Yesterday we came home from attending a funeral, and more than I ever I realized how intricately intertwined love and grief can be. My sister’s father-in-law passed away after a courageous battle with pulmonary fibrosis.
She tried to call several times one afternoon this past week, but the boys were running around and I couldn’t concentrate on a phone call. When I didn’t answer, she sent me a text that said, ‘Please call me. Greg’s dad passed.’
My heart immediately fell. The tears came, and I had to press my hand against my mouth to prevent the sadness from becoming audible. And I thought in my head, ‘Lord, why? Why Chris?’
Throughout the years, Todd, the boys, and I have spent time with Chris during weddings, birthday parties, state fairs, dinners, and other events. He’s the type of man you want to be around all the time. He’s funny, charismatic, smart, engaging, kind, godly.
And more than anything, he was a family man, someone who truly enjoyed being with his family. You could see how much he adored his wife, his boys, his siblings, and his three grandchildren. The light in his eyes and laughter in his heart made that evident.
I’m very close to my brother-in-law, my sister’s husband. He’s like a brother to me. Not only are Todd and I good friends with him, but our boys adore him as their uncle, and I blog and write other marketing content for his company, so we talk and see him a lot. In the eight or so years that I’ve known him, it’s been clear how much he admires and adores his dad. He always had a story about his dad taking him fishing or traveling in an RV or barbecuing or watching UNC basketball or Nats baseball. Whenever he was in a pickle, Greg always consulted his dad. His dad was his go to man.
Before Chris passed away, he wrote something for his family called, ‘My Blessings’. It’s a letter to his family and friends with heartfelt messages from the man who meant so much to them. In the section to my sister and his other daughter-in-law, he wrote:
‘Daughters-in-law, Meg and Savannah, I love you and thank you for being such great wives to our boys and caring for Mac, Maddie, and Kate. It makes me happy to see smiles on your faces when you are with your husbands. Keep life simple and family close.’
Keep life simple and family close. Such inspiring words.
The entire piece of writing is so eloquent and sweet, anyone can sense the keen loss felt by his family and friends after his passing.
He closes the written piece by saying this to his wife,
‘Linda, thanks for taking care of me and loving me. Miss you, girl.’
Since high school, Linda and Chris have walked through life hand in hand. A true love story.
During the funeral service, the pastors’ messages and the words spoken by Chris’s two sons were beyond inspiring. The pastors talked of the way Chris lived his life with focus and finish. He was an extremely successful career man but more than that, a family man. Every hobby he acquired or item he bought was intended as a catalyst for family time. He was heavily involved in his church, actively participating in his Sunday school class and other missions and ministries around the church. Late in life, he offered his services to an organization that helped low-income individuals receive legal services when they couldn’t afford them. He made the comment to a friend that he’d wished he had spent more of his life serving those in need.
One of the pastors also talked about the memories we leave for our children, grandchildren, and other family members. We should live the way we want them to remember us, and Chris left beautiful memories for his family.
As the pastor said, ‘We think we have a memory, but really, the memory has us.’ I want my boys to remember me as being grateful, loving, kind, compassionate.
When Chris’s boys spoke of their dad, the pain on their faces and in their voices was evident, but they held it together. They wanted to speak on behalf of their beloved dad, their hero, the man who was everything to them.
As a parent, I was moved by several things Greg and his brother said. They said that many people have regrets for things un-said when a loved one passes, but they don’t feel this way. From the time they can remember, their dad exuded openness. He wasn’t afraid to cry around his children, kiss and hug them, or talk with them about serious matters. Chris wanted them to know he was there for anything they needed, no matter what. And because of that, when the time came for Chris to leave this earth, the boys felt confident that he knew how much they loved and cherished him, how much he meant to them.
They also talked about how mindful and joyful their dad was when he was with them, as if being with them was the only place on earth he wanted to be. Most of us love our children as much as Chris loved his boys, but many of us are bad to let work, errands, phone calls, and other things get in the way of truly being with our families. The memories they have of their dad are the kind you see in movies or read about in books. Fishing trips, long talks, pats on the back, basketball games, baseball games, weekends on the lake, golf outings, family barbecues, beach trips.
The reason the pastor talked about Chris’s finish is because of this. The highlight of Chris’s year was a family trip to the Outer Banks. Every year, the family and extended family loaded up and stayed in a big house at the beach. They cooked, swam, fished, laughed, relaxed, and had fun. Chris loved watching his kids and grandkids play.
This year’s beach trip happened two weeks ago and Chris went with them. The doctors and his friends warned him that it may be too much on his weak body, but he was determined. With the help of his wife, the boys, and the rest of the family, they got him to the beach. On the final day, he was able to sit up in his wheelchair and look at the ocean with his grandchildren around him. The family took a picture and each of them hugged and kissed him, telling him how much they loved him.
He arrived home Sunday and passed away Monday. He was determined to make that beach trip and he did. Chris was the kind of man who wanted a strong finish.
There’s a quote that says, ‘Grief is the price we pay for love.’ And after this weekend, I know how very true that is. Because Chris loved his family more than himself, they loved him just as fiercely in return. And how can one not grieve when that kind of love is felt?
We can all learn so much from this man, even if you never knew him.
Make God a priority.
Keep life simple.
Love your family.
Be open and honest.
Live with focus.
And to his beautiful, sweet, amazing family, I love you so much and am praying for you daily that some sense of peace and comfort will eventually come to you. As heavy-hearted as I’ve been, I can’t imagine the grief you’re feeling. But I do know that when someone we love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a gift. And I have no doubt that you will keep Chris’s memory alive forever.