I begin by praying for God to guide my words, that they continue to glorify Him.
I think everyone, at some point in their lives, will experience at least one fairly significant “life-changing” event. And for each person the impact of these events on their lives and the lives of those around them varies greatly. It has broken my heart, recently, when I’ve heard people say to me, “I know this doesn’t compare to what you are going through but…” and carry on to tell me of something that has drastically affected their lives. My mountain is no greater than theirs, my hurt is no deeper, it’s just different. So as I begin to share our story with you, please rest assured, I acknowledge your struggles, I pray for your peace, and hope that you allow yourself to realize that this is just our story. And it is not more or less difficult than your own… it’s only different.
11 June 2017
John and I, along with our two precious babies left home, headed for Sunset Beach. I was, admittedly, less than enthusiastic, due to the pretty miserable few weeks I’d had battling morning sickness. But I was also very excited to get to spend time with my family, it didn’t happen as often as I’d like. Looking back, I believe God truly blessed me that week. The sickness had eased up enough for me to be functional and actually begin to look forward to the time. I can replay those days over in my head, as though they were just yesterday. Every detail is so engrained in my memory, so tangible. I can feel the breeze on my skin, the warmth. I can smell the salty air and remember the precious hug my daddy gave me as he welcomed us to the house, asking how I was feeling. He knew me better than to believe me when I told him I was “good”. I’ll never forget his response, “Mmm hmmm, liar” as he gave me his Ron Howard eye roll/smirk. I remember appreciating how much he still worried about me, even though I’m 30 years old. He was still my daddy, and I was still his little girl.
He helped us unload and eagerly took us upstairs to show us where we’d be staying and the porch swing he’d enjoyed spending his last 36 hours laying on. It was so beautiful, serene, peaceful. Our room looked out over the waterway while the rooms on the other side of the house overlooked the ocean. The divinity of our time there doesn’t escape me, we all noticed it… but I’ll get to that later. Not long after we arrived, he began his round of goodbyes… he was headed home, then to Washington D.C. for some business. He’d planned to return with my brother, KC, on Tuesday morning. It will never be lost to me that so much of what happened during this time was SO God-planned. At first, thinking of this made me angry. How could our loving God plan for such tragedy to strike our family in such an incredible way? How could he divinely structure so many perfect moments all leading up to such incredible pain? But now I realize, He did it all because He loves us so much. My dad’s days were numbered, before he was conceived. Christ showed us such grace in allowing us so many precious moments before we lost the man we all loved so very much.
As he was preparing to leave, my nephew (Christopher) was absolutely insistent on saying goodbye to Grandpa. He stood at the back door, soaking wet, asking anyone he could find to make sure Grandpa came to him so he could say goodbye. When Dad made it around to Christopher he gave him a big hug and told him he’d see him in just a couple of days, and would take him on a helicopter ride when he got back. I recall saying to my dad, after Christopher headed back to the pool, “He is really attached to you right now. I thought he was going to drive Mary crazy making sure she found you before you left.” He smiled, one that touched his eyes, and said something along the lines of, “He’s such a sweet boy.” My dad had such a special place in his heart for all of his grandchildren, but Christopher was someone so special to him.
I continue on, and as I do, I realize this is long. But I’m not sorry. I want to share every shred of memory that I have of those days. I never want to forget them. And I want anyone who wants to know about this time to have the opportunity.
Yet another “God moment” came as my son, Miller, insisted that he was going with Grandpa in the helicopter. He very patiently stood in front of John and pushed him further into the house, telling him he’d be staying there. He then proceeded to do the same with me. My dad looked at me and said, “I can’t leave without taking him on a ride. My heart would break the whole way home.” I laughed and hugged him quickly, not knowing that would be the very last time I would have the opportunity to do so, on this Earth. He, John, and Miller headed out the door for a quick trip in the HELO. I watched them take off, then land again shortly after. As John and Miller stood waving goodbye, I snapped this picture, not knowing the significance of this moment, or this photograph. It was the last time I would see him alive. The rest of the evening went on as planned. Together at the house were Mary (my dad’s wife), Chris & Annie (Mary’s brother and sister-in-law), Katie (KC’s wife- I’ll call her Katie H. for clarification), their three kids, John, our kids, and me. KC had to stay back, also for work, and was going to be joining Dad when he returned- as I mentioned before.
12 June 2017
The next morning we woke up and got ready to head to the beach. Even that day I remember looking back and wondering if anything felt different when I woke up, as I couldn’t imagine (and still can’t) that my world, and my days, could continue in any sort of normal fashion without my dad’s soul in it. As much as I wish I could say that something felt different, it would be a lie. I remember sitting in my beach chair, sometime around 9:45-10:00, watching John, Christopher, and the kids playing in the ocean when I got a call from my brother. He asked me if Katie was with me and I told him that she’d headed back up to the house with the kids for a few minutes. The next part still makes me shake my head and wonder how it could be true. He slowly began, “Katie, I’m so sorry I have to do this, but Dad passed away this morning.” Of course I never believed that, so I told him that he wasn’t funny. He repeated himself saying, “Katie, I wish I were joking, but he died this morning.” The pain that exploded through my soul at that moment still takes my breath away. I screamed, like, well, as though my father had died; a gut-wrenching, painful, likely scary-to-those-around-me scream. And they didn’t stop. They just kept coming, while my poor brother listened to me on the other end of the phone. And then came the hyperventilating, my first thought being, “I’m going to lose our baby. My body can’t handle this pain and sustain a life inside me.” John ran up, asking me what was wrong. I handed him the phone and just cried, and cried, and screamed. I saw him bend to his knees in front of me, like he’d been punched in the stomach. Christopher ran up by the time the screams had subsided, and looked at me saying, “What, Aunt Katie? Oh please no, who? What happened? Who?” The only words I could put together were, “Christopher, I’m so sorry, it’s Grandpa.” I look back now and wish I could have been more for him in that moment. He’d lost his best friend. But I couldn’t. I was consumed in a grief so deep I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through, much less help hold someone else, as selfish as that sounds. I still feel guilty about my handling of this situation with him, but pray that I can find peace with it.
The rest of that day was a blur. I remember getting back on the phone with KC and asking for more information. My heart still breaks for the burden that he had to carry that day, and all the days since. What an incredible man he is! Blinded through tears I made my way back to the house, calling my mom on the way, weeping to her about what had happened. The first person I saw was Katie H, as I returned to the house. She was also in tears, the shock was so evident in everyone. No one knew what was real, what wasn’t, and what to do next. I knew I needed to find Mary, my heart broke for her so intensely, I couldn’t imagine her pain. When I found her with Chris and Annie, I just remember telling her how sorry I was, and her saying the same to me. We wept, and broke, there together for a time. Afterwards, we all just found our places, and cried. All day. It was the most tragic day of my life, probably all of our lives. The pain still grips me in a way I can’t describe.
Thankfully, a pilot from IOMAX was able to fly my sister and brother down to the beach to be with us that afternoon. John and I drove to the small runway strip there at Sunset Beach to pick them up. I can’t express the relief I felt when the three of us were together, in that moment. It was the first piece of our puzzle in this new life we were beginning. We are a team, one that Dad always intended for us to be. The next few days carried on much like the first, but we were all together. And here is where I come back to the divinity of this situation, that didn’t escape us. We commented on it several times during our time at the beach. Only Ron Howard would die and leave his family at a perfectly peaceful beach house to mourn together. I couldn’t imagine having been anywhere else. If we’d been home, the families would have been spread out and trying to find a way to be together. This was so well orchestrated, there is no doubt that God had His hand in it from the beginning. It may have appeared strange to some that we continued on with our vacation after such an event. But let me tell you, that was no vacation! While it was beautiful in more ways than one, it’s no trip I ever want to repeat!
I’m unsure of how to conclude this particular entry because the grief of losing our father will never end. I guess the best way would be to acknowledge that in the time that has passed since June 12th, I’ve come to a better understanding of God’s grace, and knowing that His will is not always our own. But I believe, with all of my heart, that my Dad is at complete and utter peace- which for those of you who knew him recognize is a blessing that he didn’t enjoy much of in his time here. That’s not to say he wasn’t a happy man or that his life didn’t give him a great deal of satisfaction. He carried so many burdens, many of which weren’t even his own, and dealt with more stress than I think one man should ever have to handle. To know that he is free from it all, and is happy in every way imaginable, brings me some solace. I miss him every minute of every day, and will for the rest of my life. But we praise God for the eternity that we have to look forward to in heaven!