I remember sitting in the living room with the doctor on speaker phone, hearing the details of the diagnosis and potential protocol for my father-in-law’s cancer. Brent took notes. We were hopeful to hear there was a good plan for more time with Mike, but heartbroken by the news.
I remember meeting Mike and Teresa for dinner at Taziki’s two days after the diagnosis. He felt sick and barely touched his food. As we left the parking lot, he hugged me. I told him I loved him and he said, “I love you too. You just don’t know how much I love you, Brittany.” I think he was more aware than any of us how quickly things were unfolding. Those were the last coherent words I heard him speak to me.
I remember sitting alone in the parking lot at church, eight days after the diagnosis when things seemed to be getting more and more complicated, begging God to heal Mike.
I remember Brent sitting in the living room on the phone with his mother sixteen days after the diagnosis, hearing the news that there was nothing more that could be done and his dad was coming home on hospice the next day. Brent’s usual calm demeanor changed instantly. After he hung up, he threw the phone, punched the air, wiped his face, and went to our bedroom. What he knew was coming, but hoped otherwise, was relentlessly on its way.
I remember the overnight phone call from Brent waking me from my sleep, exactly three weeks after the diagnosis. My father-in-law drew his last breath on earth on April 13, 2021.
A Double Blessing
There isn’t much I love more, in the writing sense, than to write about the people I love. It’s an honor for me and it gives me the opportunity to communicate wholly. I wouldn’t ever be able to speak the words that I write. I would fumble around and my deepest thoughts would only be spoken as incomplete phrases mixed with salty tears. Writing gives me time to process and perfect what the deepest crevices of my heart want to say. Writing is a major part of my grieving. Writing about loss is uncomfortably comfortable for me.
I’ve written after the death of several of my loved ones. On March 23, 2021, when we received the diagnosis, I made the decision that I was going to write before death this time. I was determined that Mike would read, or at least hear, my words. However, from diagnosis to death, there were only three weeks. Time was not on my side. Though I couldn’t read to him my own words, I had the opportunity to read over him the very words of God hours before he left our presence, and that was certainly a greater joy to behold.
Alas, I still write. I write for him, to honor his life, though he’ll never know these words. I write for Teresa, Brent, Katie, and Ryan, as a gift to them, because there’s no gift more vulnerable and meaningful for me to give than my written words. They come from a place that spoken words can’t find. I write for Lily, Scott, Ruby, Harper, Bowen, and future VK grandchildren, so they can remember him. I write for myself, because sometimes exposing my heart heals my soul. And, I write for those who did not know him, hoping they will feel they did.
I grieve for Teresa, for navigating life without her steadfast companion at her side.
I grieve for Brent, Katie, and Ryan, for navigating life without the guidance, security, and present love of their earthly father.
I grieve for his grandchildren, for navigating life without his delight in them.
My grief has made me feel foolish at times. The enemy has loudly said to me many times, “He was just your father-in-law,” as if I don’t deserve the right to deeply feel the loss of him. It has angered me when I’ve known it to be a lie, and it has made me feel like a fool when I’ve believed the lie.
I’ve never felt as though he was just a father-in-law. He quickly became like a second father to me in my late teen years. God has doubly blessed me with a loving father and father-in-law who both point me to Christ. I felt like I belonged in the VK family long before I could claim the name.
I Must Tell Jesus
Mike had such a gladness about him when it came to his family. He was proud of us and he made sure everyone knew it. There are countless people walking this earth right now that know where we all live and work, what activities we’re involved in, what our hobbies are, what our accomplishments are, what cars we drive, where we go to church, and what color the floors and kitchen cabinets are at his house. We discovered that last bit after he passed. Every one of his work and church friends that visited commented on the recent changes to my in-law’s house. It was obvious Mike had shared in detail the options in paint colors and flooring he and Teresa were considering. It became a point of laughter for us. I don’t think he met anyone that didn’t leave without some amount of knowledge about us.
When I envision what it must look like for the Lord to rejoice over his children, to take great delight in us, to sing over us, I think of Mike. He was an earthly picture of God’s delight in us. We brought him increasing joy, but that did not come close to the joy he had in his Savior. Most of the time, that joy came out in singing and usually some energetic, loud clapping.
I partially blame Mike for my love of hymns and for my own delight in worshiping the Lord through song. His joy in singing aloud to God was always contagious, and I’m thankful I didn’t just know him as someone who worshipped God. I knew him as someone who led me to worship God. Long before I knew him as father-in-law, I knew him as the worship leader at my church.
One memory I cherish, which is actually a string of several years of memories, is of Mike leading the congregation at Philadelphia Baptist Church, where I grew up and where I met and married Brent. “I Must Tell Jesus” is a hymn that stands out. I’m not sure if he led that one frequently, or if the memory of that song just sticks with me. Merely leading the congregation to sing was never his style. He was declaring to us, worshipping with us, encouraging us, boldly proclaiming that Jesus alone can help us. His left hand holding the Baptist hymnal, his right hand keeping time, and his face beaming as he turned from the choir to the congregation and back again, because he delighted to sing the promises and truths of God with the saints. The same can be said if he was sitting at his computer playing Solitaire, listening to gospel hymns on YouTube and singing and clapping so loud the whole house could hear. There was no doubt his heart loved to worship his King.
First of all, calling you Mike has never felt natural. You’re more to me than the father of my husband. You loved me as your daughter for nearly twenty years.
Because of your love, I felt secure.
Because of your Godly wisdom, my path was clearer.
Because of your faith in Christ, I was encouraged in my faith.
Because of your hospitality, I always felt included.
Because you humbly owned your shortcomings, I have courage to do the same.
Because of your love for coffee, I never turn down a cup.
Because you took us camping just once, we bought a camper.
Because you loved a good gospel hymn, the sound of them is my comfort.
Because you loved me well, I miss you deeply.
Thank you seems to be the only fitting words to tell you on this anniversary of your death, but those words seem so empty and not quite enough at the same time. But grateful is what I am. It seems to be the theme of any grief I have. The root of it all is utter thankfulness. I grieve because I have loved and been loved, but lost. Underneath the love is deep thankfulness and humbleness that I’ve had to the chance to love and be loved. It’s not just gratitude for you, it’s ultimately gratitude to God for the grace He’s shown me through knowing you.
The reality of your absence is met with profound sorrow. The grief comes at times we expect, like today, and at other times it seems to come as a surprise. Either way, the grief hits hard when it comes. But God. Grieving is not the end. There is abundant joy waiting for all of those who are in Christ. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. Though it feels like there is no end to our sorrow, we know we will never see the end of God’s goodness.
But for now, we miss you because you loved us world’s full.