My Daddy would have been 100 years old today. He was born May 24, 1919 and named Reginald Kelly Waggoner. I decided that writing would be a good way to honor him and maybe help a few people along the way. He was named after Kelly Airforce Base in San Antonio where he was born. His Dad was the chaplain there at the time. I will always be proud to carry his name as my own.
On June 27th 1979, just 10 days after Father’s Day, my sweet Daddy took his journey into eternity after a 15 month battle against a cancerous brain tumor. I had just turned 20 years old. I can’t believe that was almost 40 years ago.
It was a long, excruciating struggle. He had been diagnosed with a brain tumor the spring of my freshmen year in college. He passed away the summer after my sophomore year. He fought hard. My Mom fought hard for him when he was too weak to do it on his own. I don’t think he actually fought for himself; he fought for us – his family.
So today, I want to honor some of the things I loved about him and I also want to share a few things that I learned along the way with the hope that it will be a help or encouragement to someone who is struggling. Maybe it will be an anchor to someone who feels tossed about by the writhing storm of disease or tragedy.
So first…I want to tell you about my Daddy. He was a man of few words. All he really needed was his rocker/recliner, Wall Street Journal, pipe (in his earlier years), and his family. He didn’t really care to go anywhere or have any big adventures. Just a simple life is what made him happy. I will always love and respect him for that.
My Daddy was a sensitive and emotional soul. Our pastor used to say that, if he looked out into the congregation and saw my Daddy with tears in his eyes, he knew he was saying the words God had asked him to preach. So now, when I tear up over a beautiful song or when scripture or a pastor’s words touch my heart I am thankful. I will always love and respect him for that.
He loved my sisters and me unconditionally. We never had to wonder if we were loved because that was the glue for our family. He never showed favoritism to any of us. We were all three his special little girls. The love that he and mom showed to us caused us to love each other as sisters very deeply and unconditionally as well. This is the perfect example of how showing love and respect causes love and respect to grow in your children. I never remember him sitting me down and giving me a lesson about it. I just remember seeing it lived out in his life every single day. I will always love and respect him for that.
He attended our events and recitals and ballgames; not as the noisy parent from the sidelines but as the quiet supporter from the edges. He never pushed us to do anything, but always encouraged any choices we made to be involved. I will always love and respect him for that.
He and Mom took us on vacations and always encouraged us to go for our dreams. He worked hard and provided a wonderful home for us. None of us ever really wanted a lot and I think its because he never showed material desires. When an opportunity came up for a higher paying job in the city, he chose to stay and serve in our little town. I will always love and respect him for that.
We laughed. He would aggravate my friends and joke with them. He didn’t do it a lot, so when he did, it was so hilarious we would just laugh and laugh. He had a sense of humor that was unlike any other. Completely out of the blue, he would do something like wearing silly socks to work with his pants rolled up, or driving an old car that had to be parked on an incline against the curb because it wouldn’t go into park, or taking me on “the drag” in that same old car and honking at all my friends. I will always love and respect him for that.
I never doubted that he loved Mom. She would lean down and kiss him on his bald head as she walked by his recliner and he would reach out and grab her hand. I always loved watching them hold hands as they walked in front of me. It was this love that helped me know what I wanted to look for in my own marriage…and I found it. I will always love and respect him for that.
Favorite Things and Heartaches
My favorite thing, and probably the thing that I have missed the most these many years without him has been our quiet time together. When I would come home from school or when he would come home from work (even when I came home from college) he would ask me how my day was and I would go over and crawl up into his lap. He wasn’t a big man, so the older I got the more difficult it became. But it was so worth it! I would lay my head on his chest and he would gently rock. I would talk to him a little bit, but mostly we would just sit quietly and be together. I would listen to his breath and his heartbeat and he would just hold me and rock. In those moments, in that brief pause in life, everything was right with the world. I will always love and respect him for that.
My heart aches for children that do not have good dads. I don’t understand how anyone could be a parent and not adore their children. But it happens all the time. It breaks my heart because I learned about God by watching my Daddy. I understood the love of God because I had seen it lived out in person. I understood quiet strength and sacrifice and support because I had experienced it in my own life. I will always love and respect him for that.
I have learned so many things through the indescribable pain of losing a parent early in life. If you will allow it, I would like to share some of those things with you in hopes that it might help someone who is struggling.
My Daddy knew I loved him. We never turned away from showing love and gratitude in our family. We still don’t. We say I love you and I miss you and Be careful and Take care of yourself and all those things. We love strongly and we protect each other to the bitter end. I will never apologize for boldly standing my ground or even aggressively protecting if you mess with my family.
If everyone is healthy in your family, now is the time to start saying all the things you feel. Tell them how much you look up to them. Show them how much they are loved and how proud you are of them. Say all the things…ALL the things. If it is uncomfortable for you to say them, write them. Put them in a letter, send a card, write an email. But work your way to face to face conversations. You will be glad you did.
As I have grown older, I have realized one thing that I completely missed. If I could go back to the 15 months that Daddy was in his fight with cancer, I would tell him all the things that I have just written above. I would sit with him and hold his hand and talk about what my life might look like without him in it. I would talk about the hard things and even find the words to talk with him about dying. I was a pretty mature young lady at 18 years old, but I wasn’t mature enough to do that. I was afraid that speaking of the possibility of death might cause him not to get well. I was afraid that admitting the possibility of death might make it more of a reality.
If someone you love is in a battle with a disease that is relentless and if the outcome might not be what you are praying for…have the conversations. Don’t shy away. Your conversation is not going to change the outcome but it will pave the way for healing in many other ways.
Always fight…always be willing to face the battle; but also be willing to share your fears and be honest with yourself and the one you love. Talk and talk and talk – but not always about death. Talk about life and plans and happiness and fulfillment and love. Talk about dreams and goals. Talk about silly things. Laugh together. Don’t let the battle against the disease and death rob you of the life you have today. Do as much as you can to make every day count.
I went through phases after Daddy’s diagnosis and it has taken me years to sort out what happened. Sometimes something will come up even now that I have to deal with as a result of that time.
Incredibly enough, the first phase I went through was peace. Daddy’s surgeon came in and told us that his brain tumor had fingered out into his brain. There was not really much hope at all. I remember my Mom weeping and crumbling to her knees and that’s about all I remember of that moment.
Then, I remember this feeling. I don’t really remember when it started, but I know exactly when I noticed it. I had to go play in a concert with our Howard Payne University band after the surgery. I walked into a large room and everyone was there…maybe eating dinner. It’s all pretty fuzzy but I remember exactly what I had on and I remember that I felt this huge cloud of protection and peace as I walked into that room.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let you hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27 NIV
It wasn’t the feeling that everything was going to be OK because I knew it wasn’t. It was the feeling that I was loved and guarded and watched and guided by something that was way bigger than me. It was God’s presence in and around me. It was answered prayers on my behalf that were carrying me step by step into a life that I had not planned for but that had been planned for me. If I could somehow paint a word picture of the “peace that passes understanding” it would be that moment.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7 NIV
Friends, God will be there. In your darkest moments He will carry you. Let Him do it. There is no understanding of this kind of peace. It just comes. Lean into it and allow it to cover you like a blanket. That is how you will survive. I have never felt any closer to God than I did at that moment – one of the darkest hours of my life. I felt as if I could have reached out and held His hand. That’s how close He was. If you are in the throws of the storm – stop – breathe in His presence. He is there.
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
The second phase was not pretty at all. I am not proud of it but, nonetheless, it happened. I got really angry at God, at life, at everything. I went through the motions at HPU and no-one really knew but I would go home and my anger boiled within me. Why would God allow my Daddy, (one of the most loving, giving, kindhearted men on the planet) to have this horrible disease when I could think of several people that the world be a better place if they were gone!
I didn’t speak to God for a while and when I did, it was in angry outbursts. And you know what? God just listened. He allowed me to vent my frustrations and act in ways that were not Godly at all. He loved me through some really ugly stuff.
Then came phase three. I finally realized that I was not going to be able to continue life in this state of anger and hate toward God. I was weary. I could not carry this burden alone. Praise God for parents who taught me where to run when I was at the end of my rope. They taught me to run to my Father, my Heavenly Father. I had lifted my anchor for a while and definitely been battered by the waves, but I was ready to ground that anchor back in and find my place of security. Hebrews 6:19 Where else would I go but to the One who had proven Himself to me time and time again? My Rock, my Shelter was ready and waiting.
“Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” Psalm 62:2 NIV
I thought I would have a long trip to get back to God, but as soon as I turned, He was right there. He had not allowed me to walk a single step without His presence and protection. He had not left my side for a second. If you have turned away from God because of your anger about a situation that you are currently in or something that has happened in your past, turn to Him. He is your anchor in the midst of the heavy seas. He is there with you now. He has not forsaken you.
Psalm 139 I highly recommend that you open your Bible and spend time reading this entire chapter. Dwell in it and let it speak.
I can’t say that everything became easy after I came back to God. It didn’t. Truthfully, I don’t really remember much of my college years at all. I only remember a few people and events. My husband has to fill in the rest for me. My life was in survival mode and that is where I stayed for a while. I did learn something very important that I need to share. For years, I would have some significant depression around spring break and then during June right around my birthday. I struggled with it on many occasions. Then, after several years, I realized that my depression was seasonal and brought on by life circumstances in my past. Spring break is when Daddy was diagnosed and June is when he passed away. Those things that came around every year were triggering emotional responses that were tied to those events. I had no control over it because I didn’t make the connection. Once I began to understand what was happening to me and how it was all connected between seasonal events and traumatic events in my past I could prepare and better control my emotional wellbeing. My outlook on life began to change as I took steps to deal with the emotional pain and choose life and joy and all that was good during those times. If you have experienced a trauma in your life check your seasonal emotions. You may be able to better take care of yourself if you realize what is happening as you connect memories and seasons.
Here is life as I know it. God is good and faithful. He is my anchor in the storms and beside me every step of the way. I miss Daddy and there are so many things I wish he could have seen. I wanted him to walk me down at my wedding and I wanted him to know that I actually did marry Phil, the love of my life and I longed for him to see and hold and rock my children. They would have loved him so much. I look at my two precious grandchildren and know he would have so much fun with them and would have been so proud. But, you know, life has gone on and it has been good. Actually, it has been great. And I am thankful for every second that I had with a Daddy that loved me and loved Jesus. My joy is being made complete every single day and I don’t want to waste it for a second before life is short and life is precious.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
I do need to tell you all some amazing things that happened. My Daddy had lost most of his eyesight. This was really the one thing that he wanted to keep because he could escape into another world just by reading the paper. My home church was meeting for Wednesday night prayer meeting and they decided to pray. These amazing prayer warriors had been praying for him all through the surgery and for days of recovery. But this night, they prayed specifically for his eyesight as he lay in that hospital. He asked to look out the window – it was at night because the daylight caused his continuous headaches to be unbearable. As he was looking out the window at the blurry lights he said, “I can see!” Folks, my Daddy was able to see even though that tumor had rested right beside his optic nerve and had fingered into other parts of his brain. In the midst of the trauma and heartache, God showed His love to my Daddy and was gracious to Him. You better believe we celebrated and we called our precious church and they celebrated and praised God as well.
The second thing that happened is a word that I got directly from God and indirectly as a witness from my Daddy about the God he served. After I turned back to God after my angry season I got back into the Word. Actually, I plunged into the word. I was desperate for anything that would help me understand, help me be a better daughter, help me have more faith, and help me be stronger for my Mom. God showed me so many verses that I held on to. But there was one verse that kept coming to mind. It was Romans 8:18. In the NASB it says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
I started trusting in that “glory” for the future. Whether God healed my Daddy and the glory started in this life or if God took my Daddy home and the glory would come later. I decided to cling to that verse. I still do.
So now, 40 years later, as I am putting my heart down in words, that same peace that passes all understanding is washing over my soul. The ache to see my Daddy still comes at times but I don’t expect for him to come around the corner or be sitting in his easy chair like I did those first few months.
An amazing thing has happened, as I realize that my Daddy probably would not have lived to 100, I have been able to let go of some of the longing for things to have happened differently. It has really faded slowly over the years and my maturity has allowed me to see the good. God has proven that He is always faithful.
In His Arms
The most beautiful thing that I have learned is this…
When I long to crawl up in my Daddy’s lap and tell him about my day, when I yearn to hear his heartbeat and feel his breath; I have a Heavenly Father who will fulfill my need to be in the arms of someone I love and who loves me. He welcomes me into the holy place. He opens His loving arms and tells me to come. I crawl up into His lap and we just sit a spell. I lay my head on His chest He gently rocks. I talk to Him a little bit, but mostly we just sit quietly and be together. I listen and He holds me. In those moments, in that brief pause in life, everything is right with the world. I will always love and respect Him for that.
“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10