I looked up at my counselor and I asked him, “How do I tell my kids? What do I say to them?” As a chaplain, he had experience delivering this kind of news. And, I didn’t. I didn’t know what to say or how to say it.
By this time, my pastor had been called and people that lived close by were arriving at my house. The kids had been inside the house or outside playing in the front yard this whole time. I don’t know how much time had passed. Maybe an hour? The sun was disappearing behind the trees, but it wasn’t yet nightfall. I had so many questions there on that front porch. Time was standing still and flying by all at the same time. My mind was trying to wrap around this information I had been told.
Our little ones knew something was happening. I tried to remain calm for their sake, but they still saw me crying and the pain in my face. They were my kids, after all, and no matter how much I tried to tone it down, my body language told them something was wrong. They saw me talking to these men in uniform on the front porch. I didn’t want to hide anything from them but I did want to lessen their pain, if possible. They were waiting for Daddy to come home from work, too.
“Tell them like we told you. Tell them that there was a plane crash and he died.”
“That’s it? Just like that?”
“Yes. And, answer their questions the best that you can. Whatever reaction they have, just be there for them.”
“Will you go with me?, ” I asked my counselor, my pastor, and another friend the pastor had called to the house who was also a counselor.
And, we walked into the den. I was about to do one of the hardest, most awful things I have ever had to do.
“Hey, kids. Would you please sit down? I need to tell you something.” They all quickly sat on the couch, eager to find out what was happening.
“You know Daddy was at work today, right? Well, he was in a plane crash… and he died.”
In that moment, my kids started to learn something a child should never have to experience- that when someone dies, they are never coming back. But, this was their daddy and he was their world. He was big and tall and funny and strong and safe. He was their playmate and their teacher. Their comfort and their refuge. The man who took them on bike rides on the trail and fed them Ice Dream from Chickfila on a whim. Who cooked them pancakes and bacon on his first morning home from work and played Daddy dinosaur with them, roaring and tickling and wrestling with them while they squealed and laughed and begged him to tickle them some more. “Daddy, will you play dinosaurs with us? Please???” He broke up their fights and taught them how to rock climb and kissed their owies. He knew every word to the songs they liked the most, whether it was the soundtrack to Thomas the Train or Shake it Off by Taylor Swift. He sang and danced with them, read them Bible stories at night, and prayed for them when they were scared.
As the information left my mouth and entered into their understanding, I watched each of them crumble as life as they knew it completely fell apart. They started to cry loudly all at once.
“No!!!! You mean Daddy is dead? He’s not coming back?,” my ten year-old sobbed.
“This means that Daddy will never get to meet my son,” my six year-old said between tears.
“No!!! Dadddddddyyyyyyy. No, daddy, no. Not my daddy,” my four year-old little girl burst into tears.
My heart was tearing apart again, but this time for my kids. Knowing that this man who had loved them so much and had such a special bond with each one, knowing that he was never coming home, it was too brutal. Their daddy. The one who had longed for them as long as he could remember. The one who had prayed for them before they were even conceived. The one who held them in his arms and in his heart with a love that had been there for them since God created Justin. He was born to be a daddy.
The night before, Justin had arrived home after I had already put them to bed. As they were falling asleep, they would lay there waiting to hear him coming in through the front door. “Mommy, we want to see daddy.” “He’s on his way home with your brother. I will tell him you are waiting for a hug and a kiss and ask him to come upstairs and tell you goodnight.”
When he got home, we started chatting about the day. “Hey, honey. Will you please go upstairs and say goodnight to the kids? They are waiting for you and I think they are still awake.”
Up the stairs he went to unknowingly give my two youngest kids the last hugs and kisses that they would ever get from him on this earth.
As you go through your daily life, you get used to certain things. And, even in our thankfulness, we can take so much for granted. I mean, we don’t think each time something happens that it could be our last.
But, that was their last time ever seeing him alive. The next time they saw their daddy, his spirit was with the Lord and his body was laying in a brown wooden casket.
The day that Justin died, he left behind four people whose daily lives were intimately entwined with his, and a little unborn baby boy whose life never would be.
Death had come to our family, whether we wanted it to or not. And even though we had faith that Justin was with the Lord, it didn’t remove the searing agony of a life suddenly without him.