On My Father's Death

I haven't written in awhile. Truthfully, I've been quite busy with work and seminary classes. But today is a unique day. Fifteen years ago today my dad lost his battle with colon cancer. You would think this would eventually "normalize." You would think that it eventually wouldn't be so doggone hard. But it hasn't gotten any easier. It's just different each year.

I decided to post something I wrote from few years back. Writing on this topic is cathartic for me, but I really I'm posting because I hope it's helpful for someone else.


I remember thinking, “I just wish he would die.”  My dad had colon cancer, and I was a ten year-old that wanted to practice his snare drum.  The thing about chemotherapy and radiation is that it saps you of all your energy.  My dad had to sleep for hours upon hours to store up enough energy for any physical activity.  It was a somewhat simplistic formula.  If he was “saving up” to preach, he needed to sleep eight additional hours the Saturday before the service.  If he was going to go to my brother Karl’s basketball game, that’s five hours the day of the game.  Obviously it's tough to sleep when someone is playing the drums in the next room. It was on a game day that I said the words, “I just wish he would die.”
For a long time I thought I was responsible for killing my dad.  Like in a movie when someone finds a genie in a bottle and accidentally says something like, “Man, I could really go for a chicken salad sandwich right now” and poof the genie uses one of the three wishes to make it happen.  Maybe God accidently granted me my “wish.” On a side note, if you grew up playing the drums stop reading this immediately, pick up a thank you card and write a note to your family.  The only thing more annoying than a drummer practicing is a beginner drummer practicing.
I now realize that I did not kill my father.  I was twelve when he passed away; now I’m twenty-seven and it took me about ten years to finally be able to say that.
I'll never forget this game, but probably for a much different reason than most people

On February 1, 1998 I was playing MarioKart on Nintendo 64 in the basement of my mom’s house.  We couldn’t afford Nintendo 64 but a family friend brought it over for me to play with.  I guess it was to occupy my mind.  I remember playing MarioKart on this day because this was the day my dad died.  I remember Dr. Engstrom coming downstairs and telling me that if I wanted to spend some time with him before he passed away I should come upstairs.  I was twelve.  I guess I always assumed that my dad would get better.  I mean, people prayed for him every day.  So I stayed downstairs.  I kept playing MarioKart.

About thirty minutes later my brother Alan came downstairs and told me that our dad was gone.  I don’t remember crying right away.  Perhaps I did, but I don’t remember.  What I remember is lying on the couch looking straight up and counting the ceiling tiles for about two hours.  He wasn’t actually dead right?  He’s a pastor.  I’m sure he will be fine.  God raised Lazarus right?

I never actually saw them remove my dad’s body from the house.  Within a few hours, he was just gone

On February 1, 2011 I broke a shovel removing about 32 inches of snow from my driveway.  Winters in Boston have a way of sucking the life from…well..anything that has life.  But the winter of 2011 was particularly brutal.   The website boston.com tracked the snowfall by comparing it to the height of former NBA player Shaquille O’Neal.  Shaq is 7’1” (85 inches).   Boston received 80.1 inches of snow.  I shoveled my driveway several times that winter.

I love this.

 Aside from the snowfall, this day was significant because on February 1, 2011 I was twenty-five years old.  My dad died when I was twelve, therefore when 2011 rolled around it meant that my dad had been dead (thirteen years) longer than he and I had been alive together (twelve years).

I also remember this date because I scared my girlfriend (now wife) nearly to death.  Around 10pm that evening I decided I should probably drive Sarah home to her apartment.  As I began backing out of my driveway my 1996 Honda Accord got stuck at the point where the driveway meets the road.  You know, the spot where the plow pushes all the snow from the road.  At any rate, my 1996 Honda Accord couldn’t push through this barrier.  I tried the whole forward-reverse-forward-rock-back-reverse dance but didn’t get anywhere.  So I started to shovel.  

And the shovel broke…

I believe my exact words were “This is *&%$#%& PERFECT!!!!”  It wasn’t exactly a whisper either.  Although I was now completely “seeing red” I very vividly remember looking up and seeing Sarah sitting in the passenger seat of the Accord balling her eyes out.  Heart. In. Stomach.  I tried to calm myself down (ineffectively) before asking her, “Why are you crying?”  Even as I was asking her I couldn’t help but think that it was a little unfair that she was upset at me for getting upset when this was my day to mourn.
“Why are you crying” I asked her again rather impatiently.

“I’m just so sad for you.  I am so sorry about what happened to your dad.  I love you so much and I am just so sorry.  I wish there was something I could do.”

I felt like an idiot.  Sarah and I talked for about an hour and I finally realized that I was, and still am, extremely angry, frustrated, in mourning, lonely and bitter about my dad dying.  Thirteen years later I’m still not over it [now fifteen].

I think that is what I’m learning.  We never “get over it.”  It’s part of who and what we are…


Last night I saw Zero Dark Thirty with my brother-in-law Daniel. (Spoiler Alert...Well, I suppose it's a little like Titanic. Everyone knows how this ends...) The film ends with a close up of the CIA agent who had dedicated her entire life to killing Osama bin Laden. She begins sobbing.  Clearly she is emotionally and physically exhausted from a decade-long search for this man, but it's obvious she is also troubled and conflicted. I may have "missed" the point of this scene, but to me it seems like she simply does not know how to respond to bin Laden's death. She had dedicated her life to finding and killing this man. I think she felt like she would inevitably feel some sort of "closure" and even joy upon completing this mission.

I'm going somewhere with this.  I promise.

But instead of experiencing resolution, she begins to realize that she will always carry this with her. The last ten years will never go away and more importantly, never cease to impact her life moving foward.

I know it's a bit of a stretch, but that is how I feel about my father's death. In many ways, I have moved on. I moved out of the state, got married, etc.. But it's still there. It will always be there. It bothers me that this wound will never be fully healed. Donald Miller in his book To Own a Dragon talks about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and how they intentionally chose individuals tragically affected by apartheid to serve on this group. The idea was that only those most deeply wounded by the injustice could truly help bring healing to the nation. 

Miller talks about how this image of a "wounded healer" can be applied to almost any situation where someone has experienced a deep loss/pain/hurt. He knows growing up without a dad. Therefore he is uniquely qualified to empathize and help those going through a similar situation.

This is my hope for this blog post. I guess I just hope it helps someone.

I not sure how to end this post, because...well...I don't feel resolved. Maybe that's the point. And maybe that's OK.


  1. You're a great writer, Keith.
    My dad lost his father far too young, too. He has said that a day doesn't go by when he doesn't think of his father, but it does hit him differently on the anniversary of his death. I know the pain will never go away but I do hope it dulls.
    I remember your dad as an eloquent, inspiring, loving, friendly man and I'm so thankful I was able to know him growing up at Bonnie Brook.
    Your family is in my thoughts today.

  2. Thanks for sharing brother. Great post on a very tough day.

  3. Thanks for the kind words and for your thoughts and prayers, Brandon and Susan. Encouragement like this is helpful this time of the year.

  4. I am so often touched by your gift with the written word and I'm sure I'm not alone! Blessings to you my friend!


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