Getting By

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
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.





Sheryl on 12/05/2010
Thank you for your post, it's good to grieve and I'm glad you're doing better. I've had to deal with a lot of losses in my life too.

Shara on 12/06/2010
Beautifully written. What a painful loss, thank you for sharing. Your memories are like treasures. I am also hopeful and expecting a nice big celebration of "making it up" for the unfair losses and grief we are asked to experience during this mortal part of our lives. Thank you for your testimony.

Jan on 12/06/2010
Thank you for sharing this emotional heart wrenching story. I've never suffered a loss this personal and I am 58 years old. I wonder how I will act/react when it happens. I think I can say that I think I would feel all the feelings you express so beautifully. Thank you for sharing this.

Karen on 12/06/2010
Thank you for sharing your very personal story of the loss of your dad. I lost my dad when I was 16. He had cancer and at the end of all the treatments he was given 2 months to live. I often think of the heartache others go through when they don't get any kind of notice. I can't say either way is easy. I felt the same hurt going through special moments without him...and I too remember little details of the day he died. The bearable moments always come when others tell me things they remember..or when I come across others that knew him. I look forward to the "I get it" moment too.

Debra on 12/06/2010
Im so glad you shared this experience. Im sorry for the pain youve had to go through with losing your father, I became a young widow (25) when my husband was in a tragic plane crash (4 years ago), leaving my two boys without their dad. I often wonder what they will remember about that day we got the news, or about the funeral, or even about all those moments that he isn't here to share with them. And I always fear that since my children were so young when it happened that they wont miss him as much as they would if they had more time with him. It does my heart good to know that you still and will forever miss your dad, and that you have had experiences that witness to you that he is still around. What a special moment that the police officer recognized you as his daughter. I always love it when people remember my husband and mention him to me. Thanks again for sharing your story.

Jayna on 12/06/2010
This was beautiful Heather. You and your family are an inspiration to ME. I'm lucky to call you friend in "real" life! Thanks for sharing your story!

Amy on 12/07/2010
That was a very touching story.. Thank you for sharing

Jennifer Buhler on 12/07/2010
Heather this was very touching thanks for sharing! Your father sounded like a wonderful man and has a wonderful amazing daughter in you!

Summer on 12/07/2010
I also lost my mom when I was 11...actually it was exactly a week before my 11th birthday. I was supposed to go with my mom that day, but I didn't. When she left the house, I knew she was never coming back. All night I was upset to my stomach and nervous. When I hear the knock on my friend's front door at about midnight, I knew that it was about my mom. I walked into a room full of adults, grown men, who were crying like babies. That's when my dad told me that my mom was gone. My first thought was, "who is going to make my lunch?" I didn't even comprehend how this would affect my life. I was angry and hurt for a long time. I still hurt, but I also have a new appreciation for the gospel and what the atonement means in my life. I know that I will see my mom again and I know that she watches over my family. I always pray at night for her to be with my children and to comfort them. It's been 18 years and I still remember that day very vividly. And I still have days where I feel like I've been punched in the stomach. Grief is a very strange many complex emotions and hits without warning. I am so thankful for this time of year and for the birth of my Savior who has made ALL of this possible.

Becky on 12/08/2010
Thank you so much for sharing your story. He sounds like he was a wonderful father. My dad passed away when I was 20, 11 years ago. I miss him so much. But, the Lord does give tender mercies along the journey that seem to comfort and ease the sting of death. Your story really touched me in many ways. Thank you!

Bridget on 12/10/2010
You have my deepest sympathies and tears. May God continue to bless you and your family.

Keri Bryant on 12/12/2010
Beautiful. Makes me want to hug my dad.

Bobbi on 12/15/2010
Thank you so much for your story. I have been waiting for one on losing a parent, because I lost my mother a year and a half ago and I wanted to know how others dealt with it. It's good to know that you still think of your father often because I miss my mother so much sometimes it just hurts. Mostly thank you for telling about the good things. Sometimes it's hard to think that there are good things and we can all use a reminder occasionally.

Anonymous on 12/21/2010
I know your sister Laurie, and had this feeling that this story was about your dad before it was fully confirmed in the story. What a special tribute and even better, what a special person your dad was. Thanks for sharing.

Cami Sowards on 12/29/2010
Thank you for saying that the hurt can hurt just as badly years later as it did on that day. I lost my beautiful baby boy 20 months and 11 days ago. He was 20 months and 12 days old. Tomorrow will mean he has been gone for as long as we had him. I lost my dad a little over a year before he was born. They have the same birth date and death date so I related to the feelings you had about your dad being with your baby. Thank you for your story. It is still very hard for me to talk about.

Charlene on 01/10/2011
I am so sorry for your loss. I too, hope that one day, after this life, everything ties together and it will all be worth it.

Carol Van de Wetering on 01/29/2011
You are a beautiful writer. I don't even know you, but feel connected. Thank you for sharing your poignant feelings.

Carol on 01/29/2011
Thank you for sharing such poignant memories and feelings. You are an awesome writer! I don't even know you, but feel a connection.

Natalie on 01/31/2011
I lost my mom two days after my 8th birthday. I remember the details clearly, although I do not remember attending the funeral. I even sang. It's been a learning experience for the past 25 years. But I feel like the feelings of losing a parent are manifesting themselves more now than ever before. I have two little boys of my own now, and I truly realize for the first time what I have lost. The relationship that I have with them reminds me of what I don't have with MY mom. BUT it helps me want to be better and make my time with them more meaningful. Thank you for this site and this post.

Brenda on 06/23/2011
I get it. I totally get it. My dad was killed by a drunk driver when I was 15. I sometimes feel broken because 23 years later I still get so emotional about it. But it's really ok isn't it? I also have the same affliction of thinking my husband must be dead when he doesn't get home on time or doesn't call. But I also take comfort in some of the good things. When there are rainbows, I like to think he sent those just for me. So Ithink we'll be ok.

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