My Wife Lost Her Father When She Was Fourteen

We shouldn’t have to watch cancer debilitate our loved ones as we pray to God for healing, only to feel like those prayers have fallen on deaf ears.

In a perfect world, little girls walk down the aisle with their father by their side; men shake hands with their soon-to-be father-in-law as he hands over his daughter’s hand in marriage; and eventually, grandfathers enjoy precious time with their grandchildren.

But our world isn’t perfect. It’s broken.

Visiting Her Father

My wife and I were in Raleigh, North Carolina for a football game last fall when we decided to visit her father’s graveside. An intricate maze of headstones decorates one of the oldest cemeteries in the Capital City where her father is laid to rest.

I watched my wife as she looked intently at the bends in the road, remembering in her mind the same journey she had made some eighteen years before. I imagined my wife, at the young, impressionable age of fourteen, riding with her family through the same winding path. Each turn taking her closer to burying her father.

Even though ten years had passed since her last visit, she still remembered where to go. There are some things we never forget.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from our visit, but I knew it would be hard for her. Honestly, I think she was surprised at how difficult it was. She misses her daddy.

We told the boys that we were going to visit Grandpa Jim, but I’m not sure that you can prepare three and four-year-olds for what that really means.

I know Liz was proud to introduce her sons to their grandfather, but I’m sure this isn’t the setting she expected. She envisioned them kicking a soccer ball with him or learning how to shoot a basketball–the way she remembered her childhood. But instead, she introduced them to a gravestone inscribed:

James Ruffin Bailey, Jr. 1951-1994

After a few minutes and a couple of photographs, I hugged Liz and told her to spend some time with her dad. As I buckled the kids into their car seats, I looked to see my precious wife, standing over her father’s gravesite.

My soul stirred within me.

When she came back to the car, we said a family prayer together and made our way out of the cemetery.

Etched in stone

Etched in Stone

I couldn’t stop looking at all of the gravestones. Each one represented a unique individual. Years had passed, erasing the physical presence of these people, yet their gravestones remained. A marker of their life–etched in stone.

Liz told us stories of her father. He was raised in a stern, but loving home and had a die-hard passion for athletics, especially when it involved his children or his Tarheels. She reminisced about his efforts to become an attorney vanish as he failed the bar exam multiple times. Despite his disappointment, he still worked to provide for his family. And finally, she shared tearful stories of his courageous battle with cancer that eventually cost him his life.

As I heard these stories, I began to understand:

Gravestones may mark a life, but the marker of a rich life is the stories it leaves behind.

Friends, you and I are writing a story that will one day be etched in stone–the story of our lives. There are no second chances at life, no do-overs. We get one shot.

And I’m learning that even though it’s not a perfect, flawless story, the imperfections will teach us–if we allow them to. The imperfections and our response to them says everything about the story we are creating.

And that is the beauty of today. We are still creating our story. Each of us has a chisel in our hand. We are sculpting our lives in stone, one day at a time. Every day presents the opportunity for a new notch in an ever-growing legacy.

I’m so proud of my wife. Of the woman and mother she has become. I’m inspired by her strength to not allow past define her, but rather, move her.

This was her Facebook status just last week:

I’m learning that the more I expect others to complete me and fill the void that only Christ was meant to fill, the more disappointed I am and the more complicated it gets. It’s quite simple if we will just take the time to rest in God’s presence.

She is a confirmation of the words in Proverbs:

A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown.

So, to my wife, Liz, and the rich legacy you are creating despite the imperfections. You are my crown.

MH

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  • David Mike

    Thank you for sharing this. Great way to honor your wife and father-in-law on your 200th post.

    • 200…whew. Hard to believe. Thanks for being a part of the journey, David.

  • “The marker of a rich life is the stories it leaves behind.”
    Such a great point, Matt. Thank you for sharing a part of Liz’s story with us today. And Happy Birthday, and a big HUG from me to her.

    • Amen, girl! You stay on fire and continue to change lives. Thanks for sharing, Amy.

  • Sherry Fletcher Aus

    Important message. Truly touching. Keep ’em coming…please.

    • Yes, Sherry. Thank you for being here.

  • Mr. Ham,
    I have tears in my eyes.
    Please tell your wife, “Happy Birthday.” My father died sixteen years ago this March. And he lives for me in the stories I remember and tell. I don’t have a grave stone to visit, his ashes are with my step-mother of no forwarding address.
    But, I see him in nature and think of him often.
    Thank you for the reminder to make each day count.
    And may you keep writing. Your words make a difference.

    • Pamela –
      I’m so sorry for your loss, but yes, he does live on in YOU. Thank you for stopping by and sharing with us.

  • I lost my dad at 14 to cancer also. It was not easy. I wish for the days of him knowing my kids and loving them to pieces. As I have grown older and lived most of my life now without him, though, I’ve learned to allow God to help me see him in ways it’s hard to remember. He has shown me lessons and gifts from how my dad lived his life more in the last ten years than in all of my life. And I feel so grateful that I had a dad who lived an incredible life and taught me everything I needed to know about loving people unconditionally in the short time I had with him.
    I have the choice now to live my life well, and I try to do that every day. It honors him and God and is what I believe we are all called to do. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Tammy, I did not know this. It’s so amazing to see this kindred journey that you and Liz share. And, I will say this…you are carrying on an amazing legacy!

  • Tom Morris

    Wonderful reflection, Matt! Touching and inspiring. Every decision we make, every action we take, is a chip in the marble, a verse in the song, a move in the dance, a stroke on the canvas of the life we’re creating, day to day. Thanks for the reminders of how it all adds up.

  • Al Sheneman

    A great reflection on the “dash” in Liz’s dad’s life. A reminder for each of us to think about the “dash” God is allowing us to chisel out in our own lives.

    • A think on it we should! Enjoyed our chat this weekend.

  • Deborah L. Sheneman

    I loved this Matt. Another reminder that it is not how long God allows us to live on this earth but what we do with the time he gives each of us.

    • Wish I would have been able to give you more than just a hug this weekend, but glad to see you!

  • Very poignant message, Matt. I’ve thought about this from the perspective of a parent…I was diagnosed with cancer (for the 3rd time) when my son was just 2. Cancer has taught me not to take any moment for granted, and that I want my legacy to be one my son is proud of. Great job on 200 posts, by the way!

    • Debra, I too was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year and I can say from experience, it is extremely humbling. Thank you for being here and for sharing!

  • TJ

    Matt,

    Jim Bailey is one of the few True Christians that I have had the pleasure of knowing. He truly walked the walk. He would often come up this way with Liz in tow on one of her marathon basketball or soccer tours. I remember him as a kind, loving father who devoted his life to Laura, Liz, and Ruffin Jr. At his funeral, I was astounded by the number of people who came to honor his life and to pay their respects.

    Thank you for posting this.

    TJ (the cousin by marriage who shares the same birthday as you)

    • Hey TJ! Very kind of you to share these words. I appreciate you being here and I know Liz does as well.

      • TJ

        Matt, no problem. I am fortunate to have known him as long as I did. He passed when I was still in college. I came down one weekend to see if I could help out Uncle Ruffin and Aunt Nelle after Hurricane Ivan went through (I think that was the name of the storm) and it tore up Raleigh pretty bad. Turns out their house wasn’t really impacted, so I got to hang out with Jim, Betty, and the then kiddos (hehe, I get to do that since I am the oldest of “this” generation). Jim and I got to talk quite a bit, but at that time he was limited to writing on paper and such.

        It was a time I remember fondly, and that’s one of the reasons Dad and I would try to hit whatever local basketball games Liz would be in when she would hit this area. It’s not often we have a cousin in college athletics. 🙂

        Proud of you guys for the business you have built and your wonderful family.
        TJ

  • Great post, Matt. Having lost both my parents at a young age, it is a different life. I felt your post was very honoring to your wife’s father. Congratulations on hitting 200 posts.

    • Hey Anne. I didn’t know that part of your journey. I’m certain that it has shaped the woman you have become. How have you been?

  • I’m trolling… er… catching up. I can relate to Liz’s story because my dad died seven years ago, and he didn’t get to meet my children. I know he would have been crazy about them. My father-in-law died a year after we got married and my mother-in-law died three years ago. My children will only know about their grandparents through stories we tell and a few pictures. I pray that one day the legacy my husband and I leave for them is one that points them to God and that we can engrave in their heart the values our parents instilled in us so they can have a rich life.

    • Continue to tell those stories, Lily. And live one as well 😉

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  • Great blog Matt. I visited my grandfathers grave a few weeks ago and many of these thoughts and emotions you mention came into my mind at that time. It certainly makes you think about the things in your life that are actually important vs. the things “the world” might think are important. Thanks so much for sharing from the heart.

    • Amen, brother! We find our life when we lose it.

  • Rebecca Rayfield

    Matt, it’s precious to read this portion of Liz’s story from her husband’s perspective. It seems as if you and Liz have grasped the legacy torch and are running with it quite well! Bless y’all!

    • Thanks so much, Rebecca. We certainly don’t have it figured out, but we’re trying to move in that direction.

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