A Grief Journey Part 1

Photo (c) 2015 Danny Gilleland                 Dad and I 
 This will be an intermittent series, in that I will occassionally post to the process that I am experiencing in order to help some of you work through your losses as we journey down thie path together.

Reflections on the loss of mom and dad.

I’ve been away for a few weeks. Since early December there have been a couple of tectonic shifts in my life, predictable but none this less, life changing. Types of life events that cause one to stop, ponder, and recalibrate. In early December we buried my mom, who was 86 and had been in a year’s long battle with the life stealing disease known as COPD. She died at home with family and friends surrounding her as she breathed her last breath and took her first breath in the presence of Jesus. My sisters, brother and my dad, her husband for nearly were with her has she passed on.

Her memorial service was simple and beautiful just like she wanted. A tribute to the Lord and a testimony to the various ways that she invested in others through her business life and her ministry to migrant workers with my dad. After spending a couple of days with my dad and my siblings, I headed back home to be with my wife and family.

Over the next several week’s dad and I talked at least three of four times a week. We both needed to talk to each other as we navigated our recovery path of grief together. My usual talk with dad was on Thursday afternoon after work. He would bring me up to date on the latest news from Georgia and after he asked about his grandkids and great grandkids we’d talk politics, what we were reading or about the Lord.

The last time we spoke was Tuesday morning on the January 10th while I was driving to Shipwreck, New Mexico to a speaking engagement and health fair. Little did I know that it would be the last conversation with Dad on this earth.

I was finishing up a business trip to the Navajo Indian Hospital in Shiprock, NM when I received an incoming call from my brother Thomas. In my family about the only time you get a call during work, hours is either to announce something great or to share bad news.

When he told me that Dad had passed away my brain immediately felt overwhelmed, much like you feel if you have every been around a microburst coming our of one of our late summer monsoons in the southwest, intense wind, blowing sand and disorienting, driving rain that can come and go in just a few minutes.  Once I was got my bearings my siblings, and I was able to talk and comfort each other while we began talking about an appropriate way to honor him. I called my wife kids and headed back to Albuquerque.

The two-hour trip from Shipwreck to Gallup was typical of many of our winter days in the southwest,  beautiful clear blue skies, the Majestic Shipwreck outcrop (pictured) a sparsely populated desert landscape with little settlements like Little Water, and Sheep Springs, and Tohatchi reminded me that I was traveling through the Navajo Nation. In that first two hour leg, I did a lot of praying and thinking. I was hitting the rewind button reviewing the highlight reels of my dad’s life as I thought, wept, and prayed on the way home. Arriving in Gallup, I turned left on the Interstate highway that would take me back to the warm embrace of my Albuquerque as we processed the loss of Papa.

That evening day we met to cry, laugh, love and support each other as we sought to comfort ourselves as well as the family in Fort Valley.

Over the past several years I don’t know how many times Dad told me his prayer was to live long enough to help mama until it was for her to be with the Lord. And that is what he did. He provided my mom with tender loving care, encouragement, prayer and support as she entered into the final life of her journey on this earth.

I found out from my cousin Susan that my grandfather Popi did the same thing for his wife, Bertha. Every day that he could he would drive his 1953 Buick from our home in Fort Valley to the nursing home in Marshallville, Ga.

What a legacy in a culture where way too many people bail when the going gets tough.
Even in the death of both of my parents, like many of your family, they took the vows they made seriously. To love and to cherish in sickness, and in health, for richer, for poorer, until death do us part. While their marriage was not perfect, it was one based on fidelity and enduring love and commitment.

Like many of the old trees along the Flint River, whose roots run deep, my mom and dad endured seasons of life as husband, wife, and parents with grace. From the birth of the 5 Thurman kids, through my brother mike’s death over thirty years ago as well as  the seasons of wandering that some of us went through.

 Through all of our lives as we went through the various stages of life their faith in God and each other seemed unflappable, their love unconditional.  Like many of you reading this blog, they experienced the ebbs and flows of life with a quiet dignity and a firmly established faith.
As a father, dad was a great provider, wise counselor, gentle disciplinarian, and always a supporter of Mama as well as each of us. In my memory he sought to treat each of us as unique as opposed to treating us like the Thurman heard. When some of us, wandered off the path dad would usually quietly attempt to engage us, challenge us and more often than not gently nudge us back on the right track.

Dad was also a man of faith. My earliest memory of his personal faith was observing him praying, on his knees every night for about a half and hour.

Dad’s example was a strong influence on my siblings and I as we have spent out lives serving others in different capacities. His influence, character and gentle leadership has helped all of us come to our spiritual discoveries.

Dad loved his country and community. As a matter of fact, Dad only took two vows in his life, one to the Lord and mom as his marriage vow and the other as a young Navy Officer to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States in the closing days of WWII. All of my life he has been helping people and strongly encouraged all of us to do the same. 

I am thankful for parents who loved to read and taught us the value of reading. As a writer, this was truly a gift that they imparted to me. A few years ago, I was attending the Class Seminars Writer’s Conference in New Mexico. In one of my classes, the instructor gave us the assignment to think of a fictional character that would be appropriate for one of our life heroes. I chose Atticus Finch, from To Kill a MockingBird. Growing up, particularly during some of those tough days in the 60s and early seventies dad taught us the importance of respecting the dignity of every man and woman, he taught us that as God’s children that we were to be accepting of others, showing them kindness, grace, and mercy.  Another lesson that he taught us was how to think critically and to engage in meaningful conversation. And though I am more like Mama, Dad did try to teach us the importance of listening before we speak.  All of us Thurman children, grandchildren, and extended family members learned so much from him, sometimes taught, but more often caught. We are forever thankful to the Lord that He allowed us to be the children of a man with such a deep and abiding love for his wife, the Lord,  and his children. He will forever, in our hearts and minds as a man of quiet strength, deep love, profound faith and humility, who always had a great story to share.

Here are three truths;

People Die, Families, Friends and Communities come together to support, and God endures.

St Paul says in 2 Cor 1:2-3 Praise is to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in our trouble so that we can comfort others.
On behalf of we want to sincerely thank you for being the comforting hands and feet of Jesus as we as individuals, as a family and you, our community work through our grief.

Next week I will be sharing more of Leading and Living in Your Strengths.

​(c) 2017 John H. Thurman Jr.

Let me know what you think.

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