Chaplain Bill on Death, Grieving, & the Loss of a Loved One.

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I do apologize for this lengthy post, but I do find with writing it tends to be very therapeutic for me, as for some, it is to talk with someone about how they are “feeling.” I do, in a sense, somewhat, find it “flattering,” that some people have told me that they have benefited from my writings, so perhaps maybe this post will do the same. So, bear with me if you are not use to reading lengthy posts, my only hope is that when you are finished reading this, you will find yourself encouraged in some way, shape, or form, if you have lost someone close to you that you loved.

What I find remarkable is that after the completion of the first draft of this article, and no less than five minutes later, a woman that I know from high school contacted me. We had not talked to in quite a while.

She had no idea that I had even written this article but I nonetheless asked how she was doing.

She then answered saying, “I’ m okay… coming up on a year since my dad passed…it’s hard but I’m coping..”

I then shared this article with her then and there. It is truly amazing how God works sometimes. You never know when He is going to use you for His glory, and it is quite an honor when you see it be done in this type of fashion. You will get a better understanding of why, once you read on.

Birthdays are a tradition that usually call for a time of great celebration. I mean why not, right? It is another year of life for an individual. Tradition calls for gifts, hence “birthday presents”, a special happy birthday song, and all too common – the cake, with the number of candles on it to show the person’s age; and then with their eyes closed, a secret wish, and with a quick blow – the candle flames are extinguished. Unfortunately, for those that loved my dad the most, there will be no cake this year and every year thereafter, with candles, to be able to witness him personally blowing them out. Today would have been my Dad’s 78th Birthday. In the book I wrote, “Blue Collar Believer,” I dedicate much of my time to writing about him.

The photo I shared with this post is the last picture I took of my dad and me. There is no need to get into specifics of it, I think “as it is” it speaks volumes. As the old English idiom goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” referring to “the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image or that an image of a subject conveys its meaning or essence more effectively than a description does.” That definition first appeared in a 1911 newspaper.

Anyhow, on the morning of September 11, 2015, whispering words of comfort, with tears in my eyes, I watched my dad take his final breath at 10:47 a.m. with “On the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding on the radio station in the background. It seemed fitting, for this is what he told me he wanted to do all throughout the time I was caring for him while he was on hospice—“sit on a dock of a bay and watch ships come in”, but we never had the chance to do it together. But as some of the song lyrics go:

“Sittin’ in the morning sun, I’ll be sittin’ when the evening
comes. Watching the ships roll in. Th en I watch them roll
away again, yeah. I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay. Watchin’
the tide roll away, ooh. I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay,
Wastin’ time. Sittin’ here resting my bones.”

Not that I regret I was not able to help him fulfill this wish, but I can certainly say that he is with no doubt, currently, “resting his bones.”

I am sharing my thoughts today for those who are grieving over a loved one who has passed away, or for those who have not suffered such loss yet, you will most certainly will at some point in your life. I therefore honestly believe it is better to think about it now, than choose to ignore it.

I am going to be honest about the process but it is not easy. You never “get over it,” but you learn to “live with the pain.” As I have said time and time again, learning to live with the pain is part of the process, and truthfully, if I did not have the pain of missing my dad anymore, I would miss the pain of missing him. This may not make sense to some people, but it will some day.

I do not visit my dad’s graveside as much as most people would think one should although I do think of my dad often, but not as much as I did when I first lost him. I know that at least three times a day I think of him because when I look at the clock it always seems to be 9:11AM (when I take a look at my watch driving to work), 9:11PM (when I am lying in bed ready to close my eyes), or 10:47AM (when I am at work wishing the day was almost over, but it had only just begun.)

9-11 – D. O. D. (Date of Death)
10:47AM – when he took his final breath

I am surprised I never catch myself looking at the clock at 3:39AM or PM for his Birthday date, or the year he was born 3-9-39, because 3-9-39 was a date he certainly wouldn’t let anyone forget if you knew him well enough. I am sure you can just hear him saying it now!

I never want to forget about my dad. I like to call these little reminders throughout the day a little “dad wink.” Holidays, birthdays, date of death, and special days that we shared together going forward will be a constant reminder of the times that I shared with him, but the reality of the situation is that they are no more.

It is important to keep the memories alive, but missing someone is a very tough thing to do. Being a Christian and having a steadfast faith helps the process, but it does not make missing the person any easier. There are moments where I just will begin thinking about him and often smile, but then there are other times where I shed a few tears, and other times where I will just become an uncontrollable sobbing mess as a river of tears flow down my cheeks.

There is no way for me to know when these moments will come. It could be just a simple reminder from someone of something funny my dad used to say or do when he was alive. Or it could be the unfortunate moments when I’d pick up the phone to share some good news that is going on in my life, and the one person I want to call is him because he was more to me than just my dad. He was also my best friend.

He was not a dad that helped me as I grew up as, for instance, in him showing me how to fix things when they were broken. If something was wrong with the car, a mechanic was needed. I am not quite sure if he even knew how to check the oil, or add more windshield wiper fluid. If there was some kind of dent in the wall and the sheet rock needed to replaced, stairs needed to be built, or any type of carpentry repair, the only thing he knew to do was to call his Uncle Willie who was a carpenter, and he would fix the problem. If the toilet was leaking then most definitely a plumber would be called, and forget it if there were to be an electrical problem. He was deathly afraid of electricity, and if his Uncle Willie could not help, an electrician would be called.

He was not a man who held too many blue collar positions, so now that he is gone, and I have some similar “fix it” problems, I either have to call someone or perhaps I may try to solve the problem myself. Many people find it strange that I do not know how to fix basic “man” things as some people like to describe it, but if you were never taught, then how would you learn?

Though he did not teach me much about fixing things, I remember, just like it was yesterday, us being in our backyard. The highlight of my youth was when we threw a baseball around and played catch. I still have his leather glove in my garage.

Oh, but did that man have some real quirky ways about him but that brings a smile to my face when thinking about it. He would sometimes spend hours in the refrigerator turning all of the labels on everything to the exact same position, always “facing out,” so he could read them. My brother-in-law, when he came to visit, would have much fun with this. When my dad went to bed my brother-in-law would go into the refrigerator and turn them in all different directions so it would make my dad go so crazy the next day!

When my dad was unemployed many years ago, and when there was such a thing as a hard copy of a TV guide, my dad would go to great lengths to cut out each hour as the day progressed, so he would not have to look at the shows that were already on!

He would wind up coo-coo clocks every hour, check that the doors were locked before he went to bed many times over, as well as make sure that the stove was not on four or five times, and even get out of bed in the middle of the night to do so.

I would say that he was a bit OCD to say the least. Now here I am being forty years old, with three children of my own, and I am finding myself doing similar things that we all used to “bust my dad’s chops” for when we were growing up! Though it is not the end of the world to do such things, it often brings a smile to my face. I consider them a “dad wink” too.

Though my dad will never be forgotten some days prove to be more difficult than others, and I do believe, both strongly and wholeheartedly, that it is my faith that gets me through. My hope comes from the fact of Jesus defeated death by way of His Resurrection. And though nothing can ever replace the loss of our loved ones on this earth nothing will ever surpass our reunion with them as we spend eternity with Jesus, the very author and finisher of our faith.

It is a mix of emotions, hence an “emotional roller coaster,” as a Christian grieves or mourns the loss of someone that they loved. As Christians we will all experience grief when our loved ones die; but we must maintain a sense of hope even in the midst of our grief and sorrow. We must remember that our grief in this world is only temporary and it will not extend into eternity.

Grief is a natural human emotion and it is not necessarily an indication of a lack of faith, but it can be an expression of the depth of love we had for someone. I certainly understand this, and many people do. I just want you to understand that being a Christian does NOT rescue us from the pain of loss, but when we are grieving and brokenhearted, we need to keep turning to God. We NEED to let God help wipe away our tears and heal our wounds. He promises He will be close to the brokenhearted and save those who are crushed in spirit. I have experienced this comfort, joy, and most importantly that “peace” at times when I needed it and Him the most. It is more than a feeling, but a state of mind. I think that the following piece of Scripture from Philippians 4:7 sums it up nicely: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

However, the most incredible and amazing part of losing someone so close to me is that a lot of good has come out of my emotional pain. How is this possible, some might ask? It is only through the power of God that I can now better empathize and sympathize with others who have recently lost someone most dear to them too. If I know someone who is grieving or mourning, I can reach out to him or her in Christian love because as Christians we should certainly share the hope that we have and fulfill the commands that we are to carry and share in each other’s burdens:

Romans 12:15 – “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
Galatians 6:2 – “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

I could not fully do this with all my heart before because I never really experienced the pain of losing someone so close to me. I praise God now that I can offer help to others because this is what love truly is about.

A lot of people just seem to try to avoid discussing the topic of death, but I do think it is very important to think about and especially so when it comes to our children. Death is not just a part of life but a BIG part of it. As parents, our children depend on us to tell them about life. I believe that we should not force our beliefs on our children, but there is nothing wrong with sharing and teaching them what we believe and most importantly WHY we believe it. If we live like true Christian parents we live out our faith as an example, show our character in what we say and do, train our children in the way they should themselves go, and we shall see the old and wise Proverb come true:

Proverbs 22:6 – “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

There have been nights where my daughter Chesney, before she went to sleep, would be crying and was obviously experiencing emotional pain. I have asked her why she is crying on many occasions and she has told me it is because she missed my dad, her “Pop Pop,” so much. But this is not a time where I can just get a band aid out, kiss the “boo boo,” and make the pain go away, and especially when I can feel her pain myself. If I did not have the Christian faith I honestly wouldn’t know how to comfort her in her own pain.

These moments at a first glance brings to my mind the 1991 movie called “My Girl” starring Macaulay Culkin, Anna Chlumsky, Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis depicting the coming-of-age young girl who faces many different emotional highs and lows. There is this certain scene right after Thomas J. (Macauly) died of an allergic reaction from bee stings when Harry (Dan Aykroyd) tells his daughter Vada (Anna Chlumsky) that her best friend Thomas J. (Macauly) had died. As emotional as that scene is, it gets even more emotional when she runs into the doctor’s office.

The doctor clearly sees that something is wrong when she bursts through open the door as she is breathing heavy and is clearly visibly upset. He picks her up and then lies her down on the examination table.

He then asks, “What is wrong Vada?”

She responds, “I can’t breathe, am suffocating, it hurts, it hurts so bad, and to make it stop.”

The doctor inquires, “What hurts Vada?”

She then says, “The bee stings, I can’t breathe.”

Vada now has to learn to accept the hurt of life. The conclusion shows how Vada makes her accommodation with loss and a scene within which a deep truth is spoken. The beauty in this scene is in its directness, and the reality of the situation is that there is no instant remedy for the pain within your heart that someone close to you is gone and will never be coming back. Life as you know it has been changed forever.

Chesney often thinks about Pop Pop before I put her to bed. When she gets emotional about “Pop Pop” being gone, I then become somewhat emotional too, and there is nothing wrong with that. In those moments it is my duty to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) as well as “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2)

And more importantly it is now time to remind her (an eight year old) of the true Gospel message. It may sound complicated to do, but once you present and explain the reality of the separation of a soul from our Earthly existence in a childlike manner, it becomes a lot easier not only for a child to understand but for the adult too. I often tell her to think of the most wonderful place she can think of, and I sometimes make use an analogy from my book on pages 150 – 152 when she asks me what heaven is like. I will not share that in full detail here so if you haven’t yet read Blue Collar Believer, I would highly recommend that you do.

I then tell her that Pop Pop is in a place with Jesus almost as great as Heaven right now, that he is no longer suffering, that he’s at peace, and is anxiously waiting our arrival someday. It is almost like he is on the most wonderful vacation that you can ever think of, and the best parts are that he never has to come back, and even better than that, we will join him someday and it will be a most wonderful moment! As she lies there with her eyes closed and her tears fade away, I can then see a smile begin to form on her little face as she begins to think and dream about it.

This is what is so glorious about life and death! In the midst of our suffering there is good news after all! There is actually grace in death! We must cling to this hope with all that we have! When we do this, we will never fear death, but will learn to embrace it with open arms, and have joy in our hearts because we know where our loved ones are and where we ourselves are going.

Even though we miss our loved ones the good news (the Gospel) is that because of Jesus Resurrection and those who believe, they are now truly in a better place and we will see them again some day. In the midst of your own loss of loved ones, if you have not yet embraced this hope with open arms there is a most wonderful promise awaiting for you: “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9-10). This is the good news (Gospel).

So in drawing to a close, if there was anything that my dad ever taught me, and of which we’d probably all be wise enough to take heed of, is just how much he loved his children. I could write a whole book on his love for my sisters and I alone, and that is what I remember the most about my dad. He has certainly rubbed off on me in that way because there is nothing in the world I would not do for my kids.

When my dad began to have grandchildren it was a new kind of beautiful love that I could see in his eyes. I am so happy that Chesney and Liam had the chance to meet him, and, most importantly, remember him, although he never had the chance to meet Jaxon. I could only hope and pray that as my children grow up together my dad will be brought up in one of their many conversations. If Jaxon ever asks Chesney or Liam what Pop Pop was like, I would be more than honored if one of them said, “He was just like Daddy.”

But by that I don’t mean the OCD, TV guide, or refrigerator label issue, but how he truly loved his kids and grandkids.

I sorely miss him and his silly ways and, now looking back, it is funny how that when we are still growing up that we so often say to ourselves that we never want to be anything like our parents. Quite to the contrary as if I could love my children as my dad loved me, then I know that his legacy will not be forgotten. My prayer is that his kind of love for his children and grandchildren will pass on forevermore within the Schnakenberg family from one generation to the next.

Happy Birthday Dad, and thank you for showing me how to love my children! Thank you Jesus for giving me this glorious faith and hope in seeing him again someday. Also, thank you for showing me another kind of love, the “Greater love”: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Because of all this, when the ravishing storms of grief, mourning, pain, and the intense missing of my dad, all cloud around me, I can weather the storm and dance in the rain. My apologies if that comes across as a “corny pop cultural cliché,” but it does seem to be a fitting end.

I hope that you, dear reader, have found this post most encouraging. God bless!

Chaplain’s Corner
William H Schnakenberg IV
“Chaplain Bill”
-Pastoral Apologist-
Blue Collar Believer


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