My Father's Funeral--Incognito

In January of 1986 my father’s ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean. It had been nearly 25 years since I had see this man whose alcoholism had shattered the peace of our home nearly every weekend. After canceling divorce proceedings several times, my mother finally determined to leave him.

Arriving home from ninth grade, I heard the words I had expected for so many years. “Get a few things together. We’re leaving.” The eldest of five children ages four to fourteen, I was frightened but relieved. A lady friend pulled up in a station wagon and we scrambled in—my four-year-old sister, my three brothers, our mother and I. We traveled to the Greyhound bus station in Los Angeles.

Climbing into the bus, I found a seat next to the window and reflected as I watched fellow passengers loading their bags. So this is the “exodus” for which I have prayed. My Bible lay open on my lap. God’s presence gave me courage and I knew He would open up the way for us.

Today, thinking about my mother, then thirty-seven years old, corralling five young children and crossing the United States by bus, I wonder at her strength. By the time we reached Iowa, we had run out of money so we stopped at my mother’s cousins’ home. That night they served us curry sauce on rice with all the toppings, laid out beautifully on a lacy tablecloth—a reflection of their missionary experience in Lucknow, India. Comforting us, they gave us beds where we could stretch out after nearly two days sitting up in the bus.

After our arrival at Grandma’s in Syracuse, New York, God led us to a church where loving Italian-Americans soothed our pain. At that church, the father of a girlfriend became my substitute Dad, “Papa Joe,”—for the next 25 years. In high school and college, I thrived and felt the success of good grades and close friends. God sheltered me wonderfully from the trauma of that separation and trip, I believed.

After graduation, I taught French for two years at my own high school. In the fall, I left for a year of study in Paris, France, and then went on to Côte d’Ivoire as a Bible translator. There I married Neal and moved to his language project in northern Togo. God blessed us with two sons.

One day when I was about 40 years old, I listened to a cassette tape. Two men talked about Father’s Day and the important role dads have in the lives of their children. Like a curtain lifted on my childhood, I suddenly realized all I had missed in not having a Christian father. Devastated, and thinking what life could have been for me and my siblings, I began grieving. It continued, not for months, but for years. How could this be? I thought God had sheltered and protected me through so much. Why, so many years later, is there still this pain?

About the same time, my mother wrote saying my father had died of liver failure the year before. Because the authorities were unable to contact a next of kin, they kept his body a year and then buried him at sea. With those scanty details, I imagined him being dumped to the sharks! Oh, why?

The death of a man I had not seen for twenty-four years brought me profound mourning. I sobbed all day. God, I cried, I never had the chance to say good-bye.

About six years later, another man died, unexpectedly. Duane was much loved by his wife Erva and three daughters. Talking on the phone to one of the daughters, he suddenly collapsed and left for heaven. Shocked and grieved, they prepared his funeral.

Living in Indiana then, Neal and I traveled two hours to Michigan to support the family. As we entered the foyer of the church, Erva and her daughters met us, and with tears, thanked us for coming. Since we were among the first to arrive, I slipped into the small sanctuary and sat alone near the back. Sunlight streamed through the tall, stained glass windows making me feel warm and comfortable.

As I sat back in the pew and thought about my own father, tears began to fall. It was then the Lord spoke in my heart, “Carol, this funeral is for your father too. You never had a special time to say good-bye to him. You’ve grieved long enough. Say good-bye now and leave him in My hands.”

So I thanked God for the good things I could remember about my earthly father. During the service, I cried and empathized with the daughters who talked to the assembly about their own loving dad. God comforted me in a deep way that day. I could now put my father to rest. And I could rest too.

Later I wrote to Erva and her daughters, telling them about the healing I received in the service. They too were encouraged that God used Duane’s death to heal me.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The great Comforter, the Holy Spirit, travels with us throughout our lives. We are not abandoned on a bus going who-knows-where. We are not left fatherless.  Our Heavenly Father “buried” His own Son that in His healing resurrection we who mourn might be everlastingly comforted.