Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mourning Three Months Later

It's been exactly three months since my father's death. Through this time, I have felt myself bathed in prayer as I never have before--at least never so consciously. I know that many of you reading this are the reason for this, and I cannot thank you enough. God is good all the time. All the time. And, I am blessed, and I am grateful.

Three days from now, I will celebrate my twenty-sixth birthday. Last year, my father flew out to celebrate my twenty-fifth and, the following day, my son's Baptism. It never crossed my mind that he would not be living the following year.

Three months into grief, and what have I found? I have learned that grief is a wave you must ride, whatever form it takes, and that God will hold you up, whatever it brings, and that He will guide you back to the shore in His time. I have been disillusioned, and I have found meaning. I have been wounded, and I have found healing. I have been battered and burdened, and I have found peace. I have grieved, and I have found myself in Jesus' arms.

God is good all the time.

Many of my friends and family have requested that I share the eulogy I read at my father's service. I think today is a good day for me to revisit the words I spoke when the grief was fresh. If you feel it will bring you any healing or blessing, then I invite you to share this reflection with me.

* * *

On the evening of March 9th, my husband, Brian, said to me, “This is just so tragic. Who will be able to write the eulogy?”

Without missing a beat, I said, “I will.” And, as those of you who know me well might imagine, my difficulty has been not in finding the words to say but in keeping them few.

What do you say in the wake of a suicide? You say, “I’m sorry.” And, you never think it’s enough, and it never is, and yet it always is. You say, “I’m sorry.” You say, “I love you.” You say these things not only because they are true but because they are the things my dad would say if he could speak to us now.

My father has always been a sort of wonderful paradox for me. He was a man who alternately dreamed of travelling the world and of moving to a little house in the country to raise chickens. He was the life of the party, but he always went to bed hours before anyone else. He was a kind and compassionate person. He was also the world’s most infamous practical joker, many of his jokes being quite cruel. He loved people deeply. He also hurt people deeply. It is okay to say these things. It is okay to see the bad, as well as the good. We will celebrate his life, but there are also questions left unanswered, wounds that left unhealed, and in order to mourn Dad, we must face these darker things if we are to truly be able to celebrate.

But, let’s celebrate first. I know you all have your favorite memories of my father. His infectious laugh. His goofy sense of humor. Fishing trips. Business trips. Family trips. Holidays. Birthdays. Wedding days. Ordinary days. I would like to share with you a very few of my favorite memories of my dad.

I remember his hands. How they were so dry that sometimes, they would just start to bleed for no reason at all. I remember how rough they were. These are hands that I loved very much. That would soothe me to sleep, that would hold me when I was sick or sad, that would grip my own little hands as I rode on my daddy’s shoulders so that I could see above the crowds.

My first memory ever is actually of my dad. I was probably two or three years old. I was wearing a Care Bear nightshirt, and it was twilight. My father and Greg Russell, actually, and I were out in our sailboat. I was in the galley playing Cinderella. My father was trying to talk to Greg, but whenever I ran to him and begged him to play with me, he would spout off a line from the movie, and, delighted, I would scamper back to the galley, secure in the knowledge that my Da loved me more than anything.

Another favorite memory of my father is also from a time at the Thousand Islands. When I was little, my dad would wake me up before sunrise and carry me to the front dock in my pajamas. We would sit on the orange glider and rock and watch the sun come up. Afterwards, he would carry me back to bed. I don’t think we ever spoke. We never needed to.

I remember making Eastman House rolls with my dad, possibly the most complicated yeast dough recipe ever created. It took hours and hours. He was so proud. I was so happy he wanted to share it with me.

I remember when Dad’s company made it on the cover of Forbes magazine. And how I accidentally left a pop can on the copy my mother meant to have framed for him!

I remember the look of pride on my father’s face the day I got cast in To Kill a Mockingbird, my first professional show. I think he was prouder about that than about Forbes.

I remember dancing with him on my wedding day, and how I cried and cried and cried, and how he cried, too.

I remember telling him, on the day we found out the gender of our first baby, that he was going to have a granddaughter. He cried then, too. And, he cried when she was born. And he cried again at the birth of our son. And he came out to meet them and to attend their baptisms. And it was then that I became so hopeful. He was so full of joy when he held my babies.

I remember, so vividly, a trip he made out to see us last year. Sophia had just started to be able to remember who her grandparents were between trips, and she was enamored with him. At naptime, she wanted Grandpa to read her a story, and she chose A Lion in the Night by Pamela Allen. He sat down on the floor, and Sophia sat just in front of him, and he wrapped his arms around her and he read the book, an old copy of mine, and he said, “I remember. I remember this now.” It was more than the story. For the first time in a long time, I remembered, too, and for the first time in a long time, I had my Da back.

I will spend my life sharing memories, with you, with my children. And though I also have painful memories of my father, particularly in recent years, I am grateful to have so many good ones. I only wish there were time for more.

But, as I said, in such a tragedy, there must be something not less but more than the celebration of a life. There is also the reconciling of a life that was taken in such a sad and violent manner. Brian and I often spoke over recent years of how we could love my father better. We tried to reach him, but we never could. I am sure many of you felt the same way. All the while, I watched my father’s life unravel and I saw, at every turn, the hand of God reaching out to him, but it seemed that God could not reach him, either. I believe now that my father was just in too much pain to reach back.

Several months ago, I asked Brian, “How far down does he have to go? How far until he scrapes the bottom of the barrel and looks up and finally sees God reaching out for him?” And, then he met Veronika, and I hoped, we all hoped, that he was coming back from the darkness. I prayed that he would be able to take God’s hand in the broad daylight now, and not in the dark bottom of the barrel. I still hope that, at the very end, Dad found himself in the loving arms that had been reaching, reaching all these years.

Many of us are feeling bewildered, shocked, and we call into question just how well we knew Don Carlberg. He could be very open and outgoing, but he was also a fiercely private and even secretive man. No one can truly know all that is in a person's soul, but there are two people whose relationships with my dad might give us a little more perspective. My mother knew my father, I think, better than anyone. They met when they were nineteen. They were best friends for over thirty years, and even after their divorce, my mother saw into his soul in a way that few people could. I think, perhaps, this is why she had such profound compassion for him. Veronika had the unique privilege of knowing my father as he wished he could be. The great tragedy is that I think that these two Dons, the man that he was and the man that he wanted to be, were always the same man, and he was the only one who didn’t know this. I hope that, now, he is being made whole.

I am sorry that my children will never know him. I am sorry that he was so sad, so broken, so lost, and in such pain and in such darkness. I am sorry that I cannot go to him now and wrap my arms around him and tell him, "I'm sorry. I love you. It will be alright." I am sorry that there is nothing left to make alright, that it is over. It seems incredible. It is surreal. Repeatedly, I imagine what it must have been like, that morning. I will not share those thoughts with you. They are too horrific and too private, but I will say that, even in through the anger and hurt I feel, the only words that flash through my mind with those images are, "I love you. I love you, Da."

The last time I spoke to my Dad was about a week before he died. I called him. I'm glad I called him. The last thing he said to me was, "I love you. Give my love to Brian and Sophia and James." And my last words to him were, "I love you, Dad. Bye." And, for this, how can I not be grateful?

Many of you know that my relationship with my dad has not been easy in recent years. I know that his relationships with many of you have seen their ups and downs, as well. Now, perhaps, we know a little better why this was, though it does not make it any easier, and I wish desperately, so desperately for time, for years and healing and a restoration and an absolution that will never come. I wish that he were not dead, and that it had not happened in this horrible way. But, I am profoundly grateful that I chose to love him until it hurt and even beyond the place of pain, that I forgave him while there was still time, and that I told him--and told him repeatedly--that I loved him. I know that many of you can say the same, and for that, we are blessed. And for that, I thank you.

And, so, I have only one more thing to add. Daddy, I love you. I forgive you. I miss you. Good-bye.


  1. Thank you for sharing this. It is beautiful. When you feel up to it, I would love to hear your advice for someone who is trying to love her father amidst his depression. I am confused about the difference between loving unconditionally & enabling. It seems that all of us in the family are confused about it. May God bless you & your family and may your father rest in peace. Thank you again for opening your heart to share your story with us.

  2. Thank you for sharing, as hard as it must be. You're in my prayers.

  3. Bethany, that is such a beautiful remembrance. My prayers are with your family as you recover from the loss of your father. God Bless...

  4. Bethany, thank you so much for sharing this. Every life is a mix of good and bad, and all of us have the capacity to bring such joy and such pain into the lives of others. I am glad you were honest about all that your father meant to you - good and bad - and that God has already given so much healing and grace to you. Your words have touched me profoundly.

  5. Oh, Bethany, I am so sorry. I started crying as I read this. Your love for your father is so obvious in every word.

    I hope that God continues to give you peace and comfort in the midst of your grief.


  6. It's very beautiful and real. I think it's good that you came out and said the word "suicide." Sadly, I've been to two funerals for victims of suicide. However, no one said that word in either of the eulogies. It's not as if that omission protected the family's privacy, because everyone already knew (the deaths were clearly self-inflicted). It was strange for all of us to sit there with a lump in our throat, but not be able to hear or speak a word about what made the deaths seem so much more tragic than other deaths. Pretending it was something typical or accidental just made it worse for me, but I know it's not my opinion that matters, but the family's.

    I also think stating the cause of death makes other people who may be contemplating suicide realize the pain it causes to those left behind. By not talking about it, I wonder if we increases the sense of shame and denial. Of course every family has to decide this on their own. It's a choice I pray I will never have to face.

  7. You've written a very beautiful memorial to your father. I cried as I read it. I particularly like how you mentioned that he was not perfect, that he hurt people in his life. So many times, eulogies turn into lauding a person excessively without mentioning their shortcomings. Certainly we shouldn't dwell on the shortcomings, but it's important to acknowledge they were there. Some of the departed's family members and friends may have been hurt by that person, and forgiveness is in order. When the eulogist refuses to mention this, I think it is harder for people to mourn properly. They are too busy worrying about what was not said, but what is in their hearts. You brought the minds of your father's friends and family to the good as well as the bad, so they could embrace their whole memory of him.

    May your he rest in peace.

  8. Thank you for sharing this, Bethany. As always, you are able to share things that are very personal, with compassion and dignity. Both my father and my husband have lost a parent to suicide. There is still a lot of pain and anger that has never been properly handled. I will pray for the repose of your father's soul.

  9. Bethany-
    I knew your father for a short time when I worked closely with him. It was a difficult situation...He appeared self-destructive and in frantic search of something that he could not attain. There were several occasions I recall when he spoke of you- and it was during those brief moments of conversation that he seemed proud-happy-grounded, and real. I could see that you meant the world to this man who seemed to be a lost soul. I am so sorry it ended this way. Your words brought tears to my eyes and a deep sense of understanding of who this man was that I crossed paths with briefly and never could understand. He was obviously much more than the person I knew or saw to have given life and direction to such a daughter. Few people leave such a legacy.

  10. Anonymous- Thank you. I can say no more or less. Thank you.


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