I am sure you have heard the rags-to-riches story of the guy who grows up in a broken home and later becomes an alcoholic. Then, when he is at the end of his rope, he has a religious conversion that turns his life around. He lives the rest of his life experiencing the American Dream. He loves his job, marries the woman of his dreams, and adopts the daughter he always wanted.
That was the story I told in my first book, “We Named Her Faith.”
I expected to write another book someday, in which I would continue the story by showing how our daughter, Faith, grew up to be a fine young woman. And I still plan to write that book.
But the story I tell in my new book is not that story. The happy, successful life I enjoyed, with the family I always wanted, has given way to an unexpected new chapter.
Why the title, “Letters to My Daughter”? As you read, you’ll notice that the letters to Faith don’t appear until much later in the book. Before I share them, I want to show you what happened that prompted the letters.
Excerpt No. 1
After I kissed them both goodbye, Michelle and Faith took off while I stayed home to work. As usual, Michelle called me at the halfway point and then again when she arrived. I heard the excitement in her voice. She loved her family and worked hard to include Faith.
A few days later, Michelle wasn’t feeling very well but decided to take Faith to the park anyway. There was nothing Faith loved to do more than spend that quality time with Mom, having fun on the swings and the slide.
When Michelle and Faith left the park, they stopped by her mother’s house, where they were staying. They visited for a short time, then left for her sister’s place, about 30 minutes away.
Approximately an hour after they left, I received a phone call from Michelle’s mother. She wanted to know if I had heard from her. Michelle had not yet arrived at her sister’s. Many times during our marriage, Michelle would stop and get something to eat or drink without telling anyone, then be on her way. I assumed that this was one of those times.
After I told Michelle’s mom I would call her back if I heard from her, she hung up and called the police. They informed her that both Michelle and Faith had been in a bad accident and were being rushed to the hospital. Immediately, her mother called me. As soon as I heard the news, I feverishly began to text anyone I could to have them pray.
A few minutes later, when Michelle’s mother arrived at the scene, she discovered that it wasn’t a wreck, and that Faith was fine. Michelle had pulled off to the side of the road and lost consciousness. After a few minutes, Faith, who was in the backseat, got out of her seat and tried, as she later said, “to wake Mommy up.” Luckily, a passer-by saw what happened, pulled over, and called the ambulance.
Michelle’s mom called me again, and I asked to talk to the officer on duty. When I pressed him about Michelle’s condition when she was taken to the hospital, his reply shocked me. She was unconscious, and the paramedics were trying to revive her.
About 20 minutes later, my mother-in-law called again.
“I don’t know how to tell you this,” she said.
I swallowed hard and braced myself. Then I heard the words, “Michelle’s gone.” She had died with Faith on her lap.
I hung up, dropped to my knees, and kept screaming, “No, no, no!”
The wife I loved so much was dead. After three months of agony wondering if Michelle was dying of cancer followed by a cancer-free diagnosis, now I received this news? It was too much to take.
Frantically, I called my pastor and told him. I kept asking him what I was going to do. I was left to raise a special-needs daughter by myself. I was living a nightmare. Michelle had been given a clean bill of health. Now I asked God, “Why?”
Excerpt No. 2
Here is the letter I gave to Faith shortly before our second trip to Disney World:
Ever since your mom’s untimely death, you occasionally refer to what happened the day your mom passed away. You and your mom were so close, and I hate that your earthly relationship had to end the way it did.
I have been thinking a lot about what to do. I don’t want the memory of her death to be cemented in your mind. It is not how I want you to remember your mom. When you think of her, I want you to think about all the good times you had and how much she loved you. There were so many good memories that you can reflect on that will tell a more accurate story of her and the relationship you two shared.
Despite her untimely death, never forget that God placed her in your life for a certain period of time for a reason. He knew beforehand you two would only be together for six years. It didn’t take him by surprise. During that short period of time, he wanted her to contribute to your life that will pay dividends the rest of your life.
Because we all live in a fallen world, there is one thing you can be assured. There are many pleasant as well as painful experiences that lay ahead. When the painful or difficult times come, and they will, remember not to forget the good memories. They will carry you through many troubled waters.
Your mom used to take a lot of pictures of you — and I mean lots. She wanted to cherish every moment she had with you, and have a snapshot of all those good times. These memories are like pictures that stay in your mind for you to view. You can replay them anytime you want.
By continuing to reflect on the good times, it will help to cushion your loss. Fortunately, your mom is not gone forever. You will see her one day, again, when you get to heaven. Until then, keep those memories close to your heart. There will be times in your life where these memories serve as a lifeboat during troubled times. They will be an anchor during a storm.
Too often, our minds become fixated on what is wrong. Keeping these memories alive helps you to reflect on what is right about the world. To help with this, I have arranged another trip to Disney World. This was the last major fun trip you and your mom did together.
We leave for the trip next week. My plan is to revisit every fun ride, event, or show that you and your mom did together just a few months ago. My prayer is that those will be cemented in your mind the rest of your life.
It will be Thanksgiving weekend, so it might be a little busy toward the latter part of the week.
You are probably wondering how we are going to get there. Don’t worry. I plan to drive down, because I know how much you hate flying.
I should also add that there is one more reason for taking this trip. It is important that we continue to make memories together. One of the fondest memories (I had) was when I went to Disney World as a kid. Occasionally, I pull out the pictures of my cousin Jeff and me, sporting our sunglasses and cool pose, strutting our stuff before the camera.
I still remember riding Space Mountain eight times in a row. The first time was scary, but the last seven times were a blast.
In the coming years, there will be plenty of daddy/daughter times, I am sure. Disney will be our vacation spot for years to come I am sure. I want us to continue to nurture the bond we have together.
Remember to reflect on the good times you had with your mom. Try to remember what it was like when Mommy was sitting next to you while you were on one of the rides. Remember the smile on her face. The smile represents her love for you. These are the kinds of things I want you to remember when you think of Mommy.
Hugs and kisses,
Tim Orr of Taylorsville is an adjunct faculty member in religious studies at IUPUC, where he has served for nearly 10 years. This column is excerpted from his just-released third book, “Letters to My Daughter.” In the book, he shares the story of how tragedy was turned into triumph after he lost his wife Michelle in June 2016. You can visit his website at timorr.net.