I remember being at a local restaurant about three years ago and marveling at how a family of four sat, each buried in their phone, not saying a word. Why aren’t they enjoying each other?
I had kind of forgotten about that. Then Feb. 21, 2015, came along.
It was a Saturday. As I whisked my 9-year-old out the door to head to a kids movie, the words of the older sister refusing to go with us rang out, “I’m good. Have fun.”
Yes she was and yes we did. Those were, however, Molly’s final words to me on the last day of her life. And nobody could have seen it coming. She died in a car crash, caused by a drunken driver, Hector Castillo-Pichardo. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
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She was a nurse. A friend. A Bulldog. My daughter. Reflecting on the 23 years, 6 months and 26 days I was blessed to have her in my life, how can I not lament the time I chose other things instead of her?
We were blessed that somehow circumstances led to her living her entire life under our roof. Today the house seems empty without her sounds, her smile, her laughter. Even the yelling to be heard over a TV on too loud.
Molly was wise, a queen of prioritization. She chose summer school for the first three years of high school so she’d enjoy her senior year. She went with us to China to find her new sister, Paige, an obvious answer to her prayers for a younger sister.
And she realized the greatest gift a person can give – their time. Her last Christmas, she gave me, her mom and sister gift cards for one-on-one dates with her. The last one I cashed in was a Globetrotters game at Save Mart Center. One of her closest friends in nursing school happened by and took a picture. One I hold on to now, so dear to me.
I suppose I can share some lessons, beyond the obvious – hold your children, make the most of your time, etc. Yeah, you ought to do that.
One I learned personally, as well as from the account of Job, is what his friends did when they heard of his calamity – they simply sat with him and said nothing for a week, waiting for him to speak. Words just sometimes can’t get it done (as those friends later found out).
Another is advice from others who have endured this pain. When everyone else will go back to their lives, you cannot. And grieving is incredibly individualized, with no timetable, no reliable process, no linear process.
As for my own take, nothing mere men can do is getting us through this. But God is. Like many my age, I accepted Christ in college but wandered away for years. I was 38 when I actually found him again. I entered into an amazing experience of genuine people who loved him and each other. For real. And there I discovered a love for children in me that had been hidden for decades.
Sunday school and coaching girls soccer became a focus for my life, now for 20 years, far beyond my own kids’ participation.
So could I have thought, “Why me, God?” when Molly was taken. Hadn’t I earned the right to have her bury me than the other way around?
Well, fortunately wisdom came riding in to my rescue. I remembered the losses in my grandfather’s generation and the vivid scenes of “Saving Private Ryan” and the crushing sacrifices that were made. I remembered Jesus’ words that I would endure trouble in this world, that the sun and rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous and “because I live, so shall you live.”
I remember the December evening in 1999 when I baptized my 8-year-old, who now awaits me in Paradise.
And I thought of legacy. I didn’t want people to remember how Molly died but how she lived and so Molly Day was born on her birthday – Aug. 26, a day dedicated to random acts of kindness which has been so welcomed by our community.
And just as important, I wanted Hector, the drunken driver who caused Molly’s death, to know of the forgiveness available to him. Having done so publicly and in court, I can only pray that God will reveal his purpose to Hector in what has happened.
So my advice: Kick the stimuli addiction and rejoice in the time you have, my friend. Power off the phone and use your energy for what matters.
Douglas E. Griffin of Fresno is vice president for the trust division and general counsel for the California Baptist Foundation. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.