on his chest and simply sang our song to him. I can almost see myself in that moment singing Simon and Garfunkel. The meaning of By My Side washed over me as I remembered those moments: “Where are you going? Where are you going? Can you take me with you? Far beyond where the horizon lies and the land sinks into mellow blueness… Oh please take me with you.”

I can see myself kneeling on the cold concrete of the cemetery with the side of face on the smooth surface of his coffin with my tears freezing to my cheeks as the snow fell around all of us. It hit me again as I thought back: “I will take him from my shoe, singing ‘Meet your new road’.”

To slightly borrow from a movie about a character named Annie and her dad: my Daddy was gone and I was too late to say goodbye.

Too late. New roads. Never having another time to sit and soak in the presence of my father… my papa… my daddy. It hit me hard.

Hard.

Suddenly the Godspell song that I’ve loved for so long was a clear illustration of just how much I love my dad – just how ridiculously ginormous the Paul-Scherrer-sized hole in my heart is. It’s profound… and although I’ll make it through what I’m confident is going to be a phenomenal production this week, I’ll for sure be the one in the back of the cafetorium with tears streaming down my face, silently sobbing. That uncontrollable devastation will be written across my face because for the first year ever, I’ll be listening to that song and wrapping my brain around the truth that having my daddy by my side is no longer my reality. I’ll be facing the fact that the next time I feel the warmth of his embrace is when we’ll be in God’s presence together.

“Then I’ll take your hand, finally glad that you are here… by my side.”


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