I don’t believe we’re born with the capacity to understand God’s love for us. The Bible is full of scriptures that tell of God’s love, but I believe our understanding of it is nurtured during our formative years through our earthly parents. Through extended family, friends, work, social and parish relationships, we hopefully continue to gain an even deeper understanding as we age. Just as we count on our earthly parents to teach us through their love, nurturing, discipline and guidance, we can count on our Heavenly Father for the same things by turning to His Word often and sharing our experiences with others.
I also believe it’s often our earthly fathers who help us experience a small measure of God’s love, and I am sure that I had the best dad in the world, hand-picked by my Heavenly Father! Harold (Dean) Hast was my protector, my provider and my first love. Sure, he could be strict and I got plenty of spankings growing up (I was a bit sassy and prone to test boundaries … shocker, right?!), but we also shared many good times and lots of laughter, too. Dad was my hero! He could fix anything and was a self-proclaimed shade tree mechanic, which came in handy once we kids started driving and bought our first clunkers! No one could hold a candle to Dad in my eyes!
As I reflect on Dad’s involvement in my life, there are countless good things that come to mind, but there are also times during which I perhaps wasn’t the best daughter that I could have been. One time that really sticks out is the summer after I turned 13. Dad retired from the Air Force that year and we moved from Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota to Council Bluffs. It was a lonely summer and I was really mad at Dad for moving us here. I would rarely speak to him (which he jokingly used to say made it the quietest summer of his life!); when I did speak to him, it was in very harsh tones, and I no doubt said some unkind things as well. Dad took it all in stride, though, like he always did everything, and I know he forgave me.
On February 5, 2012, after a trip to the ER, Dad was admitted to Mercy Hospital. He was very confused so I stayed, sitting through the night holding his hand because he would rest more calmly that way. I sent emails and texts to family and friends asking for prayers and since it ended up being a sleepless night, I was given an incredible opportunity to spend uninterrupted time in reflection and prayer. As the hours dragged on, a sense of calm and peace began to wash over me. I believe I could actually feel God answering the prayers offered by so many, and even though it was a night of sadness and fear, I felt blessed and protected within the shelter of the Father’s love. It was also one of those rare ‘just Dad and me’ moments in our history as father and daughter, and I now consider myself fortunate to have been granted that gift.
Sadly, Dad never came home after that stay; he went first to skilled care at Risen Son and then on May 1, 2012 he was transferred to the Alzheimer’s unit at the Douglas County Health Center in Omaha. Four and a half months later Dad was sent by ambulance to the NE Medical Center with chest pains. After extensive testing, he was diagnosed with aortic valve stenosis, which set into motion a whirlwind of consultations and decisions that no family ever wants to deal with. After much agonizing and praying, Mom had to make the most difficult decision of her life, changing the DNI order to DNR, and the waiting game began.
There was much family time spent at the hospital, including a day when Dad’s siblings visited. On September 24, 2012, Dad was returned to the nursing home and placed into hospice care. We had a plan in place to ensure he would never be alone, but Dad and God apparently had other plans because he passed away around 11:00 that night. I didn’t get the opportunity to be present at the moment of Dad’s passing but my sister Debi said it was very peaceful, much the way Dad had lived his entire life. Although there was much sadness, there was also a sense of relief that Dad would no longer have to suffer and all of his memories would be restored in heaven. For that, I had to rejoice!
His wake service a few days later was a true celebration of his life; an employee at the funeral home even commented how wonderful it was to see so many people and to hear the bursts of laughter that erupted from the room as memories were shared. I pictured Dad sitting there with us, somewhat embarrassed about all the fuss being made for him. Dad was loved greatly and returned that love freely … not always so much in words, but definitely in actions! It was truly humbling to see so many people come to pay their respects. To view a slideshow I put together for the service, click here.
A friend once emailed to me a quote that said, “God doesn’t give you the people you want, he gives you the people you need. To help you, to hurt you, to leave you, to love you and to make you the person you were meant to be.” All of that applies to my relationship with Dad at various times over the years. Along with Mom, he helped mold me into the person I am today by loving me despite my faults and being there for me whenever I needed him.
I thank God every day for the gift of my earthly father and I know that my love for Dad did not end when God called him home. Like God’s love, Dad’s love is a part of me forever and I remain confidently hopeful that I’ll see him again. Until that time comes, I will continue to talk to him through prayer and strive each day to make him as proud of me as I am of him. I love you, Dad, and still miss you every day! Keep the light on for me, okay?
AUTHOR: KRIS REICKS
Kris has worked for Mutual of Omaha since 1984. A member of Corpus Christi Parish since mid-1976, she serves as lector, extraordinary minister of the Holy Communion and often is a greeter at the 8:00am mass at the Queen of Apostles worship site. She also serves on the Digital Outreach Committee, is one of the founders of Our Lady's Rosary Making guild and is an active participant in the Tuesday evening women's Bible study group. Kris has been married to Mike since 1994; they live in the West end of Council Bluffs, sharing their house with two Lhasa Apsos, Patches and Ripley. She has two grown stepchildren, Erika and Nick, married to Jenni, as well as two amazing grandchildren, Allison and Ethan.