This week marked the 11th anniversary of the death of my Father. I heard somewhere that the sense of loss is supposed to diminish with time. For me it’s been the exact opposite. I miss him and our frequent talks now more than ever.
My earliest memory of my Father is walking with him along the sidewalk in our neighborhood. I remember holding his hand as we walked. He was a mountain of a man and his massive hand easily engulfed mine. I remember being so happy, so safe. I was with him.
Growing up, we had a standing arm wrestling challenge. For years my arm wasn’t long enough to reach the warm, firm grasp of his hand. So I just held on to his wrist. He won effortlessly. Every time. The best I could hope for was that he would let me push on his unmovable arm for a moment. But defeat was inevitable. Funny, it didn’t feel like defeat.
Eventually, I was able to wrap my hand in his. I never did win one of those contests. In our last match, I detected the slightest effort on his part before the back of my hand hit the table. He retired undefeated . . . and undefeatable.
Years later, he went to hospital for the last time, I kept a virtually unbroken vigil at his bedside. Death is an enemy – it’s the last one – but an enemy nonetheless. That belief moved beyond the theoretical when the doctor came in to check on my Dad. Very matter-of-factly, my Father told the doctor, “I am going to die in two or three more days.”
I think the only thing that allowed me to “keep it together” was the calmness with which my Father uttered those words. Since his passing, they ring in my ears as clearly as when he spoke them. And I am not able to keep it together.
I would not take a million dollars for those last days. My Father and I continued to talk. It was laborious for him, so there were long periods of silence. I sat there holding his hand for the last time. The next day he slipped into what appeared to be sleep. An unwakeable sleep.
Our conversations were over; at least the part where he talked. I had heard of people being in a coma, who later recollected conversations that had taken place in their hospital room. So I kept talking. He just slept.
Late in the day, as I was holding his hand, I asked, “Dad, now that you’re at the end of your life, what is most important to you?” His grip tightened, a shadow of his arm wrestling days. For the first time in a day and a half, my Father opened his eyes, lifted his head from the pillow, looked me straight in the eyes:
“The Lord and your mother.”
He laid his head back and closed his eyes and never said another word.. He died the next morning,
“The Lord and your mother.” Wow. What a testimony. What a gift.
In his last few hours here, he was thinking of what – make that who – he loved most. He had the grace to live well. Despite a long and cruel disease, he also had the grace to die well. That’s the testimony.
He left us. Actually, he left us . . . a gift. As he exited this world and entered the next, his dying breath was an expression of his love for God above all. That’s the gift. He gave it to my mother and to all his children, grandchildren, and beyond. Pointing us to the Heavenly Father just as he was going to meet Him face to face.
He left us. But not really. His faith in God remains with us. Not in some cosmic wishful thinking way, but in substance. With real evidence. It’s a gift that I want like nothing else to give to my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Despite my many failings, I hope they can say, “He really loved God above all.”
So while I am missing Dad, I am eternally thankful to “My Father which art in heaven” for my Father who is also in heaven. So eternally thankful.
Thanks, Dad. For everything.