Sometimes a girl gets lucky and is not only born into an amazing family but also marries into one. I realize that I am in the minority when I say that I not only love my in-laws, but I actually consider them close friends. From the time my 16-year-old self walked into the Wilson home and layed down on their couch, I was accepted as a member of the family. Dave’s parents adopted me as their own daughter. His sister became one of my sisters. His brother, my brother.
In recent years my father-in-law has been enjoying the golden age of retirement. While he was soaking up those “senior citizen” perks, I’m fairly certain I was the one actually benefiting the most from it. It was he who came and sat with a sick Bella so I could watch Abbi in her kindergarten parade. He was the one who dropped the girls off at school on mornings I couldn’t and babysat while I attended meetings.
He timed his errands perfectly so that he would be at our house when the school bus arrived simply to grab a hug from all the grands. He attended every preschool graduation, Suzuki concert, dance recital, and child dedication.
Our yard was immaculate because of his willingness to come each week. And on those lawn mowing days, we sat together drinking coffee enjoying each other’s company.
He was constantly in the garage with my husband restoring his 1974 AMX to its original beauty and I would regularly find him sitting on our office floor playing cars with Aidan while the movie Cars played in the background.
Everywhere I look my father-in-law is present.
The morning of July 24th he stopped by, like any other day, to say a quick “hi” and chat about the cottage. He and my mother-in-law were buying one that’s directly across from our own lake house. Just like all the other times, he hugged each of the kids and said, by name, that he loved us all. Then he went about his day.
None of us realized that it would be the last time we would ever hear his voice. Later that evening he experienced cardiac arrest and never again regained consciousness.
For 12 days he fought for his life while the doctors explored every medical option. But on August 5, he lost the good fight and, in that moment, we also lost one of the greatest people in our lives. I’d argue that he was one of the greatest in the world. The hurt is raw. The heaviness is suffocating.
I had always assumed he would be present for the milestones still to come – to watch as our kids enter middle school and graduate high school, to enjoy this next stage of life with my mother-in-law, to walk his own daughter down the aisle, and to hold the grandbabies that my brother-in-law desires to have. But our time with him has run out and his eternity started before we were ready.
Forever began too soon.
My husband gave a beautiful tribute to honor his dad at the memorial service. My father-in-law would often write letters to his children when they were going through a challenging time. Dave delivered this memorial in the first person via a third person – meaning he wrote this as a letter from his dad to himself. He has given me permission to share it with you today and, if you have a few extra minutes, I encourage you to read this touching example of what love is…
You’ve been on my mind (he always opened his letters this way). You have a really hard thing to do and I wish there was a way I could do it for you. But while I can’t take this burden from you I think I can help give you some things to think about. Yes, this is hard, and that is why I want you to understand that every time I experienced something hard, it played a part in shaping me. As I look back, I can see how these were the things that molded me into the man I am.
In doing some research on how to give a memorial “they” say you should be sure to bring respectful levity to it. I can imagine you will tell some pretty good stories about me. Perhaps you will share about my “thriftiness” and how we washed the paper plates before recycling them, or how I would take an abnormally long time to make a decision, or how I would haggle over the price of something until you all were too embarrassed to stick around and would find something else to do while I closed the deal.
You will most likely tell them how we could take a simple 15-minute project and somehow turn it into a “Wilson Project” that would take hours to complete. I’m sure Danielle and Mom would want you to share how I was always the last to complete a walk because I was “purposeful” in how I took them – making sure to look at everything around me.
Anyone who shared a fire with me would want you to talk about how particular I was with campfires, and how I would begrudgingly but faithfully feed the fire each time your mom told me it needed more wood. When you share these stories, be sure to tell them about the time I bought a van and camper for $1,500 dollars and then sold the camper for the same amount, getting the van for free. I’m particularly proud of that one… you must admit that I made a pretty good deal.
All these stories reveal parts of me that were shaped by the hard times I had lived through during the early parts of my life. When my Mom passed away and my Dad turned away, I had to look to myself and my brother to survive. Those times weren’t easy. Working, finishing up my final year of high school, borrowing corn from the farm across the road to eat, grappling with what love was and wondering how I would ever recognize it. I learned from the impact of having close to nothing and valued the assurance of having what you need.
Sure, your uncle Larry and I had some pretty great times and I’m sure he’s recently shared with you some stories that I never told. Yes, I did flip his car racing on a dirt track back in the woods and yet I still convinced him and Aunt Diane to cosign on my AMX. And, yes, I did go to Woodstock. Someday, I’ll share the stories with you myself because each of these memories highlights a time of immense challenge and ultimately set the direction for me and our family.
It was hard to learn what love was. I thought I had it a few times, but I was wrong. I finally found it the day I met your Mom. I’m so happy I ended up at that party where we spent the whole night talking and forgetting about all those around us. I crashed her place later that week at 3am because I couldn’t get her off my mind. Your Mom and I are very different people, but we knew we were meant to be together.
It took hard work to make us fit together, but we did it, just like I knew we would. Kind of like all those times that you and I figured out the solution to a difficult “Wilson Project” and stayed committed to it until it was completed. Learning what love is taught me the value of persisting to achieve what I wanted. Our story wasn’t easy, your mom’s and mine, but we knew it was right and I worked hard to make sure she knew how much I loved her.
Because we loved each other so much, we knew that we had love to share and to grow our family but, as you know, that too is hard work. We had plenty of love but not a ton of resources. We had to work hard to accomplish our goals. We sacrificed to give you, your sister, and your brother what you needed. I remember when I would work a 12-hour shift, drive to Pennsylvania to help a friend with a job, and then drive back home to work another 12-hour shift. I did this just so I could meet you kids and your Mom on the vacation that I was working to pay for… while you were actually on it. And, when I finally got to you guys I wanted to purposely savor every moment we had together because that time was invaluable.
The “purposeful” walks I shared with your sister are some of my fondest memories. The challenges of those early years taught me to appreciate the leisurely moments and, in those hours with Danielle, we became more than father and daughter… we became friends.
You see, son, hard things give you the opportunity to achieve something you can be proud of. The feeling of pride, the feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction in your accomplishments, is a word I didn’t know for much of my life. I only learned what it was after I had overcome the hard stuff that was in front of me.
It was because of the sacrifice, the challenges, and the persistent drive to provide for our family that I began to feel proud of something. I had pride in watching Mathew excel in playing soccer, in joining you on scout trips as you learned what it meant to be a man of character, and in seeing my relationship with Danielle blossom into something special.
I have a lot to be proud of now… so much that it far outweighs the early challenges I faced. I have three beautiful grandchildren that I got to spend a lot of time with. I loved each time their eyes lit up when I’d randomly stop by for a quick hug as they were getting off the school bus. I watched as Bella’s creativity and loving spirit came alive at dance recitals, and as Abbi’s wit and spunk became evident when reading a book together.
I got to sit on the couch with Aidan, a little boy I didn’t think we would ever have, and watch “movies” with him because he simply wanted to be with his Papa, his best friend. I got to enjoy time with your wife, who became another daughter, not by law but through love, when she would stock up on my favorite coffee and host me for a relaxing visit at least once a week. You see, son, it is because of the hard times I endured that I know what being proud means.
I’m proud of camping trips at Lazy Lakes – spending time with the family and, in recent years, close friends that I itched to see as soon as I left. I’m proud of having you and your friends drop by for last minute pool parties on hot July weekends.
I’m proud of the times I spent fishing with Mathew, participating as he did something that brought him pure joy. I’m proud that Danielle found Bill and that he is there for her now that I can’t be. I’m proud of the times I watched you and Cassie help lead me, and the rest of our church, in worship. I’m especially proud of how you taught me about God’s love… and what that meant for me. I’m proud of who my family has become, and I am proud of what all of you will do in the future.
You have all had a very hard few weeks but I’m proud that you’ve turned it into a way to focus on each other, that you rallied together to make choices that I would never have been able to make on my own (remember early on when you joked about how bad I was at making decisions?) Let that sit with you as you go through this moment. You guys have turned a hard thing into something you should be proud of… I know I am proud of you.
You once said to me that hard times are the way God prepares you for the blessings He has for you. That truly resonated with me and it’s what I want to remind you of now. He has something in store for you. Suffer joyfully and let God turn this hard time into a blessing that you can all be proud of.
You see, son, hard times give you opportunities. Choose to use this opportunity to do something you can be proud of. I know you will do a great job.
I love you, Dad
These past three weeks are a blurred mess of emotions, but God has been giving us the grace we need to get through these hard moments by surrounding us with butterflies… which represent resurrection – endurance, change, hope and life. A tangible reminder that, even in the sadness, there is always hope in Jesus.
I may not be mentally prepared to take on this “new” future but I do know that God’s bigger picture is better than anything I myself can imagine. I look forward to seeing those providential moments that will make us all stand back and realize something beautiful has come from these ashes.
On behalf of the entire Wilson family, thanks to all of you who have stood in the gap these past few weeks, holding us up before the throne of God. Thank you for the (many!) messages, cards, meals, flowers, offers to babysit, and the way you poured out love at the calling hours and memorial service.
Please continue to pray for us in the days, weeks and months to come. The hardest days are still in front of us. And, above all else, pray that God uses this devastating circumstance to do something remarkable in the life of our family. We know His work is not yet finished.
“We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” – 2 Corinthians 5:8