This is, in its own way, a love letter about my friend’s husband, Dan, who has passed on to Heaven.
I’ve known Dan’s wife, admired her, and mimicked her for two decades. Two strong decades filled with many births and too many deaths. She has embodied the type of friend, wife and mother that I hope to become. She is not perfect, she makes her mistakes, just like us all. But, she is constantly striving and yearning to be all the God desires her to be. She is a Godly woman, because her heart belongs to God.
Her heart also belongs to her husband, Dan.
Dan the Man.
Hands shaking as I write this, because just knowing that I am writing about this man begins to rip at my soul. I love this man, too. Not like she, not ever, not at all. But like me. I loved my friend, I loved my neighbor.
I wanted to write about how much he meant to our family for quite some time, but I would begin and then delete. Begin and then delete. I would become apprehensive about what his son–a fine man, or his daughter–his love… about what they would think. This is their Dad. This is their Dad that they lost much too soon. Death took what they loved. What happened in their family is their story to tell. But this is what happened in mine.
One July morning, while out on a lake, my family was enjoying the pleasures of boating and food and fellowship with a group of college people that we were working with in ministry. One morning, as we all sat around the rented houseboat, I was looking at the faces of the young adults. They were so filled with joy. They were teasing my children who were still in their youth, ages 14, 12 and 9. (This is one of the joys of youth & young adult ministry–Pastor’s kids tag along.)
I looked around the room and I noticed that my husband who thrives on moments like these, was absent. Almost immediately after I noticed, the door on the other side of the cabin slid open and he made his way in. His face was all wrong. I spied his eyes and I could see tears. He nodded his head and I knew he wanted to share. I maneuvered my way through the room and we closed the door behind us.
We stood in the bedroom of this tiny houseboat, when he said
“There was a car accident. Dan is dead.”
Head spinning. Familiar blackness. No, not again. Death, how I hate you. Death, how you sting.
Then tears. Then calm. Then a knock.
At the door stood my daughter. Intuition flaring, inherited from her Mother, she spoke “What’s wrong?”
Close the door. Say the words.
Then Emily let out what felt like a scream, but not. A cry, but deep. Weakness seemed to overtake her and my Mother-strength held her and asked her to breathe. This child has seen so much death already. Are you really coming, again?
Then the decision. “We have to leave.” We had to get to his family. We knew we were going to have to tell the boys why. These two rascal boys who adored this Dan. This Dan the Man. We called them into the room and we said it as gently as we could.
Severe pain. Reeling them in, with its hook.
It didn’t matter how gentle we tried to be, it was useless. We might have just as well slapped them when we told them, for the pain of hearing the words hurt just as much.
And, now, years later, the pain is still here. I don’t miss him like his family does. I would never try to make that claim. He was my husband’s best friend and what he meant to me was most precious in that. If there was ever a man that I could tell genuinely loved my husband, it was Dan. If there was ever a man that wanted what was best for my husband, it was Dan.
Believe it or not, I didn’t learn to be submissive to my husband by going through a bible study on being a better wife. I didn’t learn to think before speaking and not taking jokes too far from a mentor in a Women’s group. I learned those things from Dan.
I remember a day, early in our friendship, at a church picnic, when Dan pulled me aside. In love, he told me that when I teased my husband in public, when I mocked him with my words, I was destroying my husband’s self esteem. He told me that as ashamed as I was to be told this in private, that it was 100 times worse for my husband when I embarrassed him in public. The strange thing is, looking back at that day, I am not embarrassed now. Because Dan never treated me badly, in spite of what he witnessed.
- sarcasm? Ummm…yep. Best ever.
- a pool for my children…they thought it was theirs.
- practical jokes are permitted encouraged at camp.
- treat every person as if they are your closest friend.
- He spoke at my daughter’s funeral and he carried her casket to the grave.
- a song for Molly. Written, typed up and sung for me after she died. A treasure.
- love God and read your bible. His bible sat at the end of that table. Show up unannounced and there it would be–wide open.
- love other people’s children, as if they were your own. My kids grieved this man for quite a while. His love was infectious.
- he gave me permission to kill myself. I know that sounds weird. But, he was the first person to tell me that if I did, I wouldn’t go to hell. Then he gently explained to me why I shouldn’t. The choice gave me freedom to choose wisely.
- he taught me to love my husband. In a lot of ways I just followed the example set by him. That’s what he meant, and what he still means to me.