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Abiding and Deep

Carl Thress | Sunday, January 31, 2016

In the days leading up to my father’s death, he was haunted by vivid, terrifying hallucinations. That’s what we all thought they were, anyway. The hydrocephalus and failed shunt surgery had robbed him of his voice, so there was no way to know for sure what he was seeing. Whatever these encounters were, they left him visibly shaken, with a look of fear I had never seen before.

These episodes would happen sporadically and last a few minutes each time. Whenever they occurred, I would stand there helpless, heartbroken, and angry at the god he had served so faithfully for most of his adult life. It was bad enough he had taken the old man’s voice, but now he saw fit to torment him — or to let him be tormented. So much for a god of love, mercy, and grace.

But amidst my anger and lashing out at God (not the first or last time I’d do that — I’ve had more than my share of Lt. Dan in the storm moments over the years), I witnessed something remarkable.

As Dad lay there shaking and trying to rebuke whatever it was he saw in front of him, my mother would take his hand and quietly reassure him that everything would be okay.

Eventually, the visions would pass, and Mom would smile down at him and remind Dad just how much she loved him. She’d talk about the promise they made to dance together at their granddaughter’s wedding later that year. Dad died just a couple days later, and my brothers and I had to keep that promise for him, but that’s a story for another time.

Right now, I want to focus on that moment — on the love of a wife for the husband she had married more than five decades earlier, the husband who had raised four children with her and had mourned the death of a fifth. I want to focus on the way she held his hand and comforted him — not unlike the way she had comforted me in my own times of need — when I was sick or injured as a child, and more recently when she had taken time to stay with me during the low point of a depression I suffered after losing my job unexpectedly.

Growing up, I always knew my parents loved each other, and I knew how fortunate I was to be part of their family. As I watched my mom standing there beside my dad’s hospital bed, I realized just how deep that love had always been, and I felt grateful all over again.

When we gathered again less than a week later to celebrate my father’s life and mourn his passing, there were no hallucinations or stolen voices to contend with, but there were plenty of tears. In our collective sorrow, we found comfort in each other’s company and in the love we had learned at Mom and Dad’s feet all those years ago.

It was the same love I had seen on display in that small room at Johns Hopkins Hospital just a few days before — the abiding love that chases demons, quiets fears, and shines light in the darkest places we ever have to go.

Stepping down from my soapbox and depositing two pennies in the jar...

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