It’s not easy to appreciate the intricate genius of God’s arrangement of events in time when you’re lost in the moment. Once you have a chance to reflect, however, it nearly takes your breath away.
A few weeks ago, I came up to North Carolina to visit with my terminally ill father and to help my mother care for him in home hospice. For exactly a week after my arrival, my father—although confined to a wheelchair—enjoyed getting out of the house and going on adventures. We went out to eat for my birthday and my dad savored every bite of food he ate. What a gift to have that quality time with my father. He even wanted to accompany us on the hour and half drive to pick up my niece from the airport in Charlotte when she came for a visit. He seemed to want to squeeze every drop out of life that he could. Even though activity wore him out easily, he really seemed to enjoy every moment.
The following week, Dad no longer had the strength to leave his bed. He lost his appetite—very unlike my father, who enjoyed food immensely—but he still requested his favorite drinks. I went on missions to find the best cream sodas, dipped his mouth swabs into them to moisten his mouth and got a smile out of him every time.
He remained cheerful while bedridden and weak. Often, we could not do much more than watch the birds and squirrels outside the wall of windows his bed faced. Mostly he slept. My father was a lifelong, voracious reader. When he became too shaky to hold a book, I read to him. I knew it would mean a lot to him (It would to me and I’m Daddy’s Girl).
By the end of the second week with my parents, my father became less responsive and slipped in and out of consciousness. I observed his side of a conversion with an unseen partner in fascination. He’d nod his head, say “okay” and “yes” as if obediently following otherworldly instructions. He was slipping out of our reality and into another.
Eventually, we were no longer able to keep his fever at bay. His eyes roved the room, exploring sights hidden to us. They danced over me, occasionally showing recognition. In those moments, his glassy eyes held mine and spoke wordless volumes. He no longer requested drinks. His limbs moved restlessly, as if his spirit had grown too large for his body and longed to shed it.
As long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8
Early one morning, I administered his hourly dose of morphine, rewet the cold cloth at his forehead, offered him a spongy swab of water to chase away the bitter taste. His eyelids fluttered, then his gaze held mine with an intensity I had not seen for days. His lips struggled to form audible words. Then—with sudden clarity—he spoke to me. He thanked me for being there, for being so responsible (interesting choice of words) and told me how much it meant to him. Then he spoke to me of my teen years and it was as if we had drifted back in time together. It was during those years that our relationship had been most strained (and when I had been anything but responsible). He wanted me to know that he and my mother had done what they thought was best for me and told me he loved me one last time. Those were the last lucid words of his earthly life and something I treasure in my heart.
Those brief moments were more precious than anything the world could offer. In them, the importance of life was distilled down to the purest element … love. That evening, we stood by his side as his breaths grew slower and farther apart—until finally, he slipped away. In those final moments, my fathers (earthly and heavenly) gave me the greatest gift I had ever received. Peace.
Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken … and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Ecclesiastes 12:6-7
My father’s spirit is once again with God. Love you, Abba, Daddy!
“Whoever lives by believing in me will never die.
Do you believe this?” Jesus, John 11:26