Joni Parsley Daydream Believer
Monday, August 10, 2020

This past week marked the first anniversary of my beloved Father’s passing. After the pain I’ve endured for a full year, I can finally, happily call it his graduation celebration as he received the eternal reward that he so richly deserved. All that his life on earth lacked was gained the moment he entered paradise and saw his blessed Redeemer. My dad is in heaven. My heart is full at the very thought that he is there and I plan on living in the shadows of righteousness cast by him and of course, my Savior. I want to see them both!

The words you’ll read below were written in the first month after he chose to go home. They are unapologetically honest because grief is real and this was an experience I’d not faced before. Maybe others can go through this with much greater resolve but I felt it all to the core. I wrote with extreme detail only because I was answering the questions that I would ask myself when others dealt with personal loss. The who, what, when, why, and how had always pervaded my thoughts but there is no script or manual giving us the exact way to deal with loss. Because each of our hearts are different, so are our reactions. This is my raw and personal story and it’s the unedited version. I struggled with posting out of fear of being so transparent but if this is relatable and can help any person, then it’s my sacrificial duty and honor. It may be about me but it’s not for me.

I could write for days about the grace of God and the many lessons that I learned; what He taught me about myself, the true meaning of forgiveness, understanding and truths that forge a path to His love in me and through me... About how as a patient Father, He held up the mirror and let me see the real me. Some lessons were insightful moments, some hard, and some reflections weren’t pretty… but just like my dad used to say, “You’ll see one day that this is for your own good!” And yes, he was right!

I can conclude my overview of this past year by saying God is and was my escort. Daily, it was though He waited for me to hold onto His everlasting arm to walk through hills and valleys while showing, teaching, guiding, comforting, gracing, and above all, loving me like I was something special. I’ve never seen myself that way, but God does. All of us have value because we were purchased with the costly blood of Jesus Christ and if we had a receipt it would read, "Debt is Paid in Full!" We have eternal life waiting and all He asks is that we be holy as He is and to love one another. He left us an instruction book called the Bible which I always saw my dad’s by his comfy chair. He knew WHO was right within his reach.

*From my personal experience

I can’t form words about the death of my father. In this tidal wave of emotions, there is that unmistakable rhythm that ebbs and flows... There are the moments where the tide recedes as the sting subsides and pain diminishes from welcomed distractions and you can breathe again. It’s not long until your mind engages with the truth at hand and the flow of the tide begins to intensify once again. This is the rhythm of those that mourn.

In the beginning, the immediate shock remains telling you, “This really didn’t happen, this is not real, I cannot wrap my mind around this; it’s as though everything is in slow motion, it’s a bad dream and I can’t wake up. This is all so surreal. I can’t describe it other than to declare emphatically, ‘I hate this!’”

Between the second and third week where you wonder how you’ve done what you’ve done, you already look back and see how you couldn’t stand but you did. Well, silly me I never did anything. I had an angel glam squad getting me up and ready to face the unthinkable moments ahead.

In hindsight, I can see just how much love sees beneath the surface. Like my darling daughter, who was so thoughtful and prepared everything for me personally. She saw me... really saw me… and where I was and what I was trying to handle. I didn’t even have to ask for help because she had done everything. Of course, my son and husband were such comfort just being who they are to me. I could sense the heaviness in my husband’s heart preparing to give the eulogy. As a Pastor, one rarely gets to just be a family member. He had the arduous task of delivering the eulogies of both of his parents and his only sister. Now he had to say what all of our hearts were feeling along with giving the honor that was due such a highly regarded man like my dad. What a considerable responsibility, yet done as a labor of love. And thankfully, we had the privilege of a wonderful staff and church family that stepped in to help in ways I shall never forget. I am indeed blessed.

So how was I supposed to be able to help my sisters and mother pour over photos and handle details like we were planning a party? Homegoings should be celebrations, but if I’m being honest, I wasn’t quite there yet. This was a funeral. My father passed on Tuesday and the next morning we were in a meeting at a funeral home preparing for the service to be held at our church on Saturday.

How did we do that? How was I not screaming since I knew (and I realize this is morbid) that my dad’s body was in that building? How was this happening? How was I holding it together? The answers are many, but ultimately, they are results of the power of prayer and the nature of a loving God who knows our human limitations. We were all okay because God was in the room with us and people were praying.

The planning continued and somehow the auto-pilot button was pushed. There we were looking at photos of him alive and happy, when just hours earlier we were looking at his lifeless body. No one can tell me that God doesn’t exist. No one can tell me that God doesn’t have compassion that fails not. No one can tell me that God doesn’t have an all-sufficient grace that affords us the strength and fortitude to stand and go on when we want to fall down and quit.

The day of the funeral, I thought maybe I won’t go. Ok, I am not, I just can’t! I can’t do it! I can’t and that’s it! I CANNOT DO THIS! As I’m sobbing, two of my friends come running. “You can do this,” they pleaded, “your Dad would want you there.”

They were rushing me about literally helping me get dressed as I was melting; grief was heating up again. ‘Daddy would expect me there,’ were the magic words… and for him I would and could find the courage. I knew it, I just didn’t want to believe it. So the angel glam squad had to come again because I wanted to stay in my robe and slippers.

I was in the car going to the church. I could drive that route with my eyes closed since it’s a daily trip, but this one was different. I was going to a service honoring the life of my father who was now gone. I was never going to see him again or walk into service right to his seat and give him a hug and kiss on the cheek. He always wore his special cologne (a bit much!) on Sunday and we used to tease him that we would smell like his cologne when we hugged him. I was never going to hear his voice, hear him come through the back door after mowing when we went to visit. He would never again be at that house where I grew up. The “never agains” of the rest of my lifetime raced through my mind on an unceasing loop during my twelve-minute drive to the church.

When I arrived, there was my daughter with her embrace awaiting me and I could breathe again. After getting ready, I walked into the tabernacle; another familiar walk I’ve done thousands of times, it seems, but never shaking and trying to make sure that tidal wave didn’t crash against the shore of the emotions I was holding back. There was the greeting hour prior to the service and my precious son had waited for me...once I held his arm, the waters became still.

The service was ready to begin as I surveyed the crowd of so many loved ones, extended family, church family, and friends from near and far. That is a life that speaks volumes. My father never did anything that would gain him great notoriety in the eyes of the country, but his character had won hearts filled with love and respect and he left this earth a highly decorated soldier. My heart was pounding as my eyes filled with pools of such gratitude. I have always been proud of my Dad and the fact that others noticed his rare and exemplary combination of being humble yet distinguished has made all who knew him lifelong beneficiaries ... and students.

As the tribute began, I had my moments. It was beautiful, heartfelt, funny, filled with stories and ended in a special way I’ll get to later. There we were on the front two rows; another surreal moment. Thankfully, my husband’s arms stayed around me. When someone loves you, it’s a natural response to pour out every bit of extra love and compassion they have. Love feels the pain of another and rushes, with hearts wide open, to bring comfort.

As we stood together as the Askoff family, I was so overwhelmed. I love my family beyond any ability to describe; I have written about them over the years but each one of them is a treasure I cherish. My love for them was also feeling their pain, not just my own. My mind wandered at times thinking of my dad with each one of us and I couldn’t help but think of what was on the minds of everyone else. Although this was a common loss, it was uniquely personal to each family member. How proud my Dad would be to see his beloved family: his wife of 63 years, his three daughters who adored him and all the grandchildren who brought such joy. All the times we were together were always occasions marked by happiness, support, sports, milestones and celebrations but this was unimaginable-we were saying our last goodbyes.

Time after time, I discover why grace is called amazing and God is called a wonder. His wonder and His grace stayed amazing and took one step as I took the other. God not only knows all...He actually cares so deeply that His presence becomes your robe and slippers. He was not only walking for me but walking with me… God Himself was continuing to escort me down a trail as I surveyed all the beauty that had been in my 58 years. I read a lovely quote by President Ronald Regan, “Wherever a beautiful soul has been, there is a trail of beautiful memories.” How true.

Those memories became like my teddy bear onto which I held. It’s interesting how child-like we become when a parent passes... Regardless of age, I feel somewhat orphaned. The days that had felt gentle and serene changed quickly as though a hurricane hit and I was not prepared.

Just a few weeks had passed and I was somewhere different. The thick, foamy insulation of shock that acts as its own absorber was beginning to wear thin as the reality hit me. Until then, I felt as though I was wrapped in a blanket, wearing that robe and those slippers and then, in an instant, it was all torn from me and left me shivering in the cold. I was alone. I wanted to call for my dad but knew he couldn’t come. He always told me if I got lost or separated from him to stand still and just call out for him, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.” He emphasized how important it was that I never run and try to find him. If I just stood still and yelled for him he would hear me because he knew my voice and would come to me. I am certainly feels that way now and I’m separated from Daddy but he will not hear my cries for him. As David said after the death of his son, “I will go to him, he will not come to me.”

My cries now are for my Heavenly Father. I’m misplaced not knowing how to do this life, and though I may be in a room of people, still I am alone. I know My Heavenly Father knows my voice and I continue to take my dad’s instructions to stand still and just call out for GOD...He will come to me with love as His compelling reason.

When I got to see my dad, after he was taken by squad and passed shortly after arrival at the hospital, things did change. I met my husband there and fell into his arms. Soon thereafter, I disobeyed Daddy’s instructions. We got separated in an unthinkable way and I did run trying to find him. “Room 19,” the nurse said, and into the room I ran where his lifeless body laid. I did cry out, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” my face on his cheek crying into his ear whispering, “Please don’t leave me,” but that was about me. He deserved to choose to go home.

Later that evening, a young man told me about a conversation he’d had with my dad the previous week. He let him know that he was finished and would not see his birthday which was in a few weeks. When the young man said, “You’re going to get through this and we’ll all celebrate your birthday.” His reply was, “I won’t be here by then.”

My dad was a man of his word and went into cardiac arrest 9 days prior to his birthday. I believe and know by the gracious words of the Holy Spirit, late that night, that he asked God to stop his heart. He collapsed when no one was in the room at home. My mother was fixing his food while talking to my sister, Jenny, who then called me; a phone call that changed my life in an instant. In turn, my sister Julie, who lived nearly an hour away, had to be called and I did so en route to the hospital. To have to give this news to my big sister was another role-reversal. She was always my protector when we were little, and the deciding factor in the fun and plans we’d make. How could I give her this news? How did my little sister have to be so grown up and take my mother to the hospital, be with her, call me, and have to stay in control? I was always the overly emotional, overly sensitive one to the point that it was annoying. I was hysterical since this news was unexpected to us ... but not to Daddy who was ready. He was, even in his last moments, considerate enough to wait until he was alone. In retrospect, the signs that he had finished his course were evident. He was choosing to not do the things to sustain his health. I didn’t pick up on it then because I didn’t want to. Still, God honored his prayer and his proclamation. He didn’t die from cancer and at age 89 he reached the finish line with his dignity intact as he wished.

As I had my face on his, he was still very warm but as time went on he became so cold. That’s how I feel. The man that was my covering as a father, which is much different than a husband’s, was gone and his absence has taken my breath at times. I felt as though my warmth left as well and I too was cold and lifeless. Life left my life. His life left mine. I never imagined my life without Daddy. He was to live forever because that’s how I wanted it.

Before we had to leave the room that unforgettable night, we had prayer. Daddy was covered with a blanket to his neck but I suddenly thought to take his hand. I reached under that blanket and took his hand for the last time. How many times have I held that hand; his hands were very distinctive maybe just to me; maybe as a little girl holding onto the safety and security I always knew was present if I was with him. Those hands dried my tears, put iodine (why iodine?) on my cuts and scrapes, folded in nighttime prayer where, as a child, I blessed everyone I knew including pets and all my pets in heaven. Those hands were evident when I was disobedient, pointing that index finger of authority indicating my errors as a teen where grounding was sure to follow … but those hands also patted us on the shoulder as an act of love, assurance, and approval. As an adult, his hand held mine as a nervous bride; he escorted me down an aisle and patted my arm whispering, “Slow down,” and I did.

You have to know that my dad loved jazz music and Big Band music. He loved all the greats to many of the unknowns. The interesting coincidence is that our dear friend, the incomparable Phil Driscoll, was one of my dad’s favorites especially when he played his trumpet. Phil was at my wedding to sing and play a favorite hymn as I walked down the aisle, “My Jesus, I love Thee”. Graciously, he accepted our special request to end the memorial service by singing and playing the most beautiful song that he wrote for his mother’s home-going and my dad loved it. Well, few may know it but he is married to the godmother of our children (we call fairy godmother after years of indulging!) so, Ashton had a little pull and surprised us. I thought while he escorted one daughter, on his arm with those special hands I had to let go of life with him to another life and Phil Driscoll was playing. At the close of his memorial service, when I was saying goodbye to a different life, Phil Driscoll was playing the last song “On the Other Side.” The lyrics are exquisite and included in my next post.

I guess my hand left his hand for another and he left his hand for another; both of us had escorts as we embarked on an eternal union. Though mine left his on this side, on the other side, love never leaves. Maybe my hand left, but my heart didn’t.

I must add that his hands were significant for a reason. All was well, or would be, when I was hand-in-hand with Daddy. His hands just seemed strong. How much more strength are in the hands of my Father God? “How much more must...” that is a phrase I always told myself. My father informed my ideal of God as Father. My Dad would do anything for us; in a crisis or just in the everydayness of life’s difficulties. So I would say to myself, If my Dad would do this and fix this, how much more will God do? How much more must God love me?

As my husband and I became parents, that boundless love that gives you breath yet takes your breath away, likewise informed our ideal of God as our Abba all the more.

I miss Daddy so much that it physically hurts. I loved him and still love him. My love is eternal so it will always be referred to in the present tense as I move beyond. I love you is supposed to be forever.

I hurt for my family and those who are in pain. I know we all need to stand still and call for our Father God. I know the God of mercy and grace will bring my warmth back, and I know The Holy Spirit wraps His presence around me. His warmth is why I think He is referred to as the Comforter that so lovingly envelops us. He blankets us with love and grace and obviously patience because I’m a bit emotional and not acting like I normally do. I am in pain. It’s not a pity party and I will refuse the temptation to shut down. But for now, I take each day and each hour and allow myself this time to mourn. Ecclesiastes 3 affords me a season to mourn with a unique grace just for each of those listed. When I’m ready, God will escort me, once again, into the next season to come. Yet for now my tears are many, I’m thankful every night that I made it and was graced with another day.

Although nights sink into a silence that is oddly piercing and darkness always seems to contend with sadness, I know morning is coming.

New mercies await me even when I open my eyes and my first thought is that my father is gone. Those new mercies will carry me through this crippling pain.

I keep in mind the words of others that bring comfort like those of Washington Irving, “There is a sacredness in tears, they are not marks of weakness but of power. They are messengers of unspeakable love.”

Why power? I think the answer came when I heard someone say that to grieve is an honor. “It’s an honor to have been given the chance to love someone so much that their loss leaves you broken.”

Words are so powerful and can impact you in a moment. I was impacted as such when I learned that, “I miss you,” directly translated from the French ‘Tu me manques’ is, “You are missing from me.” I don’t know a better description of the feeling called grief.

My Dad is in Heaven, suffering no longer. He is at home with his Savior; for that I am thankful. For that I rejoice and often imagine him in Heaven and what he might be doing. What a reunion he must have had! I’m overwhelmed that He gave his life to Jesus and we have the hope of walking the streets of gold together. Yet, I am still here. There is the stark reality that until we meet again...he is missing from me.

In his native Serbian language, so rich in love of family, they beautifully refer to father as Father, Always, or, “OTAC YBEK”. He is Daddy to me and also fondly Father, Always.

As I wrote this I sobbed feeling like that lost orphan and I couldn’t help but stand crying out “OTAC YBEK,” “Tu me manques.”

“Father, Always, You Are Missing From Me! FATHER, ALWAYS...FATHER, ALWAYS FATHER, ALWAYS...

Now as time has passed that sentiment has not been lost. What a beautiful thought that I can call on my God as Father, Always.

I know so many of us have lost loved ones and no matter how still we stand or how loud we cry, they cannot come to us. I know it sends our hearts into a panic – running to see them… to find them… to bring them back. Our hearts… they run… like my feet to “Room 19,” – just to keep spiraling down, upon arrival, into the seemingly bottomless chasm of unfathomable yet true loss. But we cannot let our pain keep us running to a dark nowhere finding only exhaustion and emptiness. Like my daddy told me to stay physically still when I was lost, so our heavenly Father shows us to be still in our hearts in times of loss… which I think is beautifully described in this timeless hymn. Every word is truth, is love and is from Him ... Father, Always.

Be Still My Soul
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side;
bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
leave to thy God to order and provide;
in ev'ry change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heav'nly Friend
thro' thorny ways leads to a joyful end

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
to guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
all now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice, who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
and all is darkened in the veil of tears,
then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Read an Earlier “Diary
of a Daughter” Entry Here

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About Joni

Thanking God for blessings too many to list. He is my all and my always-the glory and the lifter of my head... He never fails.

Why the Name

"For a child, it’s as easy as blowing out candles on a cake, or wishing upon a star. But as for one of those 'grown-ups,' 'No dream comes true until you wake up and go to work.' " ...