It was a hot, hurried day. I needed to get in and get out of the large store quickly in order to meet a deadline. At long last, I found a coveted parking space. Pulling in, I looked up and saw a man walking to his car. I turned off my engine and stared at him. He never saw me. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him…he looked just like my dad. So many different emotions stirred in my heart. I lost my dad to cancer a couple of months ago.
I simply watched this man load his car and drive away – wide-eyed at how much they look alike both physcially and in their mannerisms. Seeing this person put my mind back in the hosptial during the last 2 days of my dad’s life. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. We brought the kids, though we had many offers to let them stay back. It was our 4th trip to see him in 3 months – shortening the window with every declining turn of his health. We received an email from family saying, “Come now.” We knew this was it. On a Tuesday afternoon, I threw some clothes together, called my dear friend to take the dog, Bruce literally stood up from his desk at work and left for home. I ran carpool from school, and in an hour we were out the door and on the highway.
All of us stood around my dad’s hospital bed and tried to think of positive things to say. He labored with every struggling breath. I tried to understand the medcial jargon about his condition, but much of it just rolled off. We knew the inevitable. I had something else I wanted to talk about with him.
My mom was only in my life for the first sixteen years before she died. My dad – just the last eight. It’s a God-story of redemption, forgiveness, and re-do’s. For now, I will say we’ve had a wonderfully close relationship for these eight years, and I can’t imagine them being over so quickly.
The kids held his hands, maneuvering around the tubes and needles attached to them. My daughter put on her granddaddy’s beloved baseball cap on her head and it made him smile. Our first visit with him was pretty good. He was able to speak a word or two between heavy breaths and could at least mentally track with the chatter in the room. We stayed until 11pm and were so tired after a full day, a highway’s drive, and several hours of visiting; so we left to find a hotel for a little sleep. Finally, we found one with availability. We got to bed around 12:30am and were back at the hospital that morning.
We arrived to find out he had almost passed during the night. This was a totally different person lying in the hospital bed. He was much worse. The kids knew, too. They kissed him on the cheek, held his hand, and spoke softy to him. The oygen machines rumbled loudly in the background. Although some of us were fighting colds, the nurse said we needn’t wear the safety mask so we could spend some priceless face-to-face time with him.
What do you say to a dying man – who is your dad? I was at a loss for words as I choked back tears. I prayed that God would give me the right words. After my prayer, I looked up and saw my dad’s Bible on the bed tray. That was the answer. I picked it up and thumbed through it to any highlighted passages he may have noted. Indeed, we found some. I read as many as I could find, standing over my limp, quiet dad. God spoke to my heart to read Psalm 23. After reading it, his wife looked at me with wet eyes and said, That is my favorite Scripture. I didn’t know that, but God did. He even met her need in that tender moment. It was precious time. God is good.
With my husband, kids and one stepsister in the room, I asked everyone if I could have a moment alone with my dad. They were much obliged. I sat on the edge of his bed, trying hard to not let his labored breathing get the best of me, and leaned in close to his ear so he could hear me. This would be the last time I would get to talk with him this side of heaven, thus, I was tied up in knots and didn’t know what to say. God spoke to my heart and encouraged me to say what I needed to. So I did – respectfully, to a dying man.
I gently placed my hand on his arm and said, I’m so sorry this is happening to you. I’m sorry I can’t fix this. He raised his head, turned toward me, and looked at me with crystal clear eyes. Though all morning he could not show a repsonse, in that moment, he was all there. Our eyes caught, mine welling with tears. I continued, No one knows how long they have on this earth. But, I need to ask a favor of you. If you get to heaven before me, will you please tell Mom that I love her? I burst into tears (something I rarely do) and began to beg. This is really important. I need you to do this for me. Will you promise? He nodded his head yes. Thank you, I replied with relief under my breath. There was something else I needed to say. I love you. It was the first time I had ever said it eye-to-eye, with heartfelt sincerity. He nodded again and mouthed, I love you, too, back to me. He passed away just hours later.
As I sat in my van in the large parking lot, staring at a stranger, the door to my grief began to rattle. After my dad died, we came back for his memorial service, then it was one thing after the next including Christmas, New Year’s, my husband’s surgery, another family death, pneumonia for one of our children, our car broke down, a back injury for me, etc. Literally, every day was a new crisis. We are coming out of crisis mode, thankfully, but I am left with the stark realization that I haven’t even begun to morn his death. I’m stuck in phase one of grief – shock & denial. He was sick for a short time, and I am dazed and stunned at the fact that he’s gone. He was just teaching our children how to give the car a tune-up under the hood a couple of months before. He was wrestling, being silly, winning in chess, and enjoying Mexican food and hot sauce – his favorite. Now there is a quietness that can’t be shaken. His name is still on my emails and on my cell phone. I can’t seem to bring myself to change them.
Eight short years. My tears are not over the past and what was, they are over the future and what will never be in this lifetime. Seeing that man, who could’ve been my dad’s twin, created a fault line in my heart that cannot be denied. Yes, I will grieve. It will take time. A lot of time. My family history is complicated, but God is the Master Healer and He can make sense of the things in this world that make no sense. I may not ever understand it all, but that’s okay. I find peace resting in God’s hands as my dad rejoices in His presence.
Scripture to ponder…
1 Corinthians 13:12, Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know in full, even as I am fully known.
Revelation 7:17, For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
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