The tides of March

papa and carolineIt was the worst day of my life.

March 5, 2011.

I will never forget that phone call. I could hear the distress in my brother’s voice as he watched my father take his last breath. It was as if I was in that room as my family dropped deep into a dark abyss.

March 5th. A day of grief. A day of pain. If only we could skip it each year. If only it could trade places with February 29th. That way, the Carnes family could spend most years leaping right over all the anguish.

March 5th.

This year, I wouldn’t miss that day for anything in the world.

Just as my life was forever altered by the death of my hero, I was equally impacted by the birth of my Tiny Caroliny. Caroline Ellen Carnes isn’t going to be a Carnes much longer. My wife and I are about to learn what it’s like to keep up with the Joneses. Caroline is about to wed.

On March 5, 2016.

Keeping up with Caroline has added gray to her Daddy’s head to go with the beaming bright smile she has brought to my cheeks. Independent, unpredictable, and restless, she has visited four continents with an open Bible and an open heart. My middle child is always on the move, constantly eager to see something new, to comfort someone new. She settled in Clarkston so that she could live among refugees and welcome them as they acclimated to their new home.

Who wouldn’t love her?

News of her engagement came as no surprise to her parents. In Ethan Jones, she found a man who shares her love of Christ and her desire to love others. They’ve grown to cherish and respect one another. They have parents who have stumbled and bled, and are willing to share the knowledge they’ve learned from their mistakes. Most important, Ethan and Caroline are willing to listen. The foundation for their marriage is solid.

Preparing for the big day has been, well, stressful. We got off pretty easy when my son married over a year ago. The tasks are more complicated and sometimes downright combative when you’re the parents of the bride. Try selecting the friends or family that must be cropped from the guest list. My mind has been a jumble. I’m learning dance steps for the reception. I’m memorizing a Bible verse for the rehearsal dinner. It doesn’t take much to overwhelm my 56-year-old brain. I am thoroughly distracted.

It took a text from my sister to make me realize that my daughter’s joyous day would collide with my family’s lingering pain.

There’s no way to replace the presence of my father. His absence at Caroline’s wedding will be impossible to ignore. And yet…we are gaining a son. My daughter is so happy her feet haven’t touched the floor in weeks. Despite the occasional moments of discord (they need to go at table four, not table eighteen in the back of the room), our hearts are swelling.

March 5th.

Five years ago, the Carnes family couldn’t get any lower. On March 5, 2016, high tide will move in, and the oceans are full of joy.

The date will have new meaning. While he won’t be there in body, I will surely feel my father’s presence. His spirit will guide me through the duties of father-of-the-bride. When my sister married, he handled the job with his consistent good natured calm. I’m far more animated, more of a loose cannon. His memory will help me cling to decorum as I celebrate.

There will be a moment on March 5th when I pause and reflect. I will speak directly to my father, thank him for his unfailing love, and tell him how much I miss him. I will also tell him that he prepared me well for life as the father-of-the-bride.

The tide is high, dad, and we’re holding on.

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