On Monday I traveled to Westminster California with my wife, Cyndi, her sister, Tanya, and Tanya’s son Kevin, to attend the funeral for Cyndi and Tanya’s father, Bill Richardson, who passed away after a long battle with cancer. Rather than sleeping in a hotel, the family invited us to stay at Bill’s house, which could’ve been creepy but wasn’t. It gaveus another bit of insight into the life of a man none of us really knew. And we enjoyed his backyard orchard of pomegranates, avocados and apples.
What made this an unusual trip was that the girls (Cyndi and Tanya) had no real contact or interaction with their father for most of their lives. Cyndi was only two years old, and Tanya was a baby, when their mom and dad divorced. After that, they lived a thousand miles apart. Through the years there were a few letters and photos, minimal financial help, occasional gifts, but no real contact. In fact, they didn’t know enough about their father to recognize him on the rare occasions when they saw him.
In the early nineties, about 1991 or 1992, Bill and his wife Jan came through Midland and took Cyndi and me, Byron and Katie, out to dinner. It was a one-evening encounter, and the only time our kids ever saw him.
During the past ten or fifteen years Cyndi and Tanya have connected with Bill whenever they happened to be in California, so that he would know them and their own growing families. He was always friendly and gracious, but the effort to establish a relationship always seemed one-sided.
However, it was important to both Cyndi and Tanya to come to the funeral and be part of the larger family. It was an opportunity to connect with Tiffany, their sister in California, and her family, and maybe provide some closure to all those missing years.
I think the funeral itself was a little rough, hearing the stories they’d never heard and seeing photos from a life so far away, wondering how different their own lives might have been with an engaged father at home, or even with summer visits.
As a father myself, and now a grandfather, I’ve tried to understand how there could be so little contact over so many years, but I finally decided it wasn’t important. Who knows why we live the way we do. We all do things we can’t explain even to ourselves. We all get trapped in behaviors we don’t know how to change.
Maybe Bill wanted to be part of the girl’s lives but didn’t know how to get started after the divorce. It was a different era and people weren’t surrounded by advice like we are today. Or maybe he waited too long to try, and once he realized how much he’d missed it was too difficult to reverse course. Or maybe he tried to make contact through the years but their mom stood in the way. The only ones who know the answers are gone, or incapable of talking about it.
But I know this much - it isn’t impossible to stay in contact, even after divorce and re-marriage. I saw my own brother move his family three hundred miles in order to participate in the life of his daughter from a previous marriage. And I’ve seen how the two surviving families can be friends and invest in each other’s lives. It is a beautiful thing to watch, and I am proud of the way Carroll has made it work.
So our stay in California was great. Tiffany and her family made every effort to welcome us into the close family huddle, and tried harder than many would’ve or could’ve to make Cyndi and Tanya feel loved and accepted. It was a reminder that the loss wasn’t just between two daughters and a father, but between three sisters. They all missed growing up together.
After my mom passed away this past July, I thought a lot about what was lost. The sad fact of Alzheimer’s is that you lose the person you knew long before they actually pass away. I told friends that I really lost my mom two years ago.
It occurred to me that, in this case, the loss wasn’t so much the death of a father as the loss of fifty years. Those years cannot be replaced, and it does very little good to be angry or bitter.
But it doesn’t end there. Our lives cannot merely be about what we missed. The loss of time and relationships is painful and can never be replaced or forgotten, but that isn’t the whole story. To live lives of purpose and meaning, we have to restore what we lost
The Gospel story of the Bible is about restoration. In fact, Phillip Yancey says the Bible can be summed up in one sentence: “God gets His family back.” And so, one of our core purposes as Christ-Followers is to restore what was lost. We can redeem the past by forming new relationships and fighting for the ones we have. We can change the direction of our own lives if necessary to prevent losing another 50 years.
How about you? What do you need to restore today?
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32