Dec 05, 2010
August 1983--I just finished my first week of the sixth grade and was enjoying my weekend. After finishing up a Saturday morning job, I was sitting in the hallway wrapping the cord around our vacuum. (Why is this part burned into my memory?) Grandpa walked briskly in the front door and asked, “Where’s Katie?” Katie is my mom and I said she was in Carly’s room. Carly is my little sister, almost 14 months old then. I didn’t think anything was amiss until moments later when I heard something---screaming, actually, coming from that room. My next memory is trying to open the door to that bedroom to see my mom while my Uncle, who had come in with Grandpa, was holding me back. He took me by the shoulders, looked into my face and said these exact words, “There’s been an accident and your Dad has lost his life.”
I have thought over those few minutes a thousand times since that day. It was horrific. Surreal. Incredibly sad. Not fair. I remember lots of people at our house that day. I remember wandering around from room to room not quite knowing what to do. I remember seeing my big, football player, sixteen year-old brother holding his head in his hands and sort of walking around in circles. It unnerved me, because he was usually so cool and strong. I heard later that my seven year-old sister hustled outside and ran two doors up to my grandparents’ home, where Grandma and my aunts were. They didn’t know yet. My sister, being seven, was being helpful. She walked in and announced the news. What a scene that must have been. A mother hearing that her only son is dead and her daughters learning that their big brother is gone.
My dad was big. Six foot three. And strong. Everybody’s best friend. He worked with oil and gas, and his clothes and work boots always smelled as such. He had a huge smile, and a funny laugh, which used to embarrass me, but that I would give anything to hear one more time. He played football for BYU and coached the High School team in our small town. He golfed, hunted, went to church, followed the Atlanta Braves and the Oakland Raiders, and adored his family. He hugged people a lot, and boldly told them what was on his mind. He was responsible for many people changing their lives for the better. He died way, way too young. He was 38.
We had a wood pile in a corner of our backyard. There was a large piece of log—it looked like a tree stump to me--which my dad used to split wood on. I absolutely loved watching him carefully get a cut started with the wedge, and then deliver the final blow with the big mallet, metal on metal, that sent the piece of wood flying into two different directions. On that August morning he had wood on his mind. He had driven his truck up into the Uintah Mountains. The plan was for Grandpa and the Uncles to meet him there. They would spend the morning cutting down trees and bringing the wood home to be stacked neatly into that pile in our backyard. When Grandpa got to the meeting spot, he saw my dad’s truck but didn’t hear a chain saw. He once told me that when he took all of that in, he knew that something was very wrong. They soon found him, already dead. A tree had fallen the wrong way and had smashed in the back of his skull.
His viewing lasted long into the night and I’m sure my mom was torn between exhaustion and feeling loved from the support of an entire town. His funeral was enormous. The church was filled to capacity. My uncles carried his casket to the grave site. It was awful to walk away after the services were over. My eleven year-old mind was sick at the thought of leaving him there while we went home.
There have been so many days when I have been angry at the loss. My loss. This totally unfair loss. I didn’t have a dad to intimidate boys when I started thinking they were cute. I didn’t have a dad to take me to the Daddy-Daughter night at church. This slightly neurotic and slightly inconvenient affliction I have that when my own husband is a few minutes late I am absolutely certain he is dead. My Mom was handed a life that she didn’t ask for--A single mother with four children. My baby sister never got to experience his love. When my kids came along I was mad that they didn’t get to wrestle with him or hear him tell them about his childhood. Each year on the anniversary of his death, I can hardly take care of myself or my family. I just cry all day. The heat of late August and the beginning of a new school year are such vivid reminders. I resent my Father-in-law, who chooses to not be a part of our lives. Because he could if he wanted to. And each year that passes seems unfair, because although the calendar is moving forward, and it says that it has been twenty-seven years, it still seems like it was a year ago. Or maybe two years ago. But certainly not almost three decades.
There are so many good things. Things that make it bearable.
Like when I was pregnant with my baby boy, and felt very sure that he was somehow in companionship with my Dad until he was ready to come to Earth.
Like the dreams that I have sometimes where he just smiles and is there.
And like the time when I was in college, and got pulled over for speeding not too far from where I grew up. The Highway Patrolman looked at my license for a long time and then said, “Are you Gordon’s daughter?” When I told him I was, he got teary, told me to slow down, and walked back to his car.
And the time I was given a copy of a letter my dad had written to my Uncle, telling him of his love for him and for Jesus Christ. It gave me a strong feeling of connection with him.
And especially having faith that I know with a peaceful certainty where he is and that he is continuing to love and help those who need to come unto Christ, just like he did when he was alive.
Those kinds of things make getting by easier.
I have a rather selfish expectation of God. I am thinking that when the rest of our family leaves this life, and we are reunited again in Heaven, that all the bad stuff will be made up for. I don’t know exactly how that would happen, but I just think that it will be like hearing one great big, “I get it.” from the Savior. And it will be ok.