In the Midst of Pain and Sorrow

By Connie Hilton Dunn © 2011

“Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.”
  ~From a headstone in Ireland

I got the call while I was at Bible study. At first I didn’t answer, but when I saw the flashing envelope on my cell phone, I thought I’d better return the call, just in case. My father suffered from poor health the last few years, and I wanted to make sure everything was okay. The message was from Vicky, a family friend. Dad had suffered a stroke, but refused to go to the hospital. I called back and instructed her to call an ambulance, and then insist he go to the hospital. I assured her I would meet them at the hospital as soon as I could; it was a 45-minute drive. That was Tuesday night. My father passed away the following Thursday morning.
            The grief still causes tears to well up in my eyes at unexpected moments. He died February 17, 2011. Now, months later, I’m wondering how I will survive the holidays. My heart is still numb. I realize celebrations may take on a more somber, subdued tone this year. I’m hoping that while celebrating the joy of Christ’s birth and engaging in the familiar rituals of the holidays, comfort might come to my grieving heart. My prayer is that as I build an altar of memories and commemorate my father’s life that my holidays will be more than tolerable, that in the midst of my pain and sorrow, I will be able to find an inkling of joy in the knowledge that my father is in heaven.
A common name of Jesus often uttered during the holiday season is “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14). I wonder, “Is God really going to be with me this year?” Of course he is. In the humble beginnings of a manger, Christ took on human flesh. Because of his willingness to become flesh and dwell among us (John 1:14), I know he can understand my grief and sorrow. The Bible says he wept at Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:34-36). He too felt the pain and separation of death.
My Christmas traditions include buying a new ornament each year. This year I plan on buying a memorial ornament for my dad, to honor him and the impact he had on my life. As I hang it on the tree, I’ll remember he may not be with me physically, but in spirit he lives in my heart, and in heaven he waits for me to join him some day.
Another activity I hope will soften my pain, since I won’t be buying my dad a gift this year, will be to donate to a charitable organization in his name. I haven’t decided yet which one. Perhaps the American Stroke Association or Gideons International. Or maybe I’ll make a contribution to missionaries I know who are working in Japan or Africa. I’m sure my dad would be pleased to know that his legacy will continue in the hearts and lives of others.
One of the things my dad left me was his Bible. That morning after he died, my siblings and I went to his house. It was comforting to see his Bible on his dresser and imagine how his hands turned the pages as he read the words of life. This year I’m going to have my husband read the Christmas story out of Dad’s Bible.
I’m sure there will be moments of sadness and tears during these weeks ahead, but I also know that Emmanuel, God with me, will carry me through as the Great Comforter, the Holy Spirit, comforts me (John 14:15-17). And I rejoice in the knowledge my dad is in heaven, praising God, and he has already received the greatest gift of all—forgiveness of his sins and eternal life. I will choose to rejoice in that gift of eternal life, and in the promise and assurance I will get to see my dad once again. Lord, heal my heartache and comfort me with fond memories.
My favorite Christmas carol is “O come, o come Emmanuel.”
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
This year the words have a deeper meaning. The sadness in my heart reminds me I am the mournful exile here on this earth, awaiting my Lord’s return, to ransom me and take me home. So until that day when I shall see the Son of God appear, and in heaven once again feel the embrace of my earthly father, my heart sings, “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Connie Hilton Dunn believes in pursuing life passionately. Her roles include wife, mother, systems specialist, writer, and missions enthusiast. She has a heart for prayer and short term missions trips and has traveled to TanzaniaEast Africa several times.  She and her husband are enjoying their empty nest in Kansas City. If you’d like to read about her Africa adventures check out her blog:

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