Compassionate Love: Displaying Compassion for Those Who Struggle with Mental Illness (c)2015 Nancy Virden
(This is my dad’s eulogy as I shared it at his funeral December 24, 2015)
Dads are big. Dads speak into our lives and help to shape our beliefs. How we view ourselves and the world, as well as the life choices we make can be powerfully influenced by our dads. They show us by example how to be. Hopefully they are protectors and wise.
My dad was a mixed bag as are we all. He lived a long life sometimes getting it right, and sometimes getting it wrong. His relationships thrived and languished, his faith was strong and weak, and he succeeded and failed.
Who did you experience my dad to be? How will you reflect on this friend, brother, uncle, father, and grandfather? Today we celebrate my dad’s wins. He was rich with gifts he offered to us and to this town. Following our heavenly Father’s example, we place anything else under grace.
Goodbye Dad. Hello.
Hello to sweet memories. My first datable memory of dad was the day of JFK’s death, when at age 2 1/2, I wanted to cross the street to the Alliance hospital to help the hurt man feel better. It was Dad who prevented me from running into traffic. Years later, he carried me across that street when my foot got mangled in his bicycle wheel.
One of the biggest surprises of my life happened on Christmas 1968. We went shopping at the old Carousel store in Canton. I saw rows and rows of teddy bears, and especially liked a particular brown one. We were in the car ready to go home when dad said he left something in the store. Christmas morning, “Chocolate” as I named her was under the tree. This bear has been with me since, ever the reminder that I was important to my dad.
Six years ago he was relieved to have landed a room in the Community Care Center with a window directly across from that old hospital and our original home. He would point at Burt St. where he taught me to ride a bike, and would reminisce about letting go of the seat to watch me balance and ride without his help. He remembered placing pennies on the train tracks with Steve and me. From that window he sadly watched the old hospital, house, and neighborhood transform into a parking lot.
In 1970, dad moved us to the country. Dad’s love for dogs is why he rescued an abused one and gave him to us as a pet. Seezer, a red-orange long-haired mutt with no sense, had that God-like gift of grace – an amazing capacity to love unconditionally. Most dogs do, and I wonder if that is why my dad was never without one.
He raised his own Caesar in the 80s, a beautiful boxer with a gentle giant temperament. This was my dad’s all-time favorite dog. Dad bragged about the tender way Caesar played with a baby. He saved pictures of Caesar with his regular outdoor playmate, a wild rabbit. He spoiled Caesar with peanut butter, and Caesar spoiled him back with sloppy kisses. He never stopped talking about that dog, and a portrait of Caesar sat framed in my dad’s room in the Care Center.
Dad loved country life. One day when I was a pre-teen, I heard a shout. “Nancy! Come here. Now! Hurry!” I raced outside only to find him staring at something across the yard. About 25 feet away stood a crow just looking at us, completely unconcerned. “Listen,” Dad said.
“Hello,” said the crow. “Hello, hello.”
Dad enjoyed sharing that moment with me, and reminded me to never forget it because talking crows in the wild are rare. We laughed, and he was pleased when I brought it up 40 years later.
Goodbye Dad. Hello.
Hello to gratitude. No doubt the gusto for life that led my dad to hop in a pick-up truck at age 18 and cross the country with a friend, was the spirit he wanted to pass on to us – independent and boundary less. Because of his love for experiences, he provided them. Steve and I each saw Europe. In the US, our family visited historical and natural sites from the east coast to the Rocky Mountains. We traveled up to Canada and down to Florida. Because of him, I learned bee-keeping, small farming, and construction.
We met astronaut-turned senator John Glenn at the US Capitol. I sat in the chair of the Speaker of the House, and again my dad cautioned me to never forget that one-time opportunity.
Dad enjoyed throwing parties, and was responsible for convincing leadership to allow the first co-ed gathering at Cleveland Bible College in the 1950s. His ability to plan and execute events was also evidenced by his work with the Lions Club. In the country we had space for Dad to build tall outdoor bonfires. Capture the Flag after dark lured groups of teenagers into crisscrossing acres of trees, fields, and water under moonlight, with s’mores and roasted hot dogs as our reward. Because of him, this city girl had a lot of fun, and still has a country heart.
It seemed everywhere we went in town, Dad was greeted by someone he knew. I can almost hear numerous voices saying, “Hello, Carl!” Those run-ins were always interesting. I’m grateful I learned to meet people and how to be friendly. As a child, I thought he was famous.
Goodbye, Dad. Hello.
Hello to grace. God is bigger than dads. He is our shelter, our longing, and our rescue from the ravages of hate and selfishness. He sent his Son Jesus to die in our place, sparing us the deadly wages we earn through disobedience. His grace is not to be treated with disrespect, however. When we pursue selfish desires instead of him, we pay heavy consequences. Eternity is not to be mocked, and neither is the justice of this overwhelmingly enormous God who holds our fates in his hands. Sometimes we get that, and sometimes we miss it.
Like my dad, we are all mixtures of honesty and deceit, kindness and severity, faith and doubt. We do not have the power to love without fault, and that’s okay because it is not in the “doing” that we experience grace. In a rare quiet moment hours before his death, I held my dad’s hand and told him this truth. “The only thing you ever had to be for me to love you, was my dad. The only thing you ever had to do for God to love you unconditionally, was exist.”
I read Micah 7:18-20 while waiting those final hours. “You (God) will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!” That promise is for my dad, me, and anyone who responds to God in repentance. Grace has a name, and it is Jesus.
And by God’s grace, one day, Hello.
Comments are always welcome (see tab below). NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.