Tag Archives | grief

{A letter to my DAD}

dear dad 2

If I could write a letter to my Dad today…this is what I would write. For more on my Dad’s death you can read HERE and for more of my thoughts on grief you can read HERE.

Dear Dad,

Happy Heaven Day! We miss you. We miss you every day. If I could write you a letter, I would. Grant saw me texting the other day and asked if I was texting you in Heaven. I wish that it worked that way {and by the way isn’t he funny?…that story would have made you laugh}. I miss seeing you laugh about the kids and light up when they entered the room. I wish I could tell you that Paige is 6 now and really growing up. She is such a delight and a sweet big sister. Grant is as funny as always and every time we call him “Goofus” or “Buster” we think of you. Things will never be the same without you Dad.

Here are a few of my experiences that I jotted down over the last year without you. I hope they help others process their pain if they can relate to losing a loved one. You know that I am a person who wears my heart on my sleeve {I think I got that from you} and I’m not accustomed to being so unsure of how I feel. In those first few months after you were gone and the shock was wearing off I was constantly unsure of how the grief would hit on any given day. I was very confident in our Savior’s love and His hand in my life. I felt peace that you were in Heaven and with so many of our other loved ones but I had never experienced grief like that before. It was an aching and lonely place. I can tell you that things are not as RAW as they were back in October of 2012. God has renewed my mind everyday through His word and the Holy Spirit has been a comfort that I cannot describe. God’s word promises {in Isaiah 40} “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…” and I have clung to that. I am praying now, as I type these words, for every person who will read this…that they can be healed of their grief through the power of Jesus.

 …over the past year…

In OCTOBER we planned a beautiful memorial service {with the help of friends and family} to celebrate your life. So many people supported us with love, letters, food, flowers, stories of fond memories, coming to the service and just “being there” for us all. For the service Jen wrote a beautiful eulogy of your life and read it…Drew & Aaron {and I} all shared some things about you that we loved and many people loved mentioning your three favorite things: Guitars, Guns and Golf {and of course Grandkids made it in there in recent years}. Gary preached a great message and shared the hope of Jesus and Dan did a great job leading people in some of your favorite worship songs. We played a slideshow and had pictures around. People from all walks of your life shared stories about you and how much they respected you {people from your work, your band, your golf life, our family and your friends like Uncle Mark and Bruce and Uncle Ray to name a few}. We were very proud to be your kids that day.

We buried your body in a spot that looks up to the hills where you died on Castlewood’s beautiful golf course. We thought you would have loved that.

And then we just kept going that month…in a fog of sorts…to get through the holidays.

In the beginning of NOVEMBER I spent lots of days in bed…it was a total blur. Upon seeing pictures of the kids {at their preschool} all dressed in western clothes I had a small meltdown. I saw the pictures and I cried…to a mom I hardly knew {who was very sweet about the whole thing}. I blubbered something about not wanting to spend the money to buy them…but explained that my Dad would have loved them…and I was buying the kids bandana’s the day he died…on and on. It was awkward and yet I just had to cry in that moment. Things were just so raw. We spent Thanksgiving with your cousin Ian and we had a great time connecting with him and remembering old stories {despite being very, very sad}. I’m thankful that we have him in our lives and that even though you did not have a brother…you had him.

By the time DECEMBER came around even Christmas traditions that I look forward to all year seemed like such a chore. I could barely even get a Christmas tree up and decorated. I knew this would pass, but it was hard. Thanksgiving & Christmas were the times that you gave us kids a lot of your undivided attention. You were not planted in front of the TV for as many hours on these holidays and you engaged with us at meals a little more than usual. I missed your quiet/humble prayers {however obligatory they may have been from mom’s less-than-obvious-smiling-nudge} before meals. I knew we would get through the coming year…but I just felt sad the entire holiday season.

Mom took us to Disneyland over Christmas. This was not something you would have ever wanted to do and so it allowed us to feel disconnected from you in a way that freed us up {not out of disrespect for your memory but to allow us to have some fun}. Seeing the kids enjoy the magic and wonder of the Disneyland resort was a great distraction and a good way to feel happy during a painful time. Even though you had no desire to go to Disneyland we couldn’t  help but think of you often on our trip. When we were in Frontierland or when Mom took a picture with Walt Disney {saying it was her other Walt} we thought of you. We had a BBQ dinner on Christmas Eve {at the Big Thunder Ranch} and it reminded us of the chuck-wagon dinners at the Bar-D in Durango and we thought of you. Paige loved talking about watching westerns with you and Grant loved the shooting range {just like Grampy would have} and of course we thought of you.

You were everywhere.

As it became a new year in JANUARY I was feeling stronger. The pain of losing you was not as raw. That word raw never made sense until I went through this. But the sudden loss of someone so important in my life was like an open wound that could be ripped open again and again with the slightest move. A cut cannot heal if it keeps getting re-opened and thus is raw. Now I knew what that meant. I would look at a picture and cry. I would drive down the street and wonder what my parents were doing for dinner and suddenly realize that my Dad was not there.  It was really hard.

One day Grant asked me how you died…he wanted a little explanation again…and Paigey piped up with the answer in her sweet sympathetic voice. She said “Bubby…his heart stopped…” and he nodded his head as he remembered. I asked him what he missed about you and he got out of his seat and came running to tell me. He said that he loved that Grampy played guitar and he motioned to show me how you would tap your foot when you played guitar. You know Grant had always found this motion of yours very cool. The whole interaction was so sweet. I hope that he always remembers this about you. Paige anticipated that I would cry and came running over to dry my tears. She was right. I cried. For a moment. The thought of my you playing guitar and the thought that Grant would not get to see this in person ever again and the LOVE that I felt for both you and my boy in that moment ran deep into a part of my soul that has been untouched so far in this life. It was sweet. It was sad. But I wasn’t ripped open. Not like I would have been a month or two ago. I was healing but trust me you were still everywhere.

Just a few days later…the beginning of JANUARY I had worship practice at church and this was perhaps my most painful bought with grief. I always loved that we connected through music. I loved it when you played guitar for me during my high school and college singing days and occasionally for worship at church. It had been really cool to get to do worship with you again when we moved back here. Remember the first time we got to do it again {you got emotional when you heard me sing and that was such a sweet moment for me…to know that we could connect on that level and that you were proud of me}. That night in January I went to find my equipment in the big box that holds everyone’s ear buds and saw your named compartment empty. A flood of emotions filled my heart and I fought back tears the whole rehearsal. When it came time to pray after practice I shared that my grief was very much wrapped up in being at church doing music. I shared that it made me feel close to you to be there at worship practice because that was one of the only ways I bonded with you in life…but it made me feel the loss of you so deeply. I described it as being sweet and painful in the same beat. I ugly cried and snotted all over myself {many of the people on the team that night were strangers to me} in a really awkward way…but I just couldn’t hold it in. Cindy, your sweet friend, was there that night and she wrapped her arms around me and prayed…she really knew you well and I was thankful she was there for me that night. It makes me cry and smile when I think about it. Music will always be our thing.

Drew went through a lot this year in January and February and he has really missed you. He is doing well now and we have tried to encourage him that you would be proud of the changes he is making in his life. Thanks for being a good Dad to him…he is sooooo much like you. Jen changed jobs and I know she misses working with you…but she is doing really well. Her love of sports reminds me so much of you and nobody rooted more for the 49ers last winter…hoping they would win the super bowl {because you would have loved that}. Paige talks about you constantly and has so many sweet little memories with you.

By early MARCH our sweet Grant was finally starting to talk about you more. We were not sure his 3 ½ year old little heart had understood what was going on when you died in October. Thankfully we learned that he did get it…while listening to a worship song that said something about eternal life Paige asked what eternal life was. I started to explain that if we believe in Jesus we get to live with him forever in Heaven {even after we die} and that basically what we describe as “eternal life”…as I was explaining this to her, Grant piped in and said “remember Paigey, it’s like Grampy, we will get to be in Heaven like Grampy…” My mommy heart almost burst with joy that he was “getting it” and something was clicking with him. And then just a month or two later on our way to preschool Grant’s sweet words pierced my heart again when he talked about your heart breaking. Paige made a silly comment about liking Grampy’s car {we recently purchased it from mom} more than our other car because it was your’s and you were now dead. You know that she just says things like they are {in a very sad and dramatic voice…of course}. Grant commented with his thoughts… “mommy, I wish God could make Grampy’s heart not break so that he was here again…” Oh, that one was like a punch in the gut as I replied to him through tears… “Me too buddy…me too.”

You were everywhere.

In APRIL, Grant remembered that you had come to Super Franks for his birthday the year before and that you had given him his first set of golf clubs. You had always told the kids you would teach them how to golf and so Paige continues to ask who is going to teach her now, when the subject comes up.  We have assured her that we will make sure she learns.

Anticipating what would have been your 40th wedding anniversary with Mom, in MAY, brought about many tears as well. She has been so strong and you would be very proud of her. She has completely focused on all the good years you had together and has cried when she’s needed to and smiled the whole way through. I don’t know what it was about your anniversary but it just really hit me. I had planned a party for you guys in my head for a few years leading up to this big accomplishment and it was sad that it was never going to happen. I felt proud that you made it so long. I know you guys {like everyone out there} didn’t have a perfect marriage all the time but it was a good one. I wish I could tell you that you were both great examples to me. Thank for loving and respecting each other and thanks for working hard to provide for Mom. Knowing that she is going to be able to stay in the house and carry on with her normal life has been such a gift to her and to us. Thanks for loving her and showing me God’s love through your marriage.

This SUMMER Mom really missed you {it was her most difficult season to get through}. When Castlewood’s invitational came around we all were sad that you and Uncle Ray were not doing your normal prep to join the tournament. As birthdays and celebrations passed by {like Father’s Day} this year we always felt your absence. This Fall Drew wanted to hunt with you and Jen wanted to talk sports. We made you a cake in August for your birthday. We missed you at the family reunion. We wanted you to be there to share in the fun {even if big parties weren’t really your thing}. Paige wanted you at her birthday party in SEPTEMBER and I found it very sweet how bonded she was with Papa…knowing that kids just need their grandparents. I know that he will be a great Grandpa to them in your absence and I’m thankful that he knew you, respected you and that you guys had so much in common.

It’s OCTOBER now and I could have written more stories but I think you get the idea. In many ways it is still hard to believe that you are really gone. Mom hosted a really nice dinner in your honor for some friends the other night at the club. You would have loved it.

You were everywhere this year Dad.

And you are always with us.

You are in Drew’s looks, Jen’s expressions, Grant’s love of music, songs on the radio…meals we eat and old stories we tell. The kids still talk about your “spot” on the couch. They miss you terribly when they get out of the bath at Grammy’s and want to snuggle with you like they used to. Aaron has even started watching golf more often on TV and just the sound of that game makes me think of the years I heard golf in our home growing up.

Thank you Dad for loving God, Mom, us kids, the grandkids and for having so many passions and interests that you passed on to us.

We miss you everyday and we look forward to the years we will spend with you in eternity.

All my love,

*laura* {Y.F.K.}

P.S. I used to sign all my cards to my parents with Y.F.K. meaning Your Favorite Kid…I’m totally humble.

Please drop me a line {laurapanfilio@gmail.com} if you have questions.

I am praying for each person that reads this.

31 days (250)


{thoughts on GRIEF}

thistle 2000

You may or may not know about my Dad’s passing.

This is a letter about that day & about my grief process this past year.

A letter of HOPE to those who are grieving,

This is my story of grief and how I am working through it. Last year, on October 15th it was a normal Monday when I woke up. It started off with normal things like breakfast and lunch and by dropping Paige off at school and running some errands. By the end of the day our lives would be changed forever. My Dad was golfing in the morning with his regular golf group {something he loved doing} and had just finished the last hole of 18 that morning. We were told that after picking up his ball and putting the flag in place he took a few steps and collapsed. His friends worked to do CPR and attempt to resuscitate him.  The fire department raced to find the golf hole he was on {Castlewood’s golf course is place beautifully up in the hills above Pleasanton and not an easy place to try to find someone in an emergency}. Even the doctors & nurses at the hospital tried to revive his heart…but he had experienced a massive heart attack and there was nothing that could be done. In my gut I believe that he was supposed to die that day. He was in a place that was very difficult to reach and I just believe that this was his time. I’m so thankful to the men who were there and attempted to save his life…but I felt then and even now that it was just his time. Three nights before he died we celebrated our “Fun Fall Dinner” {a tradition that I have done with just Aaron and the kids every fall but had decided at the last-minute to include my parents and sister in on that year} and we all sat around the table talking for hours. My parents had just gotten back from their amazing trip to the East Coast. It had been their first trip to New York City & D.C. together and we wanted to hear all about it. Six weeks before this night my dad had retired and turned 60. Big changes were going on in my parent’s lives and we asked him a lot of questions about how his new retirement felt. He mostly just mentioned how great it was to golf 4 days a week at the club and said he had a long list of things to take care of but was enjoying the free time more than he expected. We also talked a lot about a memorial service that they had attended that week. A woman at our church had died while scuba diving {something she had loved doing}. She had heart failure right there in the water and went to be with the Lord all too soon. My parents talked about how lovely her memorial service was & strong her husband was. He was faithful to trust in the Lord as his strength. The gospel of Jesus was proclaimed and they left feeling encouraged, having celebrated her life. We all commented on the fact that at least she died while she was doing what she loved.  My parents had known someone who died while golfing years back and my dad even said something to the effect of “If you are going to go…you might as well be doing what you love…I wouldn’t mind dying on the golf course if it was my time…” {now remember this was only 3 days before he died}. Every time I start to feel sad about his death I remembered that at least he got his wish…and I’m confident that he is with our Savior in Heaven and better off. You see, I just had that peace that it was his time. I could dwell on the fact that I didn’t hug him goodbye that night {oh what I would have told him if I had known that was the last time I would see him on this side of Heaven}…but at least I had a great night with him. In God’s kindness he allowed my dad to say those words of reassurance that only made sense on Monday evening…it helped us to know that in hind-sight it was going to be okay and he was better off and he got his wish in a sense. It was my dad’s time and that it was going to be okay.  My story of how I found out he had died and my first set of emotions can be found HERE.

At the beginning of this experience I felt that grief was like a thief…it robbed me of who I once was and made me feel as if things may never be normal again. The only glimmer of hope I had in the months that followed were a few of God’s promises and the strength/support of my family, but even those seemed very dim at moments {I will share more on that later}. Make no mistake, however, that even with God’s loving hope…grief is raw, painful, sad & simply devastating. It cut me wide open in ways I had never been cut open before.

I cannot really describe how I have felt in the months following my Dad’s very sudden death. Words will never suffice. For the first time in my whole life I didn’t know how to describe something that I was feeling. And that was strange for me.

I had never had this problem.

Typically, I’m an open book. People can look at me and know how I am feeling: happy, sad, silly or whatever. Most of the time if someone asks me how my day is going I tell them {even if it’s bad}. I just cannot hide my emotions. But this grief thing threw all that out the window.

I have tried to type these thoughts for months because I just cannot seem to come up with the right words. I feel emotionally exhausted every time I come back to these notes, these words, these emotions to try to put them into words that other people might be able to understand.

In the first several months I wrote these thoughts:

Sometimes I say I’m “fine” because I simply don’t know what else to say. I cannot tell a grocery store clerk “Well, I’m terrible and painfully sad today.” I mean…I guess I could…but who wants to ruin someone’s day like that? I cannot tell my husband that the reason I cannot get out of bed is because I just don’t want to face the day today…I don’t want to deal with the fact that everything is different now…my whole family dynamic…my sense of self that was wrapped up in being Walt’s daughter is now different…it’s all different. The kids keep asking questions about him and wondering why he had to die so soon. I don’t have answers for them and I’m weary to find peace with those questions myself.

I don’t have words to describe how painful it feels to know that almost everyone in my Dad’s very small family is gone and I feel really sad that the keeper of their stories is now gone. Who are those people in the box of black & white pictures that I have from my grandpa? What were they celebrating that day? Where exactly were they from? I have some of those details but I always thought he would be around so that I could ask more family questions as they came up.

Who do I go to for music or old movie trivia? He was the one in our family who knew all those useless facts. I liked that I could say “Hey Dad, who sings this song?” and I would not only get the answer but some other random tidbit about the band and where the song came from. I loved that about him. Now I hear a song that he would have known about and I cry. It’s these small little daily triggers that could seem insignificant to someone else…but to me they were the way I bonded with my dad. He wasn’t a real chatty guy…so I was always looking for ways to connect with him.

And tears fill my eyes every…single…time that I pass by the hospital where I got the sad news that he was gone from this life on earth. How do I explain that to the kids when they see me cry? Sometimes I tell them but who wants to ruin their sweet little innocent days with my sad burdens? The list goes on and on in the days and months after someone dies.

And there were dark thoughts too. Things I cannot express in words.

Very Honest thoughts on grief that are hard to admit. Most people don’t know what to say to you when someone you love dies…so they try to comfort you with their own story. This is okay most of the time. There were many well-intended well-wishers with their similar stories of pain or death…that were only meant to comfort me. But if I am being truly honest…sometimes their stories would leave me feeling worse. Please don’t hear me wrong. I needed to share in the pain with others and relate to their pain at times. Most of the time it was comforting to know I was not alone. But in my sad, sinful heart I found myself ranking my pain with theirs. Thoughts like “well at least their loved one lived 30 more years than my Dad…they don’t really know how hard it’s been for me…they could never understand how much deeper my pain must be than theirs” filled my heart. This was not right…and it eventually led to guilt/conviction on my part. But it was how I felt at moments throughout the process. My hunch is that in our human nature it’s easier to go there instead of facing the reality that I just need to heal on my own and not worry about anyone else’s story. I’m sure people who have lost babies or children or spouses or watched someone suffer for months before dying have thought similar things about my story. Grief just takes you down these dark pathways at times. I have noticed that for some they stay in that dark place for years. I’m praying that my heart can stay connected to God’s love and grace and my gratitude for the years I had with my Dad can take me out of that dark place so that I don’t stay there. So that I see the ways God is healing our family, teaching us about His love and working for the good in our lives {even in the midst of this pain}.

Fast forward to today. You may not have lost a loved one but that does not mean you are not grieving. This letter is to you if you are battling cancer or addiction or suicide or depression. If you have been abused or made to feel like you are worthless in this life. If you are struggling to let go of a relationship or the hope of one. If you lost a child or cannot get pregnant or long to be married. If you are suffering {and you will at some point in this life} then you are probably grieving on some level. Let me first say that I am so sorry. I do not wish pain upon anyone. I may not know exactly how you feel {and nobody will} but I can empathize and say I am sorry you are going through this struggle. I do not have all the answers or even half of the answers about grief and faith and life after death. I know simple, basic, biblical truths about the Lord. I am not a pastor or a biblical scholar but I have felt God’s hand over every pain I have suffered. I have learned about God’s love my whole life and I know that He loves us, He died for us and He promised us eternal life with Him if we believe that he is who he says he is {the book of John says that God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not die…but may have eternal life}.

I have not known exactly what to say when people {or my children} ask me those common faith questions like:

“Why does God allow bad things {like death} to happen to good people?”


“Why does God allow people to suffer or die at all?”


“How could a good God allow any pain, hunger or suffering in this world at all?”

It’s complicated. I don’t fully understand it. But, I do know that he is there when we fall. He is there in the darkest hours of our lives. He lives and loves and died to set us free from these heartaches. On this side of Heaven I do not think we will ever fully understand his ways. I hope you know that IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING LOSS…YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Just ask God to give you peace, comfort, hope…He will. He is able and he is faithful and He loves all that He has made {especially you}. The Lord is continuing to redeem my emotions by showing me that I am not alone and He is good and He gives and He takes away…but He is good.

In the beginning of this experience I though grief was like a thief. But now I think it is like a thistle. It really stings when you first touch it…it’s very painful. But if you can get past the first sting…you can see it’s beauty.



P.S. If you are struggling with grief or pain and have more questions about the things of God…I would love for you to take some time to watch this video. I think it beautifully articulates God’s nature and attempts to explain some of those questions that we all face in our life through. This is a sad story, but one of hope as you learn about the Merrick family’s and their daughter Daisy’s battle with cancer. Their blog can be found HERE.

Britt Merrick | When Sparrows Fall from Reality on Vimeo.

Please drop me a line {laurapanfilio@gmail.com} if you have questions or need prayer.

31 days (250)

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