The sun glared. The heat wrapped us up in its devouring embrace.
“By the statue of the Agony in the Garden,” I mumbled.
“I found the grave,” my brother said.
I stared at the stone. In gray and black it spelled out very few facts about the man:
James William Key, MD
January 30, 1953 – July 2, 2003
I found that I couldn’t cry at the grave.
After leaving the cemetery we stopped by the church he was raised in, where he had taken us, and where his funeral was held. When I entered the chapel, my heart became confused. It both sank deep into my stomach and somehow also rose up to my throat. I stared at the golden monstrance, stared at the Body of Christ, and did my best to offer it all up to him. In the restaurant we went to at lunch, I felt like my face gave me away. People looked up at me as I walked towards our table, and they looked into my eyes. I tried to smile, but I think the eyes gave me away. There they found the impenetrable sadness, the grief unexpressed.
Yesterday marked the 12th anniversary of my father’s death. July 2nd has been the weirdest day of the year for me since then. Not necessarily the saddest, but certainly the strangest. It’s hard to put into words, but I need to try. That’s why I’m writing this post, so that I might be able to formulate both to myself and to those around me the state of my heart on July 2nd.
The cold and curt gravestone cannot capture who the man was. He had been a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a friend, a doctor, a Catholic, a football player and coach, a lover of musicals, a fan of the Beatles, a restorer of the family beach house. He was many wonderful things. But people are complicated. He was complicated, too. He was sad, very sad. An inexplicable sadness, an incurable pain clouded over him. It was his cross that he did not know how to bear. Not only was he sad, he was also angry at times. He couldn’t really control it. He was sick as well as sad. He was very sick. Because of the sickness, he sometimes said and did terrible things. Though he never physically hurt me, sometimes I was afraid of him. But mostly, I loved him, and I was sad that he was so sad. I was only eight when he died. I couldn’t process it. I couldn’t understand it. I wept for hours. I remember going to the viewing, and seeing his body in the casket and thinking, “Surely he’s going to wake up now. It’s all just been an elaborate misunderstanding, an elaborate joke.” But he never woke up, and the casket was closed. On the day of the funeral, I had a difficult time crying. I thought that I ought to be crying as his daughter. But I couldn’t. My emotions were mixed. I loved my dad, and I was so sad that he was gone, but in a terrible way I was relieved, too because I also feared him at times. And then I felt even more terrible for feeling relieved. How could a daughter be relieved by her father’s death?
My mixed feelings spiraled and I spent my third grade year in a depression that my classmates could not understand.
On July 2nd of every year, I still have mixed feelings. I have sorely felt his absence in my life. Now those feelings are dominated by a sadness for his sickness, and I am no longer relieved that he’s gone. But I began to build walls to “protect myself” from others when I was 8, and I really only stopped building them when I was 16 or 17. Since then, I have been working on taking them back down and truly embracing the people around me. However, it’s all a process. I rediscover new walls often. I cry my eyes out on days where nothing significant has happened, but I simply recall a new facet to the man who was my dad. Yet I can’t cry on the anniversary of my dad’s death. He was complicated. I am complicated. Life is complicated.
Something I have learned from the things that have happened to those that I love and from the things that have happened to me is that you never know what cross someone is bearing. Most people I meet, and probably most people who read this probably had no idea that my dad, his death, and his memory have been some of my most profound struggles in my life. We never know the cross people are bearing. Often, people are struggling up Calvary, and they feel that they must struggle in silence. Often, people struggle and manifest their stress in being unkind or violent because they do not know how else to release their pain.
Man struggles. Man is wounded. Our world and our hearts have been invaded by the horrors of sin, suffering, and death. We are the walking wounded. But I implore you, whatever it is that you are struggling with, let not your wounds wound others. I have spent too much of the last 12 years wounding others because of the wounds I carry and the walls I built. Instead of wounding further, try a healing course. If you are wounded spend time thinking of the people around you who are also surely carrying wounds. Let your wounds make you more compassionate and more empathetic towards those you meet. Begin to heal the wounds instead of harming others; help instead of hindering relationships by your walls. Allow your wounds help you embrace faith, hope, and charity. I need to allow my wounds, and Jesus Christ my Healer, to do the same for me.
Please pray for me and my family and the crosses we bear. Please know I’m praying for you, too. May God bless you on this strange yet marvelous journey of life.