Daddy, Wake Up

I found him suffocating in building sand.

One shimmering afternoon in July 1997 my dad was laying concrete slabs while my brother helped me with much-needed weeding. Dad and I had been jesting and chatting through and over the 6-foot wall that separated our homes. Suddenly all went still. A chill permeated the atmosphere. I called him a few times with deep dread. No response except a continual grunt.

Curiosity brought my 5-year-old outside to see why I was calling and found his grandfather lying face-down in the sand. “Are you hurt pa? I think pa’s dead mommy”. Dead! What do 5-year-olds know of death? The shock had me sprinting across the garden without really knowing how I got to the other side–to my parents’ home.

It is said that shock paralyses. But instead gave me wings. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…I tried to remember what I saw on television as his frantic stares bore into mine. I failed…I failed. That realisation would haunt me for years to come.


He was a kind and generous man. A tenor and musician who loved the piano accordion, and together with my mom pastored small groups for married couples. A PK (pastor’s kid) who was the epitome of humour. In short, he loved laughing. We shared a very special kind of bond.

He was loved by everyone. By me. He loved his children. His grandsons. Picked them up every day from pre-school. Even on the day he died – 31 July 1997. He died in my arms. Builders sand glued inside his mouth. My hands stroking his cheek.
The sun dancing rings around his dying frame like a campfire celebration. Native American chants ringing inside my head. My brother beat his chest, “Wake up daddy, wake up”! Nothing. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…like a lullaby for a sleepy baby.

He heard me as he drifted off – realising that his life had come to an end. That fearful end. That sudden end gives no one a chance to say goodbye. To right the wrongs of hours ago or yesterday…or simply to say a few words…that valley of death where light awaits but first shadows must be conquered along the way…30 seconds…just like the game your heart beats in overdrive, sweat beads your forehead, adrenaline jumps up and down.
Then calm. Peace. Tranquillity. The soul sails home…not a care in the world. Game over.

Death makes us pray in strange ways. In desperate hushed tones. In gardens where sweat turns to blood. My heart felt like a barren land. My life ceased to exist in some bizarre way.

He was 56. So young.

My brother and I dragged him inside the house while his head banged against the concrete slabs he was so excited to place that day. If only we could design our dying day, the when and how.


I remembered the look of death. I was haunted by an image and memory I couldn’t overcome. Almost daily after he died I’d sit in my lounge and stare at my porch waiting for him to appear; I missed him – the emptiness indescribable. I begged God to make the pain go away.

The Dream

I saw my father run towards me across a beach of gold and white sand. Surrounded by tall dense trees and the bluest crystal clear waters where sea creature played undisturbed. I never knew him so young. I called out as he came closer, “daddy…daddy, is it you”? Dressed in a flapped about the white shirt and rolled up fawn-coloured trousers. Laughing as he ran through the froth that covered the shore. He touched my cheek, “Yes, it’s me. You must let me go. I’m whole and happy. I’m at peace”. I reached out as tears gushed down my face…onto my chest. I Tried to breathe between the twinges of grief. My pillow soaked with agony.
But my vision of him set me free, and out of it, I wrote, “Goodbye”. 10 Years after his death I was finally free. God’s gift to me.

I was stuck. I didn’t know how to let him go because I didn’t know how to manage sudden death. None of my bible studies prepared me. I had things I still wanted to tell him. We do not mourn as those who have no hope. I remembered none of it. Yet it remains true. The scriptures are written for our sorrow and joy. I simply didn’t know how to cope and so I cried out to God for help. God in his mercy and love showed me something of a world of golden shores and indescribable peace. A place where there is no sickness or sorrow. No tears and trauma.

The regret and guilt at not being able to save my father has faded into an assurance that God holds all things in His hand; life and death. I am filled with hope.


One day I shall run into my father’s arms and he will welcome me to our home – where time shall be no more, and roses never fade. In that place of peace, wonderful peace. When a sovereign God says, “Come home” it is the greatest gift for those who are called.

But for us who are left behind, we have yet to learn how to be completely happy without them. My 5-year-old is 30 years old now and remembers very little of that day.

I remember a young man in a flapped about the white shirt and rolled up fawn-coloured trousers with peace in his eyes.

He was happy.

I found my happiness through his eyes and in the hope that God knows the taste of grief.

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