Ten years ago today, my father-in-law died.
He wasn’t my father-in-law then, but the dad of my relatively new boyfriend. The boyfriend I knew I loved, but hadn’t discussed marriage with yet. It was too soon for that.
I didn’t know if I would hold David’s hand forever, but I knew I had the privilege of holding it through that season. I met half of David’s relatives for the first time while they sat with Larry during his last night on earth. I stopped by to drop off food, trying to be as helpful as possible while not intruding. I met the other half of David’s family at Larry’s memorial service.
Being the new girlfriend during such a raw time produced a unique struggle – a funny push and pull of wanting to be supportive of my best friend, but also knowing I didn’t have a permanent place in the family.
Those feelings from a decade ago still sit with me, but they’ve morphed slightly. Now I feel the unique struggle of not actually knowing someone whose life played such a key role in mine. Without Larry, the three people I love most would not exist, yet I never had a real conversation with him. It’s something I think about a lot.
Picture for a minute a long, skinny room. A sky bursting with all the colors of a glorious sunrise and brilliant sunset comprises the ceiling. Soft mounds of pure white clouds make up the ground. Does it sound heavenly? Because that’s exactly where I am describing. At least in my mind.
There’s something special about the tufts of clouds on the ground, though. They aren’t just clouds, but a way for those in heaven to check in with earth periodically – to tune-in and watch special events: birthdays, weddings, graduations, new babies entering the world.
I have absolutely no idea what first put this image in my head; it’s likely a response of my childhood imagination to the well-meaning platitude that those who die are watching over us. I’m sure it’s not biblical, but for as long as I can remember I have pictured these Cloud TVs.
Many people I love dearly are in heaven, and visualizing them watching small snippets of my life like I watch my favorite movies always brings a smile to my face. I most often think of Larry in front of his Cloud TV. I can’t say exactly what his opinion of our family would be, but I bet he smiles a lot.
Right now, we live in a city where he never visited us, in a house he’s never seen, with two little girls he’s never met. Yet there are traces of him everywhere.
A wooden cross he made hangs on the wall by our family wedding pictures, a symbol that he was such an important part of the celebration, even though he wasn’t physically there. I walk past it an immeasurable number of times a day and think of him.
He built the desk David works at. First owned by David’s older brother, it moved its way through a few other family members before landing in our home.
There’s the tools David uses for projects around the house and the bible he reads, all of which used to belong to Larry.
And then there are those little girls. Ellie has his smile and Lauren has his name.
It seems wrong he never got to meet them. That Grandpa Larry exists only in pictures and conversations about what it must be like to live in heaven.
The other day, after one such conversation, Ellie told me she was going to play “heaven” during her quiet time, but she couldn’t figure out what stuffed animal could be God and what stuffed animal could be Grandpa Larry. Unable to find the perfect fit for them, she abandoned her plan and moved on to coloring.
Her musings left me glowing with the realization that even though she doesn’t know him, she knows him. Just how I feel as though I know him, too.
This is no one’s first choice, but it’s good enough until heaven isn’t an afternoon game to play, but home.
You’ve been gone a long time, but you are thought of daily. That probably doesn’t matter to you, considering you’re in the presence of God, but to my human mind it’s comforting, so I thought you should know.
There are just a few things I want to thank you for publicly today, since I can’t tell you in person.
Thank you for my family.
Thank you for letting me spend an hour of your last days with you, watching NASCAR and holding your hand.
Thank you for helping to raise David to be the most amazing husband and father. He is incredible and his hard work makes him excel at so many things. I hear he gets that hard-working trait from you. I hope you really do have a Cloud TV and that you watch him from time to time; I know you would be so proud.
Today I’ll play with your granddaughters and we’ll talk about Grandpa Larry who lives in heaven. I’d like to think you’re having a big party.
I miss you, I love you, and I’m excited to really get to know you for myself someday.