Our long awaited Christmas family vacation started off with some very somber news. I received a text message from one of my best friends Holly, telling me to call her as soon as possible. Not receiving texts like this from her I knew the news she had could not have been good. That was when she told me her dad, Clint Baird, had passed away suddenly. It was his 60th birthday. Having been my first time losing someone so close I was not prepared for the grieving process and all it entailed. Being in California with my family for Christmas served as a great distraction, but I struggled knowing what I had to return to and what I had to face. My family returned to Portland the Sunday before new years so I could spend the week with Holly and her family. Monday morning I kissed my children and husband goodbye and stood in the driveway of the Baird's home as I watched them drive out of sight. I stood there for a moment thinking about how I missed my family already and scared for the week ahead of me. I looked behind at the home which for me carried so many fond and beautiful memories of a loving family who took me in as one of their own when I was a lost and broken teenager. I thought of all those Sunday brunches after church when Clint made his delicious over easy eggs cooked in bacon grease. Or the Saturday dinners with the Bairds and my husband followed by a rousing game of mexican train with the predictable inappropriate joke now and then by Clint just to get me riled up. Or the time Clint taught me self defense moves in case I was ever "attacked in a dark alley." Or when he always greeted me by tightly squeezing my shoulders from behind and say, "Heya squirt." I thought of the times when he and I would sit in their den on the couch facing the wall with a built in bookshelf filled to the brim with travel guides to Europe, John Grisham novels, spiritual non-fiction, and frames with old family photos. I would sit looking at all of the different book titles and pottery vases his wife Jane collected that were in and amongst the chaos of literature as Clint talked with me about business, family, marriage, and faith. Admittedly my mind would sometimes wander away from the discussion and focus more on the bookshelf in front of us. Now I wish I had clung to his every word. As all these memories and many more began rushing through my mind. I had suddenly felt an intense pressure on my chest as if someone was pushing all of their body weight into me. I felt like I couldn't breathe. I realized that Clint was now simply a memory. And that's all I had, memories. I didn't cry in that moment (the hours of tears came later), but I felt a heaviness that I can not say I have ever felt. In the moment I may have even called it hopelessness. The week followed with lots of visitors coming and going, lots of laughs telling of stories about Clint, and lots of tears. I went on runs now and then to relieve stress or just clear my mind of the confusion and sadness. Sometimes it helped but sometimes it didn't.
The day of the burial was brutal emotionally. The day of the memorial service was even more brutal, but I was blessed by how beautifully the memorial service brought honor to Clint. Over 325 people came to the service, many of which shared during the service about Clint's incredible generosity, devotion to his relationships and family, and the inspiring passion he had to serve others. I felt so proud to have known him and to feel like a member of such an incredible family. And I realized how special a gift it was that I got to know this person, even if for a short while.
As I later reflected on the week I started to think about the moment in the driveway when I felt what I thought was hopelessness. Then I realized the feeling wasn't hopelessness at all but a moment of intense grief and sadness. Like the pastor at Clint's memorial service said, we as people who follow Jesus grieve with hope. Because we own the belief that Clint is now in a place where he is no longer in pain, no longer suffering, no longer hurting. He is Clint in his perfect form. I thought of an old hymn called, "What Wondrous Love is This." The last verse says, "And when from death I'm free, I'll sing on. And when from death I'm free, I'll sing on. And when from death I'm free, I'll sing His love for me, and through eternity I'll sing on." This is why I have hope. And this is why I look forward to one day singing alongside Clint Baird.