No one ever knows how they’re going to react to crisis until it hits and this one hit us all very hard. Everyone was supportive; the community and the people from church reached out almost immediately with care and love and concern. Dad new a lot of people, not just from his mail route but from the church and others in the community whose furnaces he had cleaned or whatever odd job he had done for many in the area over the years. He had served on the church board for years and was the treasurer as well. He was seen as loyal and upright and respected by all that knew him. He really did leave a hole in the community he left behind. His funeral was one of the biggest our small church had ever hosted with chairs lining each aisle and standing room only in the foyer and down the stairs.
I have spent a lot of time over the years trying to understand the dichotomy between the man everyone else saw and the dad that I knew. I’ve spent years working through the guilt and anguish of those events. For years I felt guilty because dad was mad at me for not hauling in the wood…so it must have been my fault. For even longer I tried to figure out why he and I always seemed to be at odds with each other and how I never really thought I measured up to what he wanted. Mostly I felt guilty for being glad that he was gone. I would never again have to worry about being yelled at or called names or simply disregarded as unacceptable. I know that Mom was devastated and overwhelmed and since my dad was quite well liked and respected in the community and in our church, everyone was shocked and saddened by the events of that day. But deep inside of me, beneath all the tears and fears, I was free – and I was glad. I feel guilty just writing that, even now.
I have to concede that what I know of my dad and our relationship is through the eyes and understanding of a 12 year old boy – incomplete at best. The memories and emotions of those few weeks would fade over time but the loss of a dad, no matter when it happens, leaves a hole in the heart of a son that can never be filled, only covered. As is often the case, we really don’t know what we have till it is gone and although I was relieved to be rid of the name calling and disregard, I began to yearn for those things that I thought a father should be and have gone through life wondering, ‘what if?’
After Dad died I was left with three older sisters and Mom; hardly the expertise needed to raise a man. I had no clue and they had little more. I wanted to feel a loving hand on my shoulder and not be afraid to cry. I wanted someone to sit around a campfire with and talk about nothing in particular. Campfire conversations have a way of softening hearts and healing hurts and bringing people together. I wanted someone to love me for who I was and not ignore me because I wasn’t who they wanted me to be. I wanted to grow into a man who knew how to be compassionate and loving. I had hoped that my dad would one day fill these desires, but that option was gone now and I was lost. My older brothers were long gone from the house, and when they were around it was only to do the chores on the farm and just make sure we would make it through the winter.
The winter of 1980 and 1981 was long, cold, and dark…