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A Grieving Father’s Epiphany

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Homeless mom

A Grieving Father’s Epiphany

by Bill Mahaffey

Today is Epiphany, the last day of the Christmas season. Christmas can be a difficult time of year for so many. I hope for you it is a sweet time. But I cannot disregard the travails so many friends and I confront, day after day. And I know each one of us confronts challenges that seem harder these Holy Days. But I do have my own Christmas story, and while very personal to me, I hope you will not mind my sharing it.

I can still hear the voice – not mine, “You have not done enough.”

Too many years ago now, I lost my son, Alan. It was in the late fall, and that Christmas was not going well. When he passed, I was lifted up by my Heavenly Father to be strong, to stand as a testament to his life. I demanded of myself that I be a comfort to his mother, and to his siblings, and his friends. And so many rallied around me, to lift me up.

Those times pass, and as a parent you soon realize that everyone else goes on with living, as if nothing had happened. And you try to fit in, moving to normalcy, though you are not normal.

It is hard, of course, to cast away the burden of sorrow. I wanted it to stop, but did not know how. I decided that I could only move forward by serving. That this would lift my burden. I did not know how I should serve, and I began to pray that Father would tell me how to serve.

Days passed, and as the burden of mourning pressed on me – I could not see who or what to serve, though I felt the answer was there.

All these days I could hear Alan calling to me. I could feel him with me. And I missed him more each day – and hated how everyone was going on as if he did not matter.

If I must serve to ease this pain who am I to help? What am I to do? In these moments, no one even asked for spare change, though I had vowed to honor even that request for assistance. And each day I kept asking Him – what should I do?

Days passes to weeks, and into the Yuletide. And bit by bit, I forgot about my oath to somehow serve. I was going to fight my way through these holidays. My first Christmas without Alan, and his guitar, and his smile and his amazing loving eyes. And his compassion.

Christmas Eve finally arrived. Driving home from work. A cold night – bits of snow floated in the wind. There is a gas station off the North Academy Exit, and I stopped there to get a soda, before heading home to kids.

I step out of my car, start to head in. A man behind me calls out – sir – can you help us?

Homeless Actor

I think – oh brother. Roll my eyes, and turn to him.

He says – “We are stranded here. We are out of gas, and I’m trying to get enough money to get us a room at a hotel.”

I see Texas plates. There are two small kids in the back seat – both young enough to be in car seats, bundled up against the cold. God knows why the parents are here with no money. They are just irresponsible.

I reach into my wallet, and give him five dollars. He is grateful, and says thanks.

His wife walks up, and she has a couple of small milks with her, and I hear her say to the kids – “see what I’ve got?” And she opens and gives them to the kids. She looks pleased with herself, or maybe relieved.

I’ve given my share. I start to walk away.

I can still hear the voice – not mine, “You have not done enough.”

I walk ahead. Then the voice again – louder, and demanding.

YOU HAVE NOT DONE ENOUGH.

I stop. Nothing after that – just silence. There was no choice in all of this – I returned to their car.

“Do you have the money for you room?”

Not yet – but we are fine.

Wait here. I go to the Days Inn behind us, and they will let me pay for a room.

I come back – you have a room. They look a bit stunned.

“Have you eaten tonight?”

No, but we will be OK.

So – there is a Denny’s right there. I’d never gone in – in all of the 20 years I had lived so close. A place where a lot of hangers on and stragglers get a hot meal – where some who consider themselves blessed go for a Christmas meal. A place where Jesus and Pope Frances might go find themselves – to welcome those who need it the most.

We get the kids out of the car, and go into that Denny’s. I have them seated. I go to the hostess. How much will be enough to let this family order whatever food and drink they want, and leave a tip for the waitress? I will be paying, and they have no money. And I give her that, am I am reminded that I am so very blessed.

I walk to them, and let them know they can and should have whatever they want to eat. Hand him some more money. I say goodbye. The mother is in tears. The kids are smiling. I wonder if I have done enough.

I turn to leave. Another voice.

It comes from behind the front counter. I turn. He is one of those lost souls we pretend to not see on the street. Long stringy hair. Ears pierced. Tattooed. Bussing tables and mopping floors.

Are you Alan’s dad?

I do not know him. He says again – as if I had not heard.

Are you Alan’s dad?

Yes – I am.

I see his eyes. I’ve seen them before –eyes full of sorrow and joy at the same time, reflecting a suffering I cannot comprehend, and the compassion that comes from enduring it. A lot of pain in them.

He looks straight at me – I was a friend. He had many friends.

“Mr. Mahaffey – he cared about all of us. You need to know – we go to see him all the time.”

“So you knew Alan”

“Yes. We all miss him.”

I thanked him, crying, and we shared hugs and tears.

I went home that Christmas Eve wondering, and I still wonder, who served who, and who visited me, on that night.

Bill Mahaffey is an attorney in Colorado Springs, Colorado.