I spent my birthday writing the eulogy for my father’s funeral. The same day I dropped my youngest son off at college, Daddy went into the hospital and died less than a week later. I erroneously thought things couldn’t get worse, but then a few days later a friend I had so much fun teaching Vacation Bible School with this past summer died unexpectedly and just after daddy’s funeral, tragedy struck friends whose 24-year-old son was killed in a car accident.
My already bruised heart went into overload. I was exhausted but couldn’t sleep and grieving but couldn’t cry. My prayer was simply, “Help! I don’t know what to pray for.”
One dear friend who is almost 100 years old, sent me a note to say that not a day has gone by since she lost her father, when she hasn’t seen his face or heard his voice. I didn’t quite understand how that could happen.
Instead of lifting our eyes unto the mountains for our strength, our family has always felt power come from the blue-green waters at the beach, so as an act of distraction, my husband drove me down to the Gulf. Daddy loved to fish and would joke, “The Gulf is good for what ails you.” Chiggers? Burn? Coughing? Sneezing? “Go jump in the salt water.”
I dove into the waves with my broken heart and swam through the surf. The water was cool and shimmered in the early September afternoon. I picked up a few seashells and walked along the edge of the water.
Since Daddy served as the minister of music and youth director for several churches, we incorporated hymns into his funeral service. Mother was firm about keeping the tone uplifting, so even though I remembered Daddy saying he liked, “The Old Rugged Cross” we decided to omit it in favor of more upbeat favorites like, “Blessed Assurance.” My Dad’s former youth choir members who are now grown, made up a choir that sang the 23rd Psalm and the two pastors who conducted the service were also former members of his youth group.
Returning from the beach, we decided to stop at a beachside joint and grab a bite to eat. While waiting on our food, a man entertained the crowd with his guitar. After singing several standard beach tunes, of all things, he began to sing “The Old Rugged Cross.” Right there in a restaurant with sand on the floor and a bar serving frozen margaritas as the stage’s backdrop, was one of my Dad’s favorite hymns. Only in the South — the sunburned beach crowd quieted, and many began to sing along. With warm harmony drifting over the slaw and grilled oysters, tired children, still sticky with sunscreen, were cuddled in their mother’s arms, and the familiar hymn was never more perfect.
“Then he’ll call me someday to my home far away, where his glory forever I’ll share.”
With my hair in ringlets still dripping with salt water and salty tears in my eyes, I suddenly remembered my friend’s note. “There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t see his face or hear his voice.” I finally understood that memories can surface when you least expect them, even in the sound of strangers singing together at a beachside dive. It was at that moment I heard him whisper, “I told you the Gulf is good for what ails you.”
To read or share this story from AL.com click HERE. This story will appear next Sunday in The Huntsville Times, The Birmingham News and the Press-Register.
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