He was only 5 years old and from all I have heard he was a precious sweet child that was very tender. My earliest memories of him were scarce. I remember running past the open door of the mobile home we lived in making huge leaps as Momma hung out clothes. We were trying to keep her from seeing us. We laughed and often ran into each other scrambling like the 3 Stooges and fell backwards. I remember him lying very still in a pretty bed ( I didn’t know at the time it was a coffin) and not waking up. My Uncle Jimmy was holding me and I wanted to give him my chewing gum. I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t wake up. My Uncle Jimmy would tell that story for years with tears in his eyes. They sang Jesus Loves me at his funeral and that song made my mom and grandma cry every time they heard it for years. I always thought of Mom and Bob every time I played it as a solo for offering in the little church I attended.
I remember my grandmother saying she wished she didn’t let him go with my Dad that day. For the next decades Feb 16th would be the day he died and Feb 18th would be my birthday and the day he was buried. It was always the counter for the number of years he had been dead. I remember my Aunt Jean who missed him terribly for a while until she had her own children. I wondered what life would have been like with him. I am sometimes thankful that he was spared some of the things I have seen. I remember every year going to the attic to get Christmas decorations down for Mom and there being a little box of his clothes and a pair of shoes on top. We never disturbed it but each time I saw it I felt something deep inside that I couldn’t put words to. I could see the same feeling on Momma’s face as his name was mentioned. Everyone called him Little Bob, he was named after my Dad.
They said they found my Dad wandering up the highway after Little Bob drowned in the Catawba River. The stories I heard about his drowning didn’t make sense to me for years. The truth I found out years later would put the puzzle pieces together for me but for the sake of the living I will just not put that here. I know Bob’s death changed my Dad in a way that my brother and I would have to experience the rest of our lives. I remember how disturbing it was that no one talked about that day. Truth was that no one talked about anything too hard in my family. Avoidance was the standard operating procedure and using words was foreign when it came to deep matters of the heart.
I will always miss Little Bob.
I grew up with a little brother who was hilarious and mischievous as well. I love my partner in crime and baby brother James. We have fought the greatest fights over the years and I have seen him struggle and I weep for his losses. He gets up and keeps going on and I admire his ability to do that.
I am writing this today to share hope with people who have experienced the loss of something sacred. The story didn’t end with this tragedy being an epitaph. There were a lot of miserable years of lessons learned in those years for me and my family. Dad avoided the pain by being distant from his children and by staying busy. Mom spent the rest of her marriage trying to open up my Dad’s heart again. It wasn’t possible for most of their lives together. Then one day….
We always went to grandma and grandpa’s to have Easter dinner. Her tiny house was under a grove of pecan trees and was the most magical place to me. I loved playing on the big porch swing under those trees. Grandpa took advantage of free labor getting us to pick up pecans when they fell in the fall. We would catch lightening bugs under those trees and sleep in his T-shirts after begging momma to let us spend the night. Grandma had great quilts and made pallets for us on the floor. She was precious and often let me and my cousins tear up her kitchen to make cornbread. We argued over who would stir it.
This Easter my Dad didn’t feel well. Dad was never sick so this was concerning. My Mom confided that he was throwing up blood. The next day a doctors visit turned into a string of test that revealed he had cancer. I remember the jolt to my heart hearing my Dad was sick. It always seemed as if he was the pillar of my life even though we didn’t have a close relationship. I always trusted the strength of knowing Dad was there. I watched cancer humble and soften Dad. It changed him enough to hear the call of Christ in his life and become saved. Dad became more gentle and attentive to my Mom and had opened up to her a bit more. After several years of being a human science experiment they gave him a clean bill of health. He didn’t go back to his old promiscuous and wild ways. The change was real! I thank God for being able to see that. Still the residue of growing up in a home much like the one he had created kept him from saying the words. He went back to work and stayed as busy as ever. The change was great to see and was still there but he couldn’t be vulnerable as I hoped he could yet.
Mom had been through so much she was thankful for the reprieve but I think she was regretful of all the lost time. She loved Dad with all she had and gave selflessly to him. He freely took her love and returned it when it suited him until the final years. It was bittersweet now. They could have had so much because both were capable of so much, but the noise of the world rang so loud to Dad he couldn’t hear her or be himself.
I remember seeing his eyes when Laura was born and he held her. It registered in my heart for the first time~ this is what Dad looks like when he loves someone. I had never seen that growing up. I don’t think the world could contain his joy at that moment.
Laura was 9 months old when my Aunt called at work and said in a matter of fact way. “Get home your Dad is dying.” Unfortunately Dad had been given a clean bill of health but they didn’t know that he cancer had spread to his brain and he went from functioning one day to not functioning the next. It was hard to watch. Mom tried to take care of him at home but it overwhelmed her and he had to be moved to the hospital. I can’t tell you how it feels to see your Dad who was a rock become like a child and then disappear all together. I wanted to hear the words but now he couldn’t say them. I slept on the floor of his hospital room for 4 days as Mom slept in a chair and as my Uncle Charles attended to things for my Dad. No one can ever repay Charles for that heroic way he had of showing love to his brother in those final days. I couldn’t leave Dad’s side and I loved him dearly. I wanted him to know that beyond the words I loved him. I knew in those moments as he struggled to breathe, all that had happened in his life was probably running through his mind and I ached for his painful memory. I also was thankful for the fact that I knew I would see him again.
Dad took his last breath and as me and my brother stood by his side with Mom my heart fell to my feet. Now there would be no more words. His funeral was amazing. Dad had helped a lot of people and a lot had seen the change in him. Several flower shops ran out of flowers in the tiny town of Fort Mill, SC. I remember holding my grandma who seemed to break that day as she said goodbye to her son.
Where’s the encouragement? Well as painful as that memory is and as painful as my childhood could get sometimes I want to say there is hope. The hope isn’t in the memories or the reconciliation. Dad and I never got to say the words. The hope is in forgiveness and letting go. Parental damage can cost us more than we understand in future relationships. Holding on to the past will rob you. If you have had parents in the past who formed some damaging experiences for you I want to tell you that I found freedom in forgiving them and letting it go.
No one can make up for what your parents did or didn’t do and if we are not careful we will expect a future relationship to equalize that damage. The goal of future relationships is not to repair our past. The goal is to forge ahead into a great future.
I love the memories I have of Little Bob. I was greatly affected by his absence in my life. I was also greatly affected by the lack of Dad’s love as well. Yet today, I can look back and remember the great times and have healed from the rough ones. I use the hard experiences to teach me how “NOT TO LIVE”
Here’s the difference between now and how I had lived much of my life. Now I see my life as a journey that was necessary to make me the woman I am today. I totally understand how to forgive and get past these things. I also know what healthy whole love is. (not that I know everything, volumes can be written about that) What I am trying to express to you is that you can get there. You can get to a good place where you deal and heal. Don’t let the past define you or the tapes that keep playing in your head. Get to know yourself and who you really are warts and all. Then realize that God is crazy about you warts and all.
Learn to love and be loved by God and to give and receive love from someone else. I spent most of my life asking why?? Why did I grow up in this family, why did Bob die, why did Dad die, why did my best friend die? why did I lose 2 babies, why did my husband cheat, why is life so hard??? Now I don’t wonder why anymore. The question is not why for me. The question is who am I and who is God in my life? I know the answer to those two questions is this. I am a child of the King who loves me and my life and He is my Father who sees me as priceless. When life happens and I get hurt I always come back to this.
The giants in life are going to come and go. The free will of someone is going to slam into me and can cause joy as well as pain. The conclusion of the whole matter is that GOD is my God and I will love him anyway trusting all that happens is for my good and His glory. That doesn’t mean I skip down the road. It just means I am raw and real with it and face it knowing at some point it will be in my past and can’t be allowed to rob my future.
Dear ones, forgive, grieve the loss and go on. There’s life out there and precious time is a gift. Don’t sacrifice a great future on a bad past.