Today is my dad’s birthday; he would have been 69 today. He passed away in 2001. It’s very difficult when a child loses a parent, but what many do not know is how deep the grief is and how this impacts the child even after the parent is buried and becomes a memory. In honor of my father’s birthday, I wrote how losing him had deeply affected me and the lessons I learned from the anger and struggling to forgive and letting it go.
July 1, 2001 was one of the most difficult times of my life. Between May and June I fasted and begged God for a miracle. I found out in April that I was expecting my first child. My unborn child fasted with me; I knew God would sustain this baby without food and drink as I waited for His intervention. I trusted in His promises of fasting, “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it …hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall … thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward….Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am….” (Isaiah 58:6-9)
July 1st arrived with a phone call that crushed all my hopes, questioned my efforts and those of my relatives, confused me, and caused me to disbelieve God’s promises to my believing, faithful, heartfelt, real intent prayers and fasting. How could He not answer favorably? How could He not see that my faith was sufficient, that I was obedient, that I was His spirit child petitioning for mercy? How could he not answer like He did for the brother of Jared when He answered, “…. And thus I will do unto thee because this long time ye have cried unto me”(Ether 1:43) and then He took Jared and his family to the promise land. I did cry faithfully to Him for a long time. Why did He not answer me like He did the brother of Jared?
I was deeply disappointed and in profound sorrow. My biggest mortal inspiration, creditor, mentor, and advisor was taken from me. My father was dead. You see, death affects so many and it runs so deep, deep down where no one can see exactly how the hurt is for every person. No one could fully understand my unexpressed pain because I hid the pain quite well. I put forth a strong face, took care of my responsibilities, showed love as if everything was fine in Zion, but deep down I was hurting and I already knew that it was useless to tell anyone because there was nothing they could do for me.
You should know why this was one of the greatest trials of my life. My father dropped out of 9th grade, but his appetite and passion for a good education was salivating and unprecedented. In his faleo’o (hut), he nailed cardboard flaps on the faleo’o posts and with malala (black charcoals) wrote Math problems: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, negative numbers, positive numbers, decimals, and word problems. He waited for us to solve and then walked us through the solutions. My father knew this was our academic weakness and he made sure it was made strong. Before the teachers could teach me Math basics, my father did it all. His sacrifices were tremendous. He worked the land, sold taro, dried coconuts, and traded little keepsakes he had to get money for his children’s tuitions. If his crops didn’t sell in Salelologa (an open market in Savaii, Samoa), he would catch the last ferry to Upolu (the next island) so he could sell it at Fugalei market. Sometimes he asked his brothers and sisters for assistance. Providing for 10 children must have been very taxing, but he valued getting a good education to continue the sacrifices year after year. Our public education system is not free. Not only do parents pay tuition, but adding the expense of school uniforms and matching shoes can raise a parent’s stress level to 100-degrees or more. There were many times when I saw my dad go without shoes so my siblings and I could have.
My favorite thing to watch was his smile at the good news when we did very well academically. He was on top of the world. That was what I strived to do, to bring honor and healthy pride to my father and his name. I wanted to take good care of him when I get a good job. I wanted to see him smile and enjoy his old age when it is my turn to give back. But, that didn’t happen. This brought me great emotional afflictions.
I did not tell anyone about my sorrow because as one of the oldest children, I always felt no one knew how to give me help because I was one who gave care to my younger siblings and parents. So, I gave my situation time because someone said time would heal all wounds. I knew God existed, but since He didn’t answer me, I decided to just live this one out with no help from Him and it would dissipate. Every year I was in a funk. I terribly missed my dad, but I knew where he was – in a better place where he “will rest from all … troubles and from all care and sorrow” (Alma 40:12) and where there is no sickness. Even with this knowledge, it was not enough to comfort me or pull me out of my sorrow. I wondered if everyone had done their best and given their all to help my dad. He was given the wrong medication for his gout, which led to complications that killed him. How could this be when I hunted down the doctor in charge of him at the hospital, spoke with him via telephone and he promised me my dad would live a 100 years (no exaggeration here.) My mom refused to press charges. I was living out of country and just graduated college and the guilt of not being with him during his ordeal was too painful. Efforts by dad’s relatives living overseas to take him for medical treatment didn’t come fast enough.
Every year I wondered if everyone’s heart was fully wanting for my dad to be alive. Every year I wish I could do more. Every year I wish I had been there. Year after year I wonder “what if” so and so did ABC and 123. Every day I wish I could see my dad’s face one more time. I went through these questions and emotions repeatedly for all these years and it didn’t get any better. I believed time would heal my wounded soul, but it kept my disappointments raw. I wanted revenge. I wanted people who did wrong in this situation to suffer because they caused my suffering. I grew up in a culture where if someone hurts one of our family members, we make sure they get a piece of our revenge pie before we can begin any sort of peace talk. Holding grudges was not Christ-like, but it made me feel like I was doing myself a favor. I hated the nurses and doctors who offered care to my dad especially the one that told me with such surety that my dad would live. I began to be suspicious of every nurse and every doctor I met on this earth. To be honest, I was also angry with God for my dad’s death. I even questioned if having faith in God was worth anything because He didn’t heal my dad nor did He expedite medical efforts to save his life.
Even though I was sorely disappointed with God for the events surrounding my dad’s passing, I didn’t stop going to church, serving in my callings, helping my husband with raising our children making sure there was prayer, scripture study, family home evening, and the like. Some call that going through the motion, but it kept the revengeful me from going astray from the covenants I made. My heart still knew the gospel was true, but I angrily questioned why God let my dad die.
After 10 years, I felt I wasn’t going anywhere with my disbelief and sorrow; this rut held me captive for so long. The “what ifs” kept me feeling so low. I don’t remember doing anything to bring me out of my sorrowful self, until one day in 2011. I knew exactly where I was when this happened. I was on the Country Express Bus on the way home. As always, as soon as the bus hit this certain turn on the road, thoughts of my dad would fill my mind. I thought a lot about my dad after work because I regretted not being able to give back which depressed me all over. So, on this specific day when the bus hit this specific turn on the road, my thoughts turned to my dad, but amazingly this time I felt no sorrow, no pain, and no regret. I don’t know how it happened because I never asked God to take away my pain. I didn’t ask him to help me feel better and understand what was happening. Because I was so angry with God for not answering my fasts and prayers the way I wanted, I never thought to ask Him to take me out of my misery. Was it time that did the healing? Was it someone praying for me? Was it my dad praying for me to let go? Or, was it the Savior Jesus Christ who knows the heart and out of mercy decided to take the pain away? I believe the prayers of others were instrumental. I also believe no one, not even a doctor or medicine can take away the pain or guilt from anyone other than the Lord.
On this day, I was finally at peace with the situation. It felt oh so good! I remember smiling a huge grin! I came to accept and understand my emotions and situation. I remembered times I felt God’s love for me and how He answered my other prayers; I began to be at peace with dad’s passing. When I finally realized that God is in control and His will was done, I began to understand I did not lose anything; dad is alive, healthy, and well. When I came to myself and found that I was in mourning and experiencing grief as well as an unforgiving heart, I repented and asked God to help my unbelief, forgive me for being angry with Him and forgive those who have wrongly brought death to my heroic dad. Letting go and following Christ’s example was freeing and made my feelings light. Only then did I realize why my mom refused to sue; she was a saint, quick to forgive, never got angry from this experience and she was at peace. She told me, “O la lava e silafia e le Atua mea uma ma e tauia lava e ia tagata uma i lona lava taimi.” (God knows all things and will reward everyone in His own time.) She knew with absolute clarity that God knew the events that led to her husband’s death. She had no doubt that God will sort out this whole thing in His own time and way. Thank God for my mother!
I came to know that my dad’s death was a stepping-stone in building my faith and understanding of God’s love and power in my life though it took me a very long time. I still miss my dad, but his death is no longer attached to doctors, nurses, failed medical attempts and the “NO” answer to my prayers and fasting. It is an event that truly let me see God’s unfailing love and complete understanding of me as His child. Can you imagine if He zapped me when I got angry with Him? But He didn’t; His charity was sustaining and freely available. President Monson echoed this same truth, “God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve love; it is simply always there.” I believe this love had breathed life into me even when I didn’t see or feel it; this love has taken the pain away from me.
God continued to give me breath, strength, and prolong my life so that I could come to myself, repent, and understand my feelings. And when I was ready to trust Him, I experienced healing. My faith increased, I repented, and gained His mercy and forgiveness. This freed up my spirit to feel, to live life and allow the Holy Ghost to soften me so I could be more useful. My prayers have changed their intensity and quality. My service to my family and others has been done more joyfully and wholeheartedly. I have found more of myself to give and I have been happy ever since.
Time is needed to process, but it does not heal. Sometimes, the healing process BEGINS after we mourn, groan, and grow to understand our emotions and the situation we are in. Other times, it STARTS when we are trying to find ourselves in the darkest of moments questioning what we believe, showing up to duty even with dark clouds swirling within us, listening to truths although we are unsure about them, and getting on with life. But, in time, we will come to our own turning point on the road where only us understand its peace and rightness and realize that God heals us even without us knowing it; He sends light even without us asking for it because He deeply cares and loves us, and He gives us agency to do as we choose because He trusts that we will choose to return to Him. When we return, we will remember the One Jesus Christ who advocates our cause and case before God. He pleads for us; I believe He pleaded for me when I did not beg for myself due to my anger, pride and ignorance. He gives us our very breath to go through the gloomiest phases and sheds tender mercies so our burden is light. Jesus is the very best of the Father and the ultimate symbol of God’s love for us all. From Christ come light, love, peace, blessings, and real healing. Time does not heal. Jesus Christ is the author and FINISHER of our healing. Jesus Christ heals majestically and completely! He makes all the difference.
HAPPY HEAVENLY BIRTHDAY TO THE BEST DAD FOR ME! I KNOW YOU ARE FREE OF PAIN. I TOO AM FREE OF ANGER, REGRET, AND HURT. SENDING HUGS AND KISSES TO HEAVEN FOR YOU.