Have you lost someone close to you? Have you experienced heartache through loss that you just can’t explain to someone else? This week I will find myself pausing (more than usual) as I think of John’s dad, Gary. Thursday Gary would have turned 73. He passed away June 5, 2009 after cancer claimed him. Almost 2 years has passed, but it’s still difficult. That being said, I don’t want this entry to be one of sadness; I want it to be a reflection on all things good that I remember about Gary. So, I write this entry with a lump in my throat, but a small smile on my face.
John and I met in 1997 at a mutual friend’s wedding. It didn’t take long for me to fall deeply in love with John (but that’s for another entry). Late in the summer of 1997 I met John’s family. He has 2 sisters and his parents were married over 40 years. John’s dad was a very gentle man. He could tell you a story without an end. Gary loved Ohio State sports, fishing, hunting, eating at Bob Evans, traditional home cooked meals, and sweets of all kinds. Above all though, family was the dearest thing to him in this world, especially his grandchildren. Papa Gary was Elliot’s favorite person on the planet. When Elliot was 3 and 4 years-old, he called Gary almost on a daily basis by phone. Elliot would practically wear a track in the carpet as he walked circles around the dining room table talking to Papa Gary about anything from fishing lures to tractors to what he ate for dinner. The coolest part about this interaction was that Gary enjoyed it as much as Elliot did. Sydney got the nickname “shorty” from Papa Gary. Standing at 6.2” I’m certain Papa Gary must have seemed like a giant to petite little Syd. She would sit on his lap for hours and listen to him read stories to her. I also recall his 70th birthday party when he let Syd eat chocolate truffle after chocolate truffle…her little chin was covered with a small chocolate beard and she just kept looking at Gary and saying “mmmm.” He laughed at her until he cried.
For me personally, Gary was a gentle father figure. Sure, at times I found myself zoning out when he would tell me the same lengthy story for the fifth time, but he was always patient with me. I’ll never forget the night John and I got engaged. I so wanted to share the news with Gary. I asked him “how would you feel about having another daughter?” His response with tear-filled eyes was, “if it’s you, I’d be delighted.”
When we would pack up the car to leave Ohio and head back to Virginia he would spend stretched minutes telling us goodbye in the house only to walk us to the car and do it all over again. He would lean in the open car window, even after we had started the engine, just lingering there as long as we’d let him. He had the darkest brown eyes I had ever seen, that is until you look into Elliot and Sydney’s eyes. That deep chocolate color is a Van Vorst trait for sure. Sometimes when I look into their eyes it’s like I see part of Gary looking right back at me.
There is nothing easy about saying goodbye to someone you love, especially when it’s the glue that really binds your family together. In my grief process, I have found small bits that ease this hurt. Age old Bible verses help such as Hebrews 11:1. It says, "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see." One of my favorite writers is Anne Lamott. She is witty, insightful and grounded in her faith to God. Her book Grace Eventually is a book I read over and over. And, beautiful writing such as Anne’s offers me comfort too. This is a quote from Grace Eventually that put a Band-Aid on my heart.
"You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp."
You see, I realize that I will not ever be the same after saying goodbye to this dear man, but I still go on in my dance of life…I just have to learn to dance with a limp. Dance and learn to lean into my own faith because I know one day we will be together again.