Debbie Williamson

Out of the Abundance of the Heart



September 2017



The 2 Lessons I’ve Learned Since My Dad Died

Written by , Posted in Family, General

It’s been 37 days since my dad stopped breathing that July night in the ICU.

(I had to clarify with the night nurse who’d called us that “stopped breathing” wasn’t a euphemism for anything other than dead. Right, I asked him? My dad’s dead? Yes, he said, and he was so sorry for our loss. Ranks as weirdest phone conversation ever.)

Since then it’s been non-stop action — Planning the memorial service and the spreading of his ashes. Calling the realtor and beginning the painful, laborious process of getting the house ready to sell. Finding just the perfect place for my mom to be as the Alzheimer’s slowly and methodically tangles her brain. Keeping the meals and the visits organized and coming. Going through the house room by room, desk by desk, closet by closet, file cabinet by file cabinet and deciding what to do with everything. Every.single.thing. Every dish, towel, painting, sheet, bed, chair, rug, patio furniture, candle, pillow, picture, rake, shovel, bags of potting mix, windmill on the hill in the backyard. EVERYTHING.

So the grieving process gets interrupted by all the busyness.

But every so often it crashes in in a wave.

I called my mom the other day and the machine came on. It was her voice telling me that “Max and Carolyn Dunn are not available. Please leave a message.”

Sadness, tears, that choked up feeling. Max Dunn is not available. Yep.

Deep breath. Time to change the message.

And in the midst of all of this, I’ve experienced the good and the not so good of how other people deal with my grief. These are the two lessons that I’ve decided, for me, I will put into practice as others go through what I’m going through.

Lesson #1 —- Something is always better than nothing.

An orchid at my door from a neighbor. Homemade scones and lemon curd. Gladiolas. Texts. Cards. Emails. Messages to me through my husband’s Facebook page. Responses on my blog and instagram as I wrote about and shared pictures of our family tragedy. Hugs and tears and small gifts.


Some requiring more effort, some less. Some from people I know well, some from acquaintances. Some right away, and some weeks later. Electronically, through the mail, at my door.

It didn’t matter what, when, how, or why. It was something. And I was grateful.

Even now, 37 days later, people are asking me how I’m doing.

Something is better than nothing.

Anything to acknowledge my loss. Anything to see my pain. Anything to let me know that there’s a heart grieving with me.

And as I reflect on this, I realize I’ve failed miserably over the years at this #1 lesson as friends and family have suffered their own tragedies. But this is what I’d rationalized to myself:

It’s awkward.

I don’t want to make them sad.

What am I going to say or do if they start crying.

I don’t know what to say or do.

But now I understand that none of that matters. Crying, being sad, awkwardness . . . IT DOESN’T MATTER. What matters is you are sad for me and you are with me during this time.

Something is better than nothing.  Always.

Lesson #2 — Lead with the fact that you know.

I saw a friend at the store right after he died. After a couple of minutes of small talk, I said, “I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but my dad died Friday night.” She said she had heard. I was breathless. What!? You’d heard but didn’t say anything until I brought it up?

And the following week, my mom and I were at the podiatrist that she and my dad had seen regularly for years. Again, nothing. The receptionist, the nurse, the doctor. Nothing until my mom said something about Max, and then they said how sorry they were for our loss. What a great guy he was. How sad they were. I almost had to leave the room. Grrrrrrrrr . . .

Come on people! You see me. You see her. You know this great man died. LEAD WITH THAT! (The nurse at the podiatrist’s office said she couldn’t talk about his death — it made her want to cry. And she didn’t want to cry, she said, so she actually walked away.)

Having to open every conversation with, “Did you know my dad died?” is not what I want to do. So if you know, say so. Trust me. It’s way less awkward than dancing around the fact that you know but talking about anything else except that.

{Major failure on my part in the past with this lesson as well, but no more.}

So, we move on — selling dad’s desk to the neighbor and mom’s car to the gardener and figuring out how all the grandchildren are going to get some of the family treasures to their own homes.

The darkness is real and feels thick, but then the light comes. And I laugh and remember and receive all the love and compassion and mercy that comes my way.

The lessons are really for me. But if they change how you respond to those in grief in your circle of influence . . . that’s a good thing.

“It’s important to note in Genesis 1 that God does not obliterate the darkness; rather, God names it and limits it and puts boundaries on it. The boundary is light . . . 
God said, Let there be light and light is born. And He saw that the light was good. The voice and command of God birth light. There is clarity. There is happiness. God speaks and goodness is birthed from a cesspool of despair.
This is our human context. We are surrounded by the stuff of darkness. It weaves destruction in our lives and our world, and it is utterly painful. 
But God!
You see? The darkness is real. It is utterly chaotic, truly destructive. But God is positioned over it and confronts the darkness. The authors of Genesis 1 were emphatic about the utter desolation of our world before God spoke.
But when God spoke, it changed everything.”

(The Very Good Gospel, by Lisa Sharon Harper)

**The picture is of my sister’s hands, holding the crosses my dad carried with him — you just never know when someone needs a cross, over the bible that he read daily. Our thoughtful friend, Erica, took this picture at the memorial service.



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