Life Examined

Because he lived.

I remember it was cold and rainy that day, like it is today.  Seems fitting for what the day held.

Remembering doesn’t cut through me like it used to.

I’ve heard it said that when a person experiences trauma, they begin to see their life in two separate parts:  before this, and after this.  The death of my dad is no exception.

Before it happened, I guess I was a typical sixteen year-old girl.  Caught up in the normal drama of a high school sophomore, I spent my days worrying about social standing, keeping my grades up, and keeping my parents at bay.

Back then things seemed so complicated, yet to see it in hindsight I realize just how simple things were.  Ironic, isn’t it?

There were things about my life before that were difficult, yes.  For one thing, I grew up with my dad mostly absent, which was hard.  I loved him so.

But my relationship with him and my stepmom was restored in such a beautiful way when I was fourteen, that it was sometimes hard to remember all the ways I had suffered as a child.  I moved in with them and suddenly began to experience life through a lens that wasn’t so broken and distorted.

For almost two years it was like that.  The three of us.  It wasn’t perfect but it was pretty awesome.

I’ll say that two years with him made up for fourteen without him.

Then it happened.  The it that broke my life in two:  On a rainy Sunday night fifteen years ago, my dad wrecked his truck and died.

Here one minute, gone the next.

And all of a sudden it was time to deal with the after.  And who is ever really prepared to do that?

At sixteen, I certainly wasn’t.  I did it horribly.  In the decade that followed, I managed to hit a pace of self-destruction that would make your head spin.  Sick of suffering the consequences of every poor decision the adults in my life ever made, I made it my business to take control.

I guess I figured at least if I screwed it up, it would be on my terms for once.

I did everything I could think of to deal with the grief.  I self-medicated with drugs and alcohol.  I chased every stupid risk that came my way.  I cursed God.  I lashed out at everyone.  I turned into something unrecognizable and so completely opposite of who I am.

I was a cliche.

And I knew it.  Even while it was happening, I knew it.  His death became my identity.  Hi. I’m Amy, and I lost my dad.  It was like a badge of honor to me.  I lived, breathed, and slept his death.  It was all-consuming.

It hurts to think about that.  I’m ashamed of it all.  Sometimes I ache with the want to go back and do it all differently.

It was around the ten-year anniversary of his death that I hit rock bottom.  But while I was there, I discovered that I had really just been driven to my knees by my Heavenly Father, who had been loving me all along.

And suddenly I started to understand that my life didn’t have to be a reflection of the fact that my dad died.  I didn’t have to think like that anymore.

That kind of thinking gives death the power.  Thinking that way means that his life was only about his death.  And it wasn’t.

Not even close.  Because…he lived.

In order to die, one must have been alive.  And it’s in his life that I find rest.

I’ll say it again:  My life was never meant to be a representation of the fact that my dad died.  It was meant to be a beautiful reminder of the fact that he lived.

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My dad pictured here, with his parents.

He was a pretty cool guy.  Everyone loved him.

He was tall and strong, and really good-looking.  When he was younger and had long hair, he bore a striking resemblance to Jesus, which probably served to endear him to people even more.  I used to want to marry him when I was a little girl.  🙂

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Him, my mom, and me.

He loved working with his hands; he was a creator at heart.  Once, he tried to make a living with his airbrushing, and ended up making beautiful pieces of art for his friends and family, specializing in t-shirts and the like.  I have a denim jacket he airbrushed for a friend and, even though it’s acid-washed and I’ll never wear it myself, I love having something which he created with his own two hands and obvious talent.  It makes me feel like my own creator-heart makes sense, and has roots.

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I’m pictured here with my grandpa, wearing a shirt my dad airbrushed for me.

He loved building things too.  Another business venture of his was “Yohe’s Contracting.”  At the end of his life he was a roofer by trade and didn’t love it. If you ask me, I’d say he pursued these things and enjoyed being a part of the creation of things because he had a heart that appreciated beauty and the idea that something could ultimately be created out of nothing.  Me too.

Because he had an eye for beauty, he was able to see and appreciate nature in a deep way.  I remember coming home from school on occasion to find him sitting in a lawn chair in our front yard, binoculars in hand, looking out at the beautiful view we had.  He was looking for deer, he said, but it was obvious he simply loved and enjoyed God’s creation.

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My dad with a couple of cousins, doing what he loved.

He taught me how to fish.  We canoed together a few times.  And I remember it was always quiet when we did so.  His ability to be still was passed on to me, and most of my fondest memories of him and I together aren’t marked by words, but by simply being in each others presence.  We did that well.

My daddy loved me better than anyone else on the face of this planet simply because we could be together and just be.

It wasn’t always silent.  Though as a roofer he had to wake up super early, him and I spent long hours talking late into the night.  He filled my tender teenage heart with beautiful statements of his love.  He used to tell me that if he had the chance to hand-pick the little girl who was to be his…he’d have picked me every time.

When he told me he loved me, he never just said it.  It was the last thing he said to me two days before he died, when he dropped me off at my grandparent’s house.  I remember he hugged me real tight, pulled away with his hands still on my shoulders, looked me in the eyes and said, “I love you, Amy.”

Oh…be still, my heart.

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Me, my dad, and my stepmom.

I remember his way the most.  You know?  Everyone has a way about them, and I loved his.  He was quiet and so gentle.  Stoic, I think.  Those who knew him always said that he usually didn’t have a whole lot to say, so when he did speak, you knew to listen.  I want to be like that.

I guess I sort of am like that.  Like him, in so many ways.

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Me and him at his wedding reception, when he married my stepmom.

He was a young thirty-eight when he died.  I’m not far from that age myself now, so the sting of “gone too soon” is a bit stronger these days.  It’s hard not to think of all the what-ifs.

But we played “Go Rest High on that Mountain” at his funeral, and in that song Vince Gill croons,

“Go rest high on that mountain, ’cause son, your work on Earth is done.”

And I still have to stop and catch my breath whenever I entertain the idea, but there’s a part of me that wonders if he did, in fact, complete his work here on Earth.  In me.

I was his only child.  And while I won’t carry on our name, I’m a Yohe through and through.

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Looking into my eyes means looking into his, or so I’ve been told.  I have the same mannerisms.  I love a lot of the same things.  And I’ve been told a few times that when I throw my head back and laugh a certain way, that’s him…big-time.

I’m proud of all that.  I’m proud to be his daughter.

I have three beautiful children; his grandbabies.  His grandson is his namesake.  They’ve never met him, but lovingly refer to him as “Grandpa Evan.”  When they ask me about him, they do so very delicately, with searching eyes that watch my reaction.  I think they’re afraid I’m going to get upset at the mention of him.

It’s hard for them to wrap their little heads around losing their Daddies; it remains one of their worst fears, thankfully unrealized.  My oldest asked me recently if it makes me sad to think about him.

(She’s never seen me cry about it.)

I’ve discovered that to a child, crying confirms that there’s deep emotions over a loss, and so not crying states the opposite.  She cannot fathom how I could speak of him without breaking down.

I told her that I used to.  A lot.  I gingerly explained that I’ve been to very deep depths of despair over losing him, and that to think about how much I miss him used to make my heart actually, physically, hurt.  How I could hear a song or smell a smell and get short of breath and a lump in my throat.

And there are times still.

Now that I have a son, it’s hard not to picture my two Evans out on a boat fishing, or walking through the woods together.  Bagging their first deer.  Talking like men.

I get a little shaky to picture my girls running to him and hugging his neck, presenting him with dandelion bouquets they hand-picked just for him.  Picking his tomatoes for him and eating most of them, just like me.

He would tell them, “If I could pick anyone to be my granddaughters, I absolutely would choose you two.”  And he would mean it.

I want him to shake my husband’s hand and have a beer with him.  I want him to call him ‘son.’  I want my husband to know him, like I did, so he could see for himself all the great things I’ve always said.  I want him to look at me and say, “You picked a good one.”

I want him to tell me he loves me, and that he’s proud.  I want him to know I’m trying real hard to do a good job with this life I’ve been given.  The life I have because of his.

Yeah.  There are still times when it hurts.

But it’s long been time to move forward, and I live my life like that now: one step at a time.  Not despairing over what could or should’ve been; all the ways he and the rest of us were somehow cheated.  No longer living in regret or hiding behind his death.

Stepping forward.  In pride of my heritage, with enthusiasm about what’s to come, and with the end in mind.  Getting older forces you to think about things like legacy and what exactly your life has been for.  We reflect on the why’s and the what-does-it-all-mean’s and the consequences of all that we do.

Some are afforded the privilege of such thoughts at the end of their lives.  Many are not.

Many–like my dad–are gone in the blink of an eye, leaving their people stunned by the injustice and burdened with the asking of all the questions.  The sorting through of all the things, like pain and loneliness and fear.

But I’ve learned that in order to successfully find an answer, we have to first be asking the right question.

My question used to be “What am I gonna do with my life now? My dad died!”

Now it’s, “What am I gonna do with this beautiful life?”  The one I have because he lived.

I love you still, Dad.  I hope I’m doing a good job with your legacy.

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Evan Allen Yohe

February 22, 1963 – April 29, 2001 

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