Bitter ‘Sweet’


Laura, Dad, Mom & Me

That’s the name Dad gave me when I was a teenager. I can’t remember the exact circumstances surrounding the nickname. I think it had something to do with teasing me about my first boyfriend. It wasn’t the mean kind of joking, but more the good-natured ribbing that let’s you know someone cares enough to help you not take yourself so seriously. But whatever the specifics of how it started, “Sweet” was the name that stuck. A few other people picked it up here and there, but for most, the name seemed was mismatched and awkward. But coming from Dad, it was more like a favorite pair of blue jeans … the kind that fit just right. I always imagined that it was his way of saying ‘I love you’ in a paired down ‘front porch’ sort of way.

But no one calls me “Sweet” anymore. In fact, I haven’t heard that name in nearly a decade… Not since my Dad’s booming voice and big personality was slowly eroded by a cruel disease.

PPA is the best diagnosis we have. A nice, neat triad of letters. Like they might be the name of a helpful app for your phone, or a company that provides home security or something. Much friendlier than Primary Progressive Aphasia. But even that doesn’t carry the weight of how it gripped my Dad… stealing his vocabulary, robbing his motor control, and nibbling away everything he once was, one tiny bite at a time over eight grueling years.

Show me, Lord, my life’s end,
and the number of my days;

 let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere hand-breadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.
Psalm 39:4-5

There’s a part of all of us that shuns end of life situations like the one Dad faced. We’d rather avoid them all together, choosing instead to turn away and close our eyes. That’s because facing the slow and steady decline of a loved one brings the reality of our own mortality into focus like nothing else. It’s a reflecting pool that few want to peer into for very long. Even with the best photo-shopping our modern technology offers, we can’t brush out the ravaging effects of age. And the face of a loved one in the throes of decline, drained of vitality, reminds us that this might also be the end that is ours. As one of my favorite authors put it, we slip out of this world “with all the limitations of a baby, but none of the loveliness.”

Perhaps that’s more fearful than death itself.

The loss of one’s very self. Unable to propel yourself forward… barred from accessing what’s behind.

My dad’s struggle is over. From the vantage point of earth, the disease won, stealing from him his last breath on January 24, 2019. But the Apostle Paul invites believers in Jesus to be freed from the chains of this terrestrial view and to grip firmly to a hope-filled eternal perspective.

“Set your minds on things above,” he says, “Not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

Though the stabbing pain of loss threatens to drain us of strength and overwhelm us with sorrow, the promise of Christ is that victory of death is short-lived. First Corinthians 15 points to the grounded confidence of all believers: “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable;  it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;  it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Cor 15:42-44)

Dad is gone from this world now. But his imprint lives on in me, and all who knew him. And though his absence is keenly felt, the hope that keeps us (and all who grapple with death) going is that our parting is only for a moment. We’ll be united again in the presence of our Savior in a place where there is “no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4)

… and just maybe, when we arrive in the ‘place prepared for us’ by Jesus (John 14:2), I’ll smile a familiar smile when I hear someone call me ‘Sweet’ once again.


12 thoughts on “Bitter ‘Sweet’

  1. Debbie Kitterman says:

    Karen, I am so sorry for the loss of your dad! What a beautiful story and memories of him and his special name for you in spite of what the years you were robbed of his voice. My dad was recently diagnosed with 3 debilitating diseases – one of which there is no cure, or so the doctors say. I have been helping my mom care give for him and it is bitter sweet to see him the way he is now and yet remember who he was just a few short months ago. Blessings and prayers for you as you mourn the loss of you beloved father. Thank you for linking up with me at #TuneInThursday last week.

  2. MEL THOMPSON says:

    As I grow older…and older, I become more aware of my finality here on earth. My wife and I purchased cemetery plots, markers, caskets for that someday event. We didn’t want to burden the living spouse or family with final preparations. It felt good, even smart, to have this out of the way, but at the same time a bit depressing. After all, don’t we all look forward to the Blessed Hope (1 Cor. 15:51-54)? “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” THANKS, Karen, for sharing your thoughts and memories in a moment of sadness knowing that one day death will be swallowed up (utterly vanquished forever) in and unto victory (Isa. 25:8).

  3. Terri Potter says:

    Beautiful Karen! I’m continuing to pray for you and your family. Love you!

  4. Sherry says:

    Karen, This is a beautiful tribute to your dad. He & your mom will hold a very special place in my heart forever! Continued prayers for your family.

  5. Angela Johnson says:

    I am so sorry to hear about your dad, but I think he would be greatly proud and blessed for the writer you have become. Your words were beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing!

  6. Lauren Sparks says:

    Karen, I am so sorry for such a great loss. Saying a prayer for you and your family now. I am visiting you from the tune in thurs link up and I linked up a book review about learning to lament. You may find it comforting during this time.

  7. Suzanne says:

    Karen, that was so beautiful! I’m so sorry for the loss of your dad. I lost mine January 23, 1998. Thank the Lord that they are whole forever and that we will be reunited with them!

  8. Laurie says:

    What a kind and thoughtful tribute to your dad. I am so sorry for your loss, Karen. You are right, though, your separation will be temporary. You will one day see your “Sweet” father again.

  9. Dorothy Bowen Nance says:

    You put it all in perspective and I needed it this morning. I lost my sister, DiAnne Bowen to breast cancer on Sunday and am now preparing her memorial service. In the past ten years, I have lost my Mom, Dad, oldest sister and now, DiAnne. Of the seven Bowens, only three of us remain. Each passing has been difficult and has left a void. Your words today have been comforting. My Dad also had “love” names for each of us. I looked through family videos yesterday and it touched me in one, that my Dad called me “Dardee”. I have not heard that in years! Hugs to you my friend as we continue our journey on Earth.

  10. Joyce says:

    Karen, so sorry about his absence from you, but your beautiful words are right. .. just a temporary separation.

  11. Lynne says:

    Oh, Dear Karen, ‘Sweet’ Reminders, …and just maybe I’ll hear that familiar ‘Susie’ from my Dad too. Tearful but Joyful Thanks. …Wonderful Words of Life

  12. Rachel Davidson says:

    Wow… Beautiful…. So heart/mind/soul & spirit inspired. Moistened eyes here….. I am confident your Dad has read this and considers it part of the new blessings of heaven. This is very, very “Sweet.” whew….


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