On Tuesday morning March 15th, I left in the early morning for Asheville, NC (2.5 hours away,) for a doctor’s appointment having been assured by my Dad’s hospice nurse that things were stable. At 3:00 PM, my brother called saying, “You’d better get up here… now.” We were on our way home, approaching Gastonia which is 45 minutes from our house. My brother put the hospice nurse on the phone, and she said to drive through the night. I called home and made an action plan with the children. Thankfully, we had gotten a lot of the necessary things together already and they were on a big pile on the bonus room floor, and all our clothes were picked out and set aside in a section of our closets. All we had to do was throw everything in suitcases and get together the “last minute” things, of which there are a lot with a family of our size. My friend Dominica offered to drive up with us to keep us awake during the night. When we pulled in the driveway, my amazing children (trained by my amazing organizer husband,) had most of our luggage, sleeping bags, etc. already on a pile in the kitchen, and were well underway getting other things together. We were out the door by 6:30, and after getting gas, picking up Dominica, and stopping by Taco Bell drive through, were on the road to PA by 7:15 – Whew. Things went well through the night driving, and we rolled into my parent’s driveway about 6:45 AM Wednesday March 16th (Dave’s birthday – he was in Michigan at the Dad’s Journey to the Heart.) When we arrived, Dad was awake and interactive, and said he was glad we were there. He had rallied. We made our greetings, and collapsed all over the living room for a few hours. This was the beginning of my Dad’s final stage of his journey from life to eternal life.
In the coming weeks, it became apparent that dad was on a 3 part cycle. He would be disoriented, talking about things that were not really happening and sometimes talking to people who were not there. Then he would become emotional, crying, asking for people, apologizing for things, tormented over past regrets and feeling unworthy and undeserving of heaven. The only word to describe it is torment, and it was heartbreaking. Then he would pass into a more normal stage with alternating sleep and alert times with conversation and humor. Every time around the cycle we would think, “This is it, it’s over,” but then he would rally. After a couple weeks, I began to have some really confusing feelings. I was glad to be there with my parents, did not want my Dad to die, but knew it was inevitable… time was marching on, I was cancelling more and more appointments at home, the girls were getting ready to leave for Journey to the Heart and I wanted them to be there for the funeral, the situation was stressful (really stressful dynamics there,) and I wanted it to be over – his suffering, the stress… but I didn’t want it to be over !?!?!?!?!?!? One moment I felt guilty that I wanted it to be over, the next It felt right for it to need to be over. This was a really hard time for me.
My biggest burden was the torment my Dad felt about his past. He was a man with a lot of regrets about his life. I was not fully sure he was truly saved. One minute I told myself, “If he were not saved, he would not mourn so over his sin.” The next minute I would be thinking, “He believes in works righteousness, and nobody can be saved through that.” I cried out to God for assurance of his salvation. Each time he went through the tormented part of the cycle, I would try talk to him, telling him about Jesus and the love of God for him. About the end of the third week, he had one of those times. I reminded him of his favorite hymn, “Just As I Am,” and went through it with him phrase by phrase. I told him it is a gift, not to be earned, but simply accepted. I explained what it means to be robed in Christ’s righteousness. I told him that none of us is worthy apart from the death of Christ. He cried out, “Jesus, Jesus, can you forgive ME?” Then he got quiet and slept for awhile. He moved on to the awake alert part of the cycle, and nothing was said. Hannah and Sarah left for Journey on the 9th. The next time he went into the emotional part of the cycle, he said, “My cup runneth over, I don’t deserve it, but my cup runneth over.” His torment had been replaced by basking in the goodness of God to an undeserving sinner.
During that last week, he slept a lot. During his awake times he seemed pretty peaceful. At one point he told me he had asked God to take care of his soul a few months earlier, so I did not need to worry about that. The rest of that week, there were no more tormented episodes. The night before he passed, unknown to me, my brother had a feeling it would be that night and he put a tiny picture on my Dad’s pillow above his head. I did not know it, but it was a picture my Dad had carried in his wallet. My brother had found it and thought is must have been special to my father. It was a picture of Jesus on the cross with a cherub hovering over each hand that was bound to the cross. It was a really old picture. That morning, (the 15th of April,) my bother woke me at 5:30 AM and motioned for me to come. The fastest way to my Dad’s room was through his bathroom, and when I got there my Mom and Brother were standing in the bathroom and my brother said, “Check him out.” I went into the room and it seemed he was not breathing. I called my Mom and told her to talk to him and to say goodbye and give him a kiss. Using a stethascope, I confirmed that there was no heartbeat, and his eyes were not responsive to light. He was still warm. We all said goodbye and took off the oxygen tube that he had been imprisoned to for so many years and turned off the noisy oxygen machine. The silence was deafening! His eyes were closed and a peaceful expression was on his face. The nurse later told us that meant he had passed peacefully while sleeping. She said if he had been gasping for breath or fearful, his eyes would most likely have been open and there would have been a strained expression on his face. This was further assurance, an answer to my specific prayers.
During all the time of vigil and waiting, all the up and down, I often asked myself, “Why is it happening like this? Why is it taking so long? Why does he have to suffer so? How many more cycles? Now, in reflection I know why! During those weeks, he went from torment to peace. Somewhere in there he came to experience the goodness and love of God. I don’t know if he was not saved and became saved, or if he was saved and was just full of regret and fear, or what. What I do know is that me and my children witnessed an amazing transformation. It is an amazing thing to see a man go from tormented to basking in the goodness of God. I thank God that He allowed me and my children to be a part of it all. As daunting as it was, I will always look back on that time with fondness and gratitude. It was a precious time.
Friday evening Dave arrived. We were all glad to be reunited after more than 4 weeks of being apart. Sunday was the viewing and memorial service. I had an opportunity to share about my Dad. I explained that he was a generous man, giving away any extra even though he was never a man of means, often struggling to make ends meet. I shared that I’ve often told my children, “If we were Amish, Grand-pop would be the first one to sign up for a barn raising!” I explained that he was a simple man who did not fret and worry, always saying, “Just take one day at a time, tomorrow has enough trouble of its own.” He did not tend to hold grudges or be bitter. I shared the words to a hymn that reminded me of him. Then I went through his favorite hymn (“Just As I Am”) phrase by phrase, explaining what it really meant and why I thought it was so meaningful to my Dad. I never realized until that day how clearly the gospel is presented in that hymn. It is amazing how often you can sing a hymn and understand it and yet not realize the depths of its meaning. Things like this really get you thinking.
On Monday, we took Mom to Lancaster County (Amish country,) for a day out, (something she had not had “worry free” in at least 2 years.) First we went to a Mennonite run Smorgasbord for breakfast, then we visited their HUGE gift shop, went to several other sites and headed home. On Tuesday there was a graveside service only for family. It was very short, and it rained. We then all went to a nearby restaurant for lunch. When we got back to the house my family began to round up our belongings and clean up for our departure the next morning. On Wednesday morning the 20th, (five weeks after leaving for PA,) we set out for home. I was weary and everything seemed a blur. It felt like any minute I would wake up from a dream and none of this would have been real. We missed spring this year. We left Charlotte with the red-buds blooming and leaves about to burst and we left PA with exactly the same conditions only to arrive in Charlotte at 7:00 PM and a steamy 80 degrees. As we drove home that day, I saw spring in “fast forward.” Early spring in PA to mid spring in VA, to virtual summer in Charlotte. That is how my life has felt this last 5 weeks. A fast forward blur.
Now it is time to reflect and recover. In the grand scheme of things I know some of what this was all about. It was about serving my family. It was about doing my small part in helping my father obtain a peaceful end. It was about being a living testimony of how a true servant of God should live. It was about making sure the gospel was shared at his memorial service. It was about my children learning to die to themselves and serve their elders and help each other. It was about realizing how good God has been to us and to my Dad. It was about answers to prayer. It was about building extended family relationships. It was about experiencing the body of Christ holding each other up, (many thanks to all of you who prayed, called, and took up the slack on the home front for us,) most of all, it was about experiencing the mighty hand of God. For all of this, I am grateful!