John Thomas Crowe
“You can’t give yourself over to love for somebody without giving yourself over to suffering.” Wendell Berry from Hannah Coulter
My dad died on Saturday, June 25th. He had battled in the hospital for over seventy days. When he had no more fight in him and he could tell his time was up, he wanted to return to his own house and enter glory with loved ones around him. I had the privilege to be standing next to him, holding his hand, both ready for him to enter the fullness of joy in God’s presence but not ready to have him gone from earth. Though it’s not what he or we wanted, we trust in the loving kindness, infinite wisdom, and perfecting timing of God. I’m thankful for his life, the man, dad, and grandpa he was, the memories I have of him, how he has shaped me as a person, and for these last few days and the chance to be next to him with people who love him.
Below is a eulogy of sorts that I wrote for his memorial service. There is so much more I wanted to say and I had to cut a lot out, but I hope it gives a glimpse into both who he was and what it looks like to be both sorrowful and rejoicing in this time.
All of us in this room share together a common love for John and a common pain in him being gone. The Bible talks about an idea of being sorrowful yet rejoicing. That’s how I feel: sorrowful because I can’t see or talk to him right now but rejoicing for all the memories with him and for the kind of person he was.
John Crowe was a funny, kind, and caring man. His big laugh and smile were only outmatched by his big heart. I couldn’t have asked for a better father or friend. I think sometimes we think we need to be stronger and have it together in these moments, but I’m reminding myself it’s okay to just be a boy who lost his dad and to be crushed by it. And it’s okay for you today to be pained by losing John or Tommy or Grandpa or whoever he was to you.
It’s good to celebrate someone’s life and give thanks, but it’s also okay—even good—to grieve losing them. Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died. Weeping and grief are not signs of weakness; they are signs of love. The pain of losing someone so dear to you is real and deep because your love for them is real and deep. It feels like part of who you are is torn away. These last few days I’ve cried many tears and wrestled with many emotions that death brings on, including the shock that he’s gone, not just for a week but for the rest of my life. There’s immense sadness when I think about how my two young kids won’t play with him again, be coached by him when they play sports, have him crack them up with his goofy humor or sarcasm, or get to know him and love like I knew and loved him.
The Bible says death is unnatural. It is not “the way things are supposed to be.” It robs us of those we love. Death causes sorrow and pain. And yet, it is not ultimate. Jesus defeated death and won the victory so he could grant all those who trust in him eternal life. The promise I rejoice in then is that for my dad, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Our temporary loss is his eternal gain. My dad’s soul is in heaven, and one day, when Jesus returns and makes all things new, when sin, sickness, pain, tears, and death are wiped away and tossed to the side forever, then my dad’s dead body will be raised just like Jesus experienced on that glorious Easter morning. So even though I’m sorrowful, I’m also rejoicing because the good news of my dad’s eternal life—and the good news I will see his smiling face again—outshines the sad news of his death. John would have been the first to admit he wasn’t a perfect man, but he did know a perfect savior, and he told me numerous times how grateful he was to God for His amazing grace.
So I now live in this tension, rejoicing that my dad is with Jesus but sorrowful he cannot be with those of us who loved him on earth. I already miss him. I miss his explosive laugh. I miss his voice and just getting to talk to him. I miss being able to send him my prayer requests because I knew he really did care and really would pray. I miss texting him pictures of his grandkids, which always brought him joy. And I miss his encouragement and wisdom.
I thought I was prepared for my dad to die, and in a sense, I was, but I was not prepared for him to be gone.
But with the bitterness of the sorrow there is also a sweet, sweet rejoicing. Most of the time, my thoughts go back to thankfulness for all that my dad was and all the good memories I have of him. I’m so thankful God gave me my dad as my dad. I’m so thankful my dad made it this long, which allowed him to meet my son Wyatt or go on a final cruise last July. I’m thankful he got to pass away in his home, surrounded by people he loved until his last breath.
The people who transported my dad back home before he passed told me that when he was going from the hospital to the ambulance, several nurses, doctors, and even cleaning ladies came to see him off. The ambulance driver said he had never seen so many people come out to see someone off. His kindness, humor, bravery, trust in God, and love for people had been evident in the hospital. And then in his home in his last twenty-four hours, I listened as people stood by his bed, and in tears told him how much he meant to them and the way he influenced their lives. I rejoice in these reminders of not just how much I loved my dad and what he meant to me, but how much so many others loved him and what they meant to him.
Losing him is a real loss because having him was such a gain and blessing. Whether you talked to him weekly or once a year, I’m guessing you always knew that he loved you and that he would do anything for you. Several people have told me how much he encouraged them with his words or texts. I know he was an anchor, a listening ear, and a stabilizing presence for many people. He was a great listener but also gave comfort, perspective, and guidance with his words.
I’m also thankful for the countless memories of my dad.
I remember being a kid and hearing my dad tell me all the stories about the dumb things he did growing up. His life always sounded like a Tom Sawyer adventure book, and I loved hearing his stories. As I kid, I loved sitting at Grandma Crowe’s house and watching my dad and his siblings and their spouses. As they played games, they would tell stories or jab each other with sarcastic one-liners, or my dad and Uncle Oscar would get everyone riled up in some way.
I remember living on Vine Street, and my brother Jeremy had a paper route, but for some reason my dad filled in. I remember walking with him on the sidewalk when he stepped on a sewer cover, and it gave out and he fell in up to his armpits where he caught himself. The newspapers went everywhere. I still can’t believe that happened but am glad I was there to see it, and to remind him about it for years to come.
The other day I drove past Shelbyville High School and it reminded me how many times my dad and I played one-on-one basketball or tennis there. I can’t imagine how many hours my dad has spent playing or watching sports with kids and grandkids.
My dad was also the best of grandpas. He loved many people, but his many grandkids might have been his greatest joy. There was no costume, silly outfit, or personalized shirt he wouldn’t wear to make someone happy or laugh. My dad would not only get on the floor and wrestle with little kids or jump into a pool to swim with kids or sit at the table and play games with kids, but he could get teenagers to crack a smile or even just know that he’s someone they can call on. I think part of what was so unique about him was how kids, teens, and grown adults could all connect with him in some way.
Whenever I garden, I’ll think of my dad. Every summer I looked forward to talking with him about what he was growing, getting some advice when something wasn’t right with my plants, or taking home a bag of tomatoes and peppers when I’d see him.
I remember my dad’s generosity and how he always wanted to help me with any needs or how they spoiled everyone on Christmas. I remember my dad’s work ethic and example in how he worked in the same factory for forty-seven years (I also remember the rubbery smell from the factory when he came home). I think about his selflessness and sacrificial heart as a dad, sometimes never buying himself things but always making sure I had the things I wanted. I’m thankful I have the text messages from my dad with encouragements to me as a person, reminders he was praying for me or loved me, or Bible verses to share truth with me. I loved his sense of humor, his sarcasm, and his silliness. I love my dad’s laugh, the way his eyes and face lit up when he laughed and that booming sound that would come out. My wife says Wyatt has that same jovial laugh just like my dad. I remember my dad’s excitement in finally getting to travel and see how big and beautiful the world is, and then getting to hear about his trips when he got home. I will remember these past two years and how my dad fought month after month and tried treatment after treatment and battled so bravely without grumbling or losing hope. And I remember the pain and the gift of standing next to him, holding his frail hand and touching his bald head as he took his last breaths and passed into glory.
I sometimes get to teach classes on a topic at church, and a couple of years ago I did a class trying to explain what it really means that God loves us like a Father. I felt like my dad always loved me so well, so unconditionally and unwaveringly that it gave me a picture of what God’s steadfast love must be like. I never felt like I had to perform for my dad, earn his love, impress him, or prove anything to him. I knew I could call my dad or go see him anytime and he would not only warmly welcome me no matter what, but he was always glad I was there. You didn’t have to wonder if he cared about you, you knew he did. His love was a love that didn’t keep people out but welcomed people in, helping everyone who spent time with him to feel cared for, included, and safe. These things make it easier for me to understand not only that God loves us, but that His love is a warm, gracious, kind, and generous love that invites us to draw near.
The joy outweighs the sadness, but it doesn’t eliminate the sadness. Grief is real and I will never get over losing my dad, but love is even more powerful than grief. Love is what keeps coming to mind when I think of my dad. Love is why the grief and sorrow are real and meaningful. Love is what I always felt from my dad and for my dad, and so all my memories of him and all our stories about him are stitched together by love.
If you are here, you were blessed to know him. Like me, you probably miss him and yet are even more grateful for all the memories you have of him and all he meant to you. He is gone but those meaningful memories and priceless moments stay with us. We celebrate him and his life and God’s grace in his life, and we thank God for Him. He has faithfully finished his race and is now cheering us on.
I love books, and loved to share books with my dad, so I thought I would close with a quote that has come to mind in recent days. It comes from C. S. Lewis and his famous The Chronicles of Narniaseries. In the final book of the set, The Last Battle, we’re given this perspective to remind us that through Jesus Christ, death is not the end of the story but the beginning of the story. The book closes like this:
“And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
My dad is gone from us, but not gone. This part of his story is over, but the real story is just getting started. I’m looking forward to the day when my dad and I meet again, and on that day, there will never be another goodbye. In that day, there will no longer be both sorrow and rejoicing, but only rejoicing.
But for now, for this temporary but painful moment where my heart is flooded with both sorrow and rejoicing, goodbye dad. I’m proud of you. I’m proud of how you taught me to love and to laugh, to turn to God’s Word for wisdom, to trust in Christ’s grace and righteousness alone, and to treasure the things that matter most. When I tell my kids, and one day, my grandkids about you, it will be with a heart full of joy and thankfulness that God put you into my life and shaped me the ways you have. You’ll never be forgotten. You are dearly loved.
Until we meet again,