The most difficult walk a parent can take is to walk with a child on the journey of death. Yet, that is what Willis and Greta Beitzel had to do, and they did it well.
Their daughter Krista was born in 1984 and diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was three years old. Over the next eight-and-a-half years, Krista had four surgeries- the last which left her paralyzed on her left side, blind in one eye and with very limited vision in the other eye. She had one older brother, Wendell.
Krista went Home to be with Jesus on April 11, 1996, when she was eleven-and-a-half. Willis wrote this for the fourteenth anniversary of Krista’s homegoing and shared it with his adult Sunday school class.
Willis would never be able to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding, yet he did walk her down the aisle. This is his story as the father of the bride.
That Walk Down the Aisle
Sunday, April 11, 2010.
Some days, so many days, just come and go; but for me, today is different. It is April 11. Flowers are blooming. Birds are singing. It’s springtime. I’ve missed a lot of springtimes with my girl.
Over the past fourteen years, I have often let my mind wander, thinking about how it might have been. Oh, those memories I would have loved to have made with my girl! Special memories . . . memories that I never had . . . memories like:
- Teenage years. Thirteen years old. How I would have been surprised at how she grew. And yet, my heart would have been thinking, “Don’t grow up too fast!” And then, learning to drive. Would it have been fun or hair-raising for me as her dad? And – Sweet Sixteen. How I love the sound of that!
Yes, I just have to dream of many memories that never came to pass. While I dream of those and wish I could know what they would have been like, I can also remember.
Memories of other walks
Here are some of my memories.
- On the first trip out of the house after a six-week hospital stay where she had her last surgery (the surgery that left her paralyzed on one side and blind in one eye). She still seemed so fragile, but a daddy needs to do what a daddy needs to do. And so, at 6 o’clock in the morning, I asked her if she and her daddy should go to McDonald’s for breakfast. You should have seen the beam in my little girl’s eyes! “Oh Daddy, can we?! What’s Mom gonna say?” We could wake Wendell and take him along for help,” I suggested. “No, Daddy, just you and me!” she declared. We snuck her wheelchair quietly to the garage for the trip of a lifetime! WOW! What a memory! I had some explaining to do when we got back home. It seems I hadn’t latched the tailgate properly and the wheelchair tried to pass us along Route 495 that morning, which is why it had to be dismantled and repaired after that excursion. That is also why I suggested to Krista that we go through the drive-thru when we got to McDonald’s. But she insisted we go inside. “It’s okay, Daddy, you can drag it in,” she insisted, and I did.
- As I write this, I am looking at a note she gave me: “Daddy, I love you so much I would cry without you.” That’s powerful!
- Krista loved having daddy/daughter talks. On her Make-A-Wish trip to Seattle, I was seated next to her on the plane when I asked her a question from the heaviness I was feeling in my heart. “Krista, what are your hopes and fears?”. Her answer brought tears to this dad’s eyes. Tears of JOY! She didn’t even respond to the question about fear. But she talked about her Hope. Her Hope? That soon she could go to Heaven to be with Jesus. What that little girl hadn’t learned over the years and now was teaching me!
And so, for the past fourteen years, as each “would be” milestone approached, I watched my little girl by watching her classmates. I tried to envision what it would have been like when she said there was a special boy she wanted me to meet. High School graduation was a toughie. I sat in the audience and looked at the program, hoping they forgot and printed her name. Dropping her off for college would have been a big one. That would have meant letting go – and that would have been so hard to do.
Lately, though, I’ve been wrestling with the big one. The one I see as maybe being the last one in my comparing her to her friends. What would it have been like to hear her say, “Daddy, I’m getting married!” I get a lump in my throat as I realize she will never ask me – as her daddy – to walk her down the aisle. Now that would be a memory maker! God, I’m missing that memory! As I see her friends and classmates getting married, I think, “Oh, how would it have been, what have I missed?”
No, I never had the joy of being with her on her wedding day, of walking her down the aisle with smiles and tears. It is something I can only imagine. Lest I get too overwhelmed with this thought, God has brought another memory to my mind. A memory that was so dear and sacred that it is hard to share, even now.
That Final Walk
On April 11 – fourteen years ago today, I (her daddy) did walk Krista down the aisle! On that day, it looked like things were happening in two separate locations. In Heaven, preparations were being made. The banquet table was being set, the streets glistened like gold. The Bridegroom was dressed in His finest white robe and anticipated receiving His bride. And at 424 Maynardier Ridge, preparations were being made for a Homegoing. What did I want to tell my little girl yet before the big day? As family and friends, we gathered around. It was her brother, Wendell, who led the singing: It’s a happy day . . . and things are gonna get better! Her favorite song had been sung. And this is when I envision that part for which I have yearned: the music has started . . . the processional begins.
I put my arm out and she clasps her arm in mine.
This walk down the aisle is a journey to a Place we know, yet have never experienced before.
As the breaths become shorter, we walk up closer and closer. She squeezes my hand. It is here we are to stop. I have brought her all the way to this point. I cannot go any further. Now, she needs to let go of my hand and take the hand of her Bridegroom.
Then a voice calls out to me, her father, her daddy. “Who brings this girl?” I look into the eyes of my precious child and the words come: “Her mother, her brother, and I.” That is when she went into the arms of her Bridegroom.
Did I give my girl away? No, I guess you could say I gave her back. I heard God say, “She made a good choice. Now she is in good hands and will be well cared for – forever.” Those are the words every daddy needs to hear!
Thank You, Jesus!
Twenty-one years later. That first Christmas and every Christmas since then, Willis buys a “Krista angel” for their tree. No matter how many years it has been, there will always be that empty place in their hearts.
In October 2017, Krista’s parents moved from Pennsylvania to Washington state to be near their son Wendell and his wife. Before leaving Pennsylvania, they visited Krista’s grave and shared this photo and caption on Facebook: “Thankful for Jesus’ words, I go to prepare a place for you. In my Father’s house are many mansions. Can’t leave someone behind who has gone ahead.”