The day that my father died, except for an hour or so for lunch, I was with him the whole day. I knew things weren’t good and that it wouldn’t be long, but I had no idea what the timeline was. I was numb and probably in disbelief. It was hard for me to wrap my head around everything that the last few years had held for me and my family.
The pastors that I work with had driven me down to Williamsburg and my wife met us at the facility where dad had been. She brought our daughter and stayed for a few hours. After lunch, my fellow pastors left and I had the whole afternoon by myself. I was expecting that someone might come to visit, but I remained there by myself. I just continued to love on my father, reading Scripture to him, singing songs over him, and assuring him that we would be fine. He had done a fine job of raising his two sons and he had fought long enough. He needed to hear that it was all right to leave us.
Many times throughout that afternoon, I cradled his head in my hands and kissed his head. I whispered that I loved him in his ear. I told him how I couldn’t have asked for a better father. Having been on morphine since that morning, I knew that his consciousness would most likely not return.
Taking a break from reading, singing, and speaking, I decided to write in my journal. Little did I know how the words that I would write and the prayer that I would utter would come true.
“It’s hard to express how it feels to lose both of your parents before your 40th birthday. I thought that I would have had so much more time with them, but God had other plans. When Dad is gone, there will be a finality to things that is seemingly unbearable. I know God gives strength, but I am taking it moment by moment right now.
It’s so hard because I feel like I’m reliving my life from 2 years ago. Just watching Dad simply breathing in his bed is reminding me of Mom’s last days. Lord, please take him quickly.”
It would seem that God answered my prayer as Dad passed within hours of my writing. Part of me thought that I should have been more careful of what I asked for, but then I realized that this was better. I didn’t want him to die, but I also didn’t want him to “live” a life like he had been living. In actuality, what he was experiencing could hardly be called “living.”
One of my prayers after my mom died and as my father’s health began to deteriorate was that Dad not die alone. He felt so lost and alone when he left Connecticut. Losing Mom just pushed him further into that darkness and it was hard for me to bear. With a full-time job, 3 kids and a family, seminary studies, and various other things happening in my life, it was hard for me to spend as much time with Dad as I wanted. I did what I could, but even when I wasn’t there, I couldn’t help but think about the sad picture in my mind of him being in there all alone.
I know that people die alone every day, but it seemed unbearable for me to think about that happening to Dad. I couldn’t imagine one of the nurses walking in and finding that he was gone and yet not knowing exactly when he died. That seemed so harsh, even though I knew it was possible. But I held out hope that it wouldn’t happen.
When he finally went, it was all so painfully familiar to me. Just as I had watched my mother’s neck for a sign of a pulse, I watched my father take his final breaths, wondering if each one would be the last one. When that last breath came and went and I knew that he was gone, I simply sat there for a minute. I don’t remember exactly what I did, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to think that I might have prayed a prayer of “thanks” to God. Like I said, it wasn’t because I wanted Dad to die but because I didn’t want his suffering to continue. Mom suffered for 6 months. Dad had suffered for far longer.
While there is a sense of relief to me that his suffering is gone, the pain of dragging this out is so fresh. It’s hard to let go. It’s hard to break free of the numbness that I feel. It’s hard to come to grips with the reality that is before me. Yes, time heals all wounds, but the scars never go away. They remain, reminding us of the pain that we have experienced, calling out, sometimes screaming, to us not to forget how they go there.
Right now, the bandages of loved ones and friends have covered up those scars, at least temporarily. Each day, I lift the bandages to reveal what’s underneath. Each day, I wish that I would lift the bandage and find that it has all been just a dream, but the scars remain. Each day, I wish that I could just make that one phone call, but realizing that is impossible, I simply reach for my phone to listen to voicemails that I have saved. Hearing the words “I love you” from both my mom and dad in the form of a voicemail recording will have to suffice for now.
In the meantime, I press on. Life goes on, people forget, but I refuse to do so. Mom and Dad have left indelible marks on my life and the lives of so many other people. I am a living legacy, so may the mark that I leave be just as long-lasting as the ones left on me.