12 years ago today, my dad dropped dead of a heart attack. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 12 years. I was 21 and had just graduated college. Now, many years of life later and with 3 kids that my dad never got to see – it seems like forever.
Death was a wake-up call for me. I learned the bitter bite and sting of the finality of death. There was no one more time to say goodbye or hug him – it was done and there’s no going back. I also learned whether or not what I believed about Heaven was real and if I truly trusted and believed that my dad was with Jesus.
It took me about 7 to 8 years to properly grieve my dad’s death. I learned a lot about grieving and that’s it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to talk about someone after they’ve gone and it’s okay to look at pictures and share stories about him.
It’s been a process and a journey. I hope most people get to make it to their 40s or 50s before losing a parent, but that was not my path. My 6 and a 1/2 year old son is named Tommy after my dad: Tom Atkinson. Each of my children have something about them that reminds me of my dad (my mom, too – who is still alive).
The biggest lesson I learned was that life is precious. I have to remember this as I minister to people who have lost a loved one. Even if they are 80 or 90 years old, they are someone’s dad or spouse or brother and it’s painful. I know that now and I have a different sensitivity about death now than I did when I first started out in ministry at the age of 18.
I can still remember the last time I looked my dad in the eyes. It was the day before he died and I was leaving his house. My wife was gathering up stuff and I was standing and waiting while my dad was seated looking up at me. We locked eyes and smiled at the situation. I had no idea it would be the last time I saw him alive.
Today I honor my dad. He became a Christian as an adult after my mom led him to Christ. He raised us well and was a faithful, honorable, man of integrity. He taught me about tithing and giving and imparted to me a strong work ethic. He came to all my sports games, musical recitals and loved to visit the church where I served while in college. He ran a family business and I was the only one that wasn’t a part of it. That didn’t bother him – he was proud that I was in vocational ministry. I’m proud to be his son.