Eleven years ago we lost my Dad, Jerry Don Johnson, to suicide.
You could have blown us over with a feather from the shock.
Despite several of his last years of struggling with depression and alcoholism, my Dad was loving and funny and full of Jesus. Suicide at 44 years old was not what any of us had predicted. You could not have convinced 15-year-old Jessica Johnson that 25-year-old Jessica Johnson Phillips would be planning her Dad's funeral.
But it was our path. And God has been faithful and loving and good. No, God has been great.
My Mom and Sister and I celebrate Dad each year on the anniversary of his death. We call it "Dead Dad Day". Why? Because we are super weird. It's how we move through our evolving grief and it's how we honor one another for the fact that we did NOT curl up and die right along with Jerry Don (even though we *might* have wanted to). It's a time when we hold each other and cry and laugh and we pray together. And we eat (it's our love language).
And most years I write something in honor of Dead Dad Day.
And so, here's my reflection on 11 years without Jerry Don. I still miss him with moans that only God can interpret...and I always will here on this earth.
I hate that he didn’t call
I hate that I didn’t call
I hate that he hid in isolation
I hate how the loneliness lied to him
I hate that he could be mean
I hate how guilty he felt after acting that way
I hate that I responded to his meanness with my own meanness
I hate how guilty I felt after acting that way
I hate that we couldn’t cure the pain that pierced him
I hate the hurt that broke such a strong man
I hate that he felt too far gone
I hate that he felt unworthy of the love and forgiveness of his Savior
I hate that he felt like he had failed us
I hate that he felt unworthy of our love and forgiveness
I hate that we never watched him hold Karis or Emery or Malynne or Mikah
I hate that he didn’t hold my Mom’s hand on their 30th wedding anniversary
I hate that death sounded better than life; this life
I hate that he died on a hot day in a field all alone
I hate it because I know it’s not what he was destined for.
But my hate doesn’t compare to my love...
I love how he laughed. Loud and larger than life
I love how he smelled. His smell lingered in elevators long after he had stepped off. And in drawers where his clothes once occupied; and now in my closet where I reach in and smell a few of his shirts every week just to remember.
I love how he hugged. I still remember our last hug. He was in uniform and he hugged me so tight I thought his bullet proof vest was going to crush my rib cage...and I loved it.
I love how he fought for the underdog. It's why he became a police officer
I love that he gave people second and third and fourth chances – even when the ultimate outcome was utter disappointment
I love how much he loved God, his Father. It is especially hard for sons abandoned by their earthly fathers to fully grasp the love of God the Father. My Dad never ever knew his own earthly father but he embraced a Father who would choose him and love him.
I love how he demonstrated faith – reminding me not to worry, not to be discouraged, but to pray, no matter how bleak the situation seemed.
I love how he served the church – they were his tribe; his people; his family.
I love how he read his Bible everyday – highlighter and pen in one hand, coffee cup in the other, Bible on his lap.
I love how he loved my Mom – he adored her and thought she was too good for him
I love how he loved me and my sister – with fierceness and reckless abandon
I love how he taught us when to fight and when to back down
I love how he taught us to say, “I’m sorry”
I love how he treated old people. He always held the door and smiled at them from ear-to-ear while looking at them directly in the eye.
I love that he washed dishes and folded laundry – he served and nothing was beneath him. nothing.
I love that he worked so hard – his work ethic was outstanding and his colleagues still brag on him to this day
I love that he taught me manners and that a simple, "No sir" or "Yes sir" will calm down most people in authority.
I love that he got in the trenches with lowly people
I love that he was mighty and strong and yet humble and kind
I love that I got to love him.
I love that when he took his last breath, alone in a field on a triple digit west Texas day, he was immediately with God his Father and Jesus his Savior. And I love that they embraced their prodigal son and rejoiced over his homecoming.
And most of all,
I love that one day when this life is passed, I will get to hug him again – ribs crushing, heart healed. Whole. Complete. “It is finished” – kinda hug.
All because God first loved us and saw fit to draw us to Himself through the death/burial/resurrection of His Son, Jesus.
Because He lives, so does Jerry Don Johnson.
Because HE lives I can face tomorrow.
And so can you.