How Did We Get Here?

More than once, on the day of my father’s death, did I think How did we get here? Doctors and nurses had told us things were “improving,” “he’s still not out of the woods” (a very non-medical phrase repeated I don’t know how many times over the course of those weeks) but “improving.” At one point the words “home health” had even been mentioned. Then the phone call to my mother and brother, and then the call to me: “He’s gone.”

How did we get here?

Even as I don’t want to think about the Holy Week stories, I think about the Holy Week stories. I can’t not think about them, these heartbreaking narratives that I inherited in a season of childhood where I also learned to write in cursive, and lift my hands off my bike’s handlebars and fly. Things you don’t forget. Things you can’t. As I think about the Holy Week stories this year, I hear every character without exception mumbling that phrase How did we get here?

I believe Mary and John and Peter and the others had moments of pause where they sensed something wicked on the horizon, but the atmosphere on Palm Sunday was “improving.” Jesus was “still not out of the woods,” but I mean look at the people, listen to their cheers. Then in a mere matter of days: “He’s gone.”

Add to the shock of it all the matter of age. My dad was 80yrs old. Some would say he’d lived a long life. I would contend he had more to live. Yet consider Jesus, this 30something, this short life. As a man in my 30s, I was at the height of my powers—physically, mentally, on all fronts. So I believe was Jesus, at the height, the highest point from which a man, or a God, could fall. And he fell. He was, in Joan Didion’s hauntingly appropriate phrase, “rendered fragile.” As were his followers. As are we. As am I.

Ah, there it is. Yes, the question of self-pity. The experience of meaninglessness. Not so much How did we get here? as How did I get here?

What am I supposed to do now?

Who am I? 

Jim Harrison’s father (and sister) were killed in a car wreck when Jim was still a young man. My favorite writer describes the experience in that wake in this way: “in rode the terrible freedom.”

How did…?







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  1. Terry DeWitt on April 1, 2021 at 8:10 am

    Beautiful words John. Thank you for these and others. We, too, morn the passing of your father (although I only met in once or twice). Take care my friend. God Bless!

  2. Laura Brown on April 1, 2021 at 8:12 am

    When my father was in the hospital with a return of his lung cancer after several rounds of chemo, there was one happy day when we talked with a social worker and discussed “discharge planning” to either his home or a rehab facility. The next day, he had taken a turn, and we discussed “do not resuscitate” orders and final wishes with a head nurse. Such mental and emotional whiplash. He was gone two days later. It’s so strange, isn’t it? I’m so sorry. Grateful for your wrestling with these things in your writing.

  3. Stephen Smith on April 1, 2021 at 9:53 am

    I love ant to have lunch with you at Teds! That’s all.

  4. alice scott-ferguon on April 1, 2021 at 9:53 am

    I am 80, and ache with the anticipatory grief of my demise through my offsprings eyes. Painful and inevitable (for the most part in the “nature of things:”) Your out-loud , naked grappling with your father’s death, confirms this for me.

  5. Lindsay Van Sicklen on April 1, 2021 at 10:58 am

    John, knowing you makes me wish I’d met your Dad. So grateful to have met your Mom. Your expression of grief on these pages is a gift to us and I trust helpful to you. Prayers continuing, my friend.

  6. Jacky on April 1, 2021 at 11:46 am

    John, Your parallel of the UP, then down of your dad’s last days to the same with Jesus’s final days caught my attention. Hopes sparked then extinguished …yep.

    Jesus said he would UP again….all who go down.

    I think your question of “who am I?”is a good one. Your Father’s son?

  7. Diana Trautwein on April 1, 2021 at 6:46 pm

    I am not sure it’s freedom . . .I am sure it’s terrible. Again, Luci Shaw’s poem spoke so strongly to me as I lost each of my parents, 12 years apart.


    Move up to the top of the ladder.
    Looking down over your shoulder you can see
    the replicas from your own body crowding the rungs
    all the way down. Precarious, you teeter there

    on the final step with nothing for your hands
    to hold. They grab at emptiness. The glancing
    stars are falling around you. Cosmic dust
    stings your eyes. There is no one above you

    to compass the wideness of space. You
    are the final clasp that buckles
    earth to heaven. Somehow, you
    must hold up the ladder, heavy with life.

    Yeah. that’s exactly right. Be patient with the cosmic dust, John. It will sting forever. But peace will come — not the same thing as acceptance, though closely related. The rending of grief is good and necessary and lament is called for. Repeatedly.

  8. judy tindle burke on April 2, 2021 at 12:55 am

    John, you brought back memories I guess I had pushed back I had gone down to talk to the Head of dismissing Dad on a Friday and she said they would call in hospice on the following Monday – When I got back to his room they nurses were getting him ready to leave the hospital – Wait I just left and was told it would be Mon. Well she said it was today and go get the car and we will have him down there in a minute – In disbelief I did and when i pulled up 3 nurses had Dad in a wheel chair Yet another shock they could not get him up I remember saying I cannot take Dad home YES you can and the next thing I knew there were 2 Security men and now another nurse and they got Dad in car – Still in shock I said how do I get him out at home we can not leave here.. One said get the fire dept. at Krum to follow you out and they can do it. I did again in shock and called my sister she started down and the fireman got Dad as far as his recliner and left – Care giver was there by this time and so started our unknown week that lie ahead. I did question silently why God what am I suppose to do? So yes the sting was there and is just pushed back because You want to do your Best and More for the mighty Father that was the Farmer Man of God Husband Friend all those years and God you know my husband was so sick and have lost him now this WHY and How? That was 2011 and my the loss of a Stepson so caring and had lost a daughter in law and our Root to Dad’s happiness and partner, Mom. My sister in another state – So feel your feelings and express them do not hide them inside – Your Family and your Church Family are there to help you if you ask after all Shawn and You have your Dad’s ROSE – and your quite smiling Mom to help through this time. Knowing in TIME praise God we will all be together and maybe our questions of Why will be answered or maybe in Heaven they will not matter any more.. Grief one foot in front of the other Prayer and i hope for all of you Peace that will pass all understanding and Memories wonderful Memories will replace the daily Why?

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