So here it is, the first anniversary of my dad’s death. That was a rough week. I had a conference scheduled to go to, my car lost its transmission, it was cold and winter was bearing down on us. I went to the conference, which started on a Friday night, the day I started seriously suspecting the transmission was on its way out on my old Explorer. I had a few plans of what to do about it, and as was my habit I had been sending text messages back and forth with my dad about what to do. He offered to check it out with me, but I declined because of the conference. We agreed to look at it the following weekend. Dad worked second shift so weeknights were out.
The old Explorer still moved, but third gear was M.I.A. and a couple of other gears were getting spotty. The conference was titled “First Loved” and was about God’s Love for all people, but primarily about how to accept God’s love and process it as a real individual relationship. It started on Friday night and went through the whole day on Saturday. Most weekends would find Dad at our house to play with the kids and hang out Saturday and/or Sunday afternoon. I knew Dad wasn’t feeling well, he hadn’t been for a couple of weeks, but he was post a couple of heart attacks, triple bypass surgery etc. and times of really not feeling well were to be expected. So I figured I would drive the car when I had to but let it wait for the following weekend when Dad would feel better and I would have more time, we would work on it then.
When the time finally came to work on the car though, I was doing it alone. I never heard from Dad that Saturday, which was very unusual. I didn’t call him when I got home though, it was late, and I didn’t want to wake him. On Sunday we went to church, frequently he would be waiting at our house for us when we got home. He liked to come over and hang-out with Rocky (our dog) and then spend the afternoon with his grandkids. When we got home and he wasn’t there and there was no message from him I started to worry. He answered the phone right away though, said he was tired, his leg had a cut that was hurting, and he hadn’t slept well. My wife and I had a meeting that afternoon, and he asked if we could pick up his medicine on our way back and drop it off to him. He was up and moving just stiff and slowly when we got there, we talked about the car, the Patriots, and the upcoming work week.
Monday morning he texted to let me know he was calling in to work and wanted me to bring some groceries by on my way home (I traveled almost past his trailer on my way to work every day). We talked at length about going to the doctor, but Dad being Dad, you could never tell him what to do. You could mention ideas, but he was very much his own man and it always went poorly to try and force an issue.
Tuesday, I checked on Dad again after work, and again he looked worse than the day before. He was up for a more serious talk though. He said he was afraid he might have a blockage in his heart again, and he had talked to his cardiologist and was going to go in the next few days to see him. I tried to get him to go be seen even at an ER, but again you never told Dad what to do.
Then in something out of character, Dad said he had a few things he wanted to tell me. Now for all of the time we spent together, deep conversations were rare, and when they occurred it was time to pay attention. He said he wanted me to know that even though he no longer went to church, and had some serious issues with organized religion as a whole, and that he knew he had things in his life he had not gotten right; he wanted to make sure I knew that he trusted Jesus as his savior. He said that he still read his Bible and in his own way tried to have a relationship with God. He shared some of his thoughts on Theology, and to my surprise he said that some of the wounds from churches long ago, ones that didn’t live out the Book they claimed to believe, were still there, and he had not yet been able to move past them. He had a few other things to tell me, pieces of advice that I will keep to myself as they were just for me, and a few that I am holding for his grandsons when they are old enough to hear them.
That was the last coherent conversation we had. I made him some soup, he promised if he did not feel better in the morning he would call me to take him to see his doctor. Sometimes I wonder if I could have done more that night, but as you will hear, ultimately it would have been irrelevant.
The next day while I was at work, my wife called to let me know a lady at Dad’s workplace called her to say how concerned she was for my dad. He had not called in with an update like he said he would, very unusual for him. So she called to check on him and said he sounded confused, and she was scared for him. I am thankful that she cared enough she found our phone number and called my wife. I left work early and went to Dad’s. I won’t share much about the rest of that afternoon. I learned later from a doctor friend, that my Dad’s internal organs were all mostly shut down. They were stunned that he was alive, and more so that he was working his regular job as a machinist right through Friday. Dad was a tough man though; he walked out to the ambulance himself.
You see there came a point in that afternoon/evening, as I knew that dad was partially delirious and I could see death in his eyes; that I had to step out of the role of son that submits to the will of his father, and into the role of man making the hard decisions. I had to make the decision to call for an ambulance to take Dad to the hospital against his will, and tell the dispatcher that Dad was too sick to make up his own mind. So I had to tell a stranger that my Dad, the big tough man whose word had always been law, was incapable of deciding in his own best interest and that I was taking over. Ultimately, Dad did agree to go to the hospital, as long as he got to pick the one close to our house. The ambulance driver, a more patient man than I, agreed to take Dad to whatever hospital he wanted as long as he got in. Even at the end, Dad managed to get his way.
I knew Dad was very sick, and that left alone he would not see another morning. However, I still thought we would get him to the hospital and they would start to “fix” whatever was wrong. I was more concerned about how upset he would be with me for calling the ambulance then I was with thoughts of approaching death. Then the paramedic walked over to me, and that changed everything. He said that Dad was in very bad shape and that even though he was sitting up and talking to them, the paramedic doubted that he would make it very long. Once at the hospital, I started getting the rundown of how serious it was.
The doctor there in our little hometown hospital, wanted to transfer him to the bigger research hospital that had done his surgeries. They said he needed dialysis immediately, and that his organs were either totally shut down or mostly depending on which one. Also, that our goal at this point was pain management, making him comfortable, but that they held out no hope of his survival. The doctor was confident that death might be able to be delayed but probably not for long. I asked if the delay in getting to the hospital a couple of days sooner would have helped. The doctor said that with as much wrong as there was, it was likely that several months earlier would not have changed the outcome at all.
Dad agreed to the transfer, and then he slept while waiting for a different ambulance to come to take him for the hour ride north. I sat by his bed and read some of my favorite stories from the Bible, stories of David, the shepherd – king, and tales of his mighty men of valor.
Dad woke up when they came to get him for the ambulance, he argued with them that he could walk to the ambulance on his own, then finally relented and let them push him to it instead. Just before they lifted him into the ambulance we reviewed the plan together. At this point I had been up for over 21 hours, and was going to go home for a quick nap, then drive north to be there for rounds with the doctors. Dad told me to get some sleep and “watch out for those kiddos, tell them I love them.” I told him I would and that we would bring them up to see him in a few hours, then I went home (we lived less than 5 min from the local hospital).
As I was filling my wife in on what the doctors said, the phone rang. It was the hospital asking me to return quickly, they said Dad had a heart attack before the ambulance left their yard and that I needed to be there with them. I was praying as I drove back, asking God not to let Dad suffer for long. Anyone that knew my Dad would know how much he would hate being on dialysis and even more pain than he had already been living with.
At the hospital the ER doctor met me at the door, and said they did what they could but Dad was gone. He took me to the room so I could “say goodbye” – whatever that means, asked if I needed anything and then left us alone. Except I was not alone, I was shocked, heartbroken for my loss, but not alone. I talked to God for a few minutes and then the doctor was back. There were papers to be signed, decisions to be made, people to be notified. Apparently in our society, even the death of a simple man in a small town takes a lot of paperwork.
I titled this “First Loved, Then Grateful”. You are probably wondering why I chose that title in light of what I have written so far. I chose First Loved, which was the name of that conference because it was all about learning how God the Father loves us as individuals. This was something I had always struggled with. I had no trouble with the idea of God, but in my mind it was more lightning bolts and judgement seats then loving father. However, over the previous couple of years I had been learning more of what the Bible really says about who God is and how He loves. You see the very fact that I was able to go to that conference in spite of all that life was throwing at me that weekend, and spend time learning even more about a Heavenly Father’s love, mere days before losing my earthly father was a proof of the love of God for me. God promises us peace that surpasses understanding. I have experienced this several times in my life. Walking through all the events surrounding dad’s death was one of those times. There was grief, for sure, but also the peace of God.
Dad sharing on Tuesday his faith and things of life was also a blessing. I knew he was a Christian, the evidence of how he treated others, especially “the least of these” and the example he had lived for me proved it, even if he didn’t like talking about things like that. Matthew 25:40 is part of Jesus’ description of the final judgement of men, when the “sheep” are separated from the “goats”. He describes being hungry, naked, in prison and people either helping him or not. When questioned as to when he was seen in this way he answered “vs 40 …Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” My father lived that. I watched him give money he couldn’t afford, time he didn’t have, and food he was planning on eating to anyone in need. He also did not like anyone to know what he did.
The second part of my title “Then Grateful” seems out of place at first glance for a story about the death of a parent. However, I am truly grateful. I am grateful for all of the little ways that I can look at and see God taking care of me. Things He had put in place for me, days before I was even aware enough of my need for them to ask Him. I am grateful that the week before he died my dad was able to pick up my middle son from preschool and spend an afternoon with him, that we have pictures of all of my children, my wife, my dad, my sister and my brother-in-law all together at their wedding that summer. I am so very grateful for all of the people that came and stood by us, for the other men that came and “Sat in the Dirt” with me. I am also grateful that dad is not suffering, that he is in heaven with Jesus, not because of the good things he did in life. He is heaven with Jesus today because he had a point in his life where he knew he was broken, and could not fix it. Somebody told him about the love of Jesus, the love that drove Jesus to the cross to reconcile all who would trust in Him to God the Father. Dad chose to believe that Jesus was the only way, and then let Jesus into his broken life. No my dad did not do everything perfectly but he knew the One who did and chose to trust in Him.
I am also grateful that because I have met this same Jesus, I know without any doubt that I will see dad again in heaven. Jesus never promised that walking with Him would be easy. He actually says the opposite, that we will have trials and troubles in this life, i.e. pain. However, He does say that He will walk through it with us, and that if we trust Him nothing will be able to overcome us. Psalm 23:4 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.”
If you are ready for someone to walk through the trials of your life with you, I would implore you to turn to Jesus. Not the Jesus described by self-righteous zealots, but the one you will meet in the pages of His book. Read the Gospel of John if you want to meet the Jesus I am describing, I know Him, and I am so grateful that I do.
Here are a couple of pics of my dad.