My dear friend, Vanessa, lost her Daddy a little over a week ago. Although she’s 38 years old, she still calls him “Daddy”. She found him after he had passed away in his bed early one morning. She and her brother had flown out to be with their dad for a fairly routine heart procedure. They decided to come because of an unsettled feeling they had about him going through it alone. Things went well, and Vanessa’s brother flew home the same night. She stayed with her dad, and was alone when she found him the next morning. Several years ago Vanessa also discovered her mom, after passing away from a sudden heart attack in her bathroom. She was alone then too.
My heart has been grieving since I talked to her on that Friday she lost her dad. No words come to mind or can possibly stand up against the devastation of a heart-broken, sobbing person you love. Just when I wanted to say something stupid, like “He is in a better place”, I instead found myself entering her grief and just crying with her. I told her I loved her and I meant it…and we just cried.
I’ve since been reminded of why I love Vanessa so much. When I was nine-years-old, she and her family moved in next door to us. Our younger brothers were also close in age and the four of us became good friends. We did all the normal kid stuff and laughed a lot. When we moved to a different neighborhood two years later, Vanessa and I stayed in touch by exchanging letters and attending each other’s birthday parties. When we would start to lose touch, I would receive a surprise letter from Vanessa. As we got older, every year I would receive a home-made, hand-written Christmas card, and Birthday card. Even when I was away at college, she made the effort to find my address and send me a card.
In our early 20’s, we lived in the same area and began hanging out a lot. We became close during that “transitional” season of life when you are trying to figure out what to do with your life. We were both working and going to school, and socializing a ton. I still laughed a lot around her….just like when we were kids. And she always had “this friend” or “that friend” that would be joining us. I met a lot of new people through her! About eight years ago, she moved to the Washington D.C. area and although we’ve been miles apart…she still manages to keep in touch with me. She still remembers my birthday and she still sends Christmas cards (though now it’s by email to 100 people at once…she wouldn’t be Vanessa if she didn’t continue to accumulate friends!). She is still my dear friend. And when we got together with our brothers and her boyfriend last night….we laughed again like little kids. It’s so rare to find someone that pursues your friendship like that, and makes you feel special even though it is how they are with everyone. And it’s rare to find someone that cares so much about you, and enters into your world even though they’ve just been through a trauma.
At her dad’s funeral I was really moved. One-by-one, folks came up to share about Vanessa’s dad….his golf buddy, his life-long friends, his subordinates, his peers, and his children. Most all of them described the same quality about her dad that meant the most to them – his concern and his availability for people. They would talk to him about their problems. One person never heard him say a bad word about anyone in the twenty years they were friends. Another gentleman shared about receiving a letter from Vanessa’s dad while he was serving in the Army. He hadn’t talked to her dad in years, but somehow her dad tracked down his address and sent him a letter that reached him at just the right time. Vanessa spoke about her dad’s influence in her life, and how she takes after him.
She herself finds that as a college professor, students come in, close her office door, and ask to talk to her about various things. She pursues people, and keeps in touch. She contacts them and makes their day when they needed to hear from a friend. She is a loyal friend that never speaks badly of anyone else. She laughs a lot. She is living out the things people loved most about her Daddy in her own life. Her father modeled it for her, and she became a reflection of His life-changing qualities.
One older gentleman who shared at the funeral pointed out that her father was the kind of man he was because of his parents. Looking at Vanessa and her extended family, he said “Find out who his parents were”.
Those who have gone before us leave a legacy. No one is perfect, but we are wise to examine the qualities that positively impacted the lives around them. And we are wise to follow in their footsteps.
In honor of Willie Little, and his reflections – Vanessa and Jason.
© Kristin Gordley and Moments In The Story, December 2012.