Thursday, September 24, 2015

Life, Interrupted

So, I've been gone for a few days. Normally the reason for these lapses in regular blogging are due to life just getting busy, or sometimes they are due to my legendary inability to keep a secret (such as when I went nearly a month without a post while in the early stages of my pregnancy).

This reason is different, and so much worse.

My father died on Saturday.

He had a massive heart attack, and they tell us he could have been standing in the ER next to a defibrillator and we would still have lost him. It is the only way my father could have gone. His constant energy would not have handled the forced invalidity that comes with serious illness. He'd have climbed the walls. We'd have been pulling him off the combine every morning no matter what his diagnosis was.

He would never have allowed this perfect harvest weather to go to waste.

I tell myself this 'it is the best way he could have gone' story to attempt to feel some kind of comfort, but if I am honest it doesn't really help, because after I finish that sentence my father is still gone.

I'm not sure how to not be angry right now, but there isn't anyone to be angry at, or anything to be angry for, really. Or at least not a single thing I can change.

I wrote the following words to be read by my brother-in-law on my behalf at Dad's funeral today:

My family is not good at I-love-yous. We save them up for entrances, we might say them over the phone if it’s been a while. Often, you only hear us say “I love you” when a member of the family leaves.

My brother tells me my father is gone and I realize I can barely hear him. He and I are trying to talk through a tunnel in which someone has stolen all our air. We are trying to breathe unsaid I-love-yous, and they are so much heavier than oxygen.

My father wasn’t much for hugs, the kind of thing other families sometimes take for granted. We just aren’t “huggers”, and we never have been.

My father said I love you other ways.

He said I love you with the smell of diesel and black dirt on his clothes when he sat down to dinner at six o’clock sharp. With acres to go before he could quit for the night, he’d still take time to sit down and eat and listen to us tell him everything we had done that day. While he ate, we three would talk over each other in a rush to be the one to tell all the good stories first. Bryan would maybe sneak his green vegetables onto my plate when he thought no one was looking. Dad would finish up by doing the dishes and be back in the field before seven. Some nights we’d be in bed before he made it back home for the night, but even if he didn’t say it, we felt “I love you” following us up the stairs.

My father said “I love you” when he carried sleepy little girls upstairs to bed. He said it twenty years later when he walked us down the aisle. He was asked who gave us away - once by Tony Billingsley (who you may have noticed Dad was pretty fond of) and once by my brother-in-law (Dad was pretty fond of him, too). He said, “Your mother and I”. He was always so happy to deliver that line.

He said I love you every time he climbed into a combine or bottle-fed a calf born in the middle of the night. He was proud of us at every high school graduation, and nervously helped us carry our belongings into our dorm rooms in college. Every Thanksgiving basketball game with his brothers, every barn cat that came racing to his call – these are just other variations on the phrase.

He said I love you when he held his newborn babies in his arms, when we each fell head over heels for him the moment we met his eyes. He said it in his smile when he first saw Delainey Jane, and in the way he held his hand up to his face when he heard my daughter’s name was Audra Grace. He said I-love-you when he stood proud to watch his Texas transplant son marry the most wonderful woman underneath a clear blue sky.

His I-love-yous live in the many well-read Bibles weighing down his bookshelves and the Christmas gifts of flannel shirts he never wore until he’d owned them at least a year. He said I-love-you every Sunday sitting in the pews, to the God he served and to the congregation, too.

My father’s I-love-yous are the whisper-soft rattle of dried-out September cornrows. They are him pointing out the red-wing blackbirds picking at new seeds sown in spring. They are the times he drove all three of us to school in the rain, or when he drove me trick-or-treating the year it snowed so hard it was too cold for me to walk. They lived in his flat-foot tread downstairs, in the way he didn’t hesitate to run across a busy street to help a hurting stranger. They live in the way his head would raise when he heard the scanner start up and he would say, “That’s McLean.” Away in seconds went my volunteer firefighter father to help the injured or to battle flames. I-love-yous live in every moment spent with his family and his friends.

I am not reading this to you. If I tried I would buckle under the weight of everything I will never get the chance to say. I would wager almost anything for one more ten minute phone call.

My father is a man of God and God has come to meet him. I think he and God already had an understanding of each other; after all, it’s God who says His I-love-yous through salvation.

We are left with his T-shirts and coveralls, worn flannels and those folded-up blue jeans.

We are left with I-love-yous we say through our goodbyes.  

We sing for him today, and even while we’re listening to these lines, I still feel like he’ll walk in any moment, shake his head and ask, politely, if we could stop making such a fuss.

My mother, my brother, my sister and I will do what we have been doing since Saturday morning; we will wait for his truck to pull into the drive. We’ll catch ourselves waiting. We’ll make a weak joke and we might even laugh as we recall why we are struggling to breathe. Then… then we’ll wait a little bit longer.

Dad, we will always be waiting for you. We must try to comfort ourselves with knowing that you are waiting for us, too.

We hold all our unsaid I-love-yous in our hearts and hollow bones while your mother greets you at the door with, “Randy VanHoorn, welcome Home.”


  1. I understand, and I'm so sorry for your loss. *Hugs* There's so few things to actually do at a time like this, but your eulogy for him was beautiful.

    1. Thanks for your comment and your good thoughts. It's true - I feel like I've been flailing around since that Saturday trying to figure out how to 'fix' grief, but you really can't - you have to just keep going through it.

  2. You have such a way with words, Katie. There's not much more for me to say than I'm so sorry he's gone and I'm thinking of you today.

    Much love to you and your family.

    1. Thanks. I know it's taken me days to reply - things have been kind of a foggy rush.

  3. So sorry for your loss. Beautiful post.

    1. Thank you for your comment and your thoughts.

  4. Your words are beautiful. Sending you warmth and light.

    1. Thanks for your comment and your good wishes. I could use a little light right now.

  5. I'm crying with and for you. That was beautiful. I am so sorry for your loss.

    1. Thanks for your comment and your thoughts.


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