Perhaps it’s not the starting or finishing that takes the most bravery. Perhaps it’s the middle, where questions and waiting and honest prayers produce brave faith.
Good Friday, I woke with this oldy-but-goody song on my heart, “Holy and Anointed One.” Relief was the unspoken word. Relief that dad was closer to meeting his Savior than ever before. And for this reason, the air hung with celebration. Of knowing. We took our time that morning; snuggling our boys and mom playing trucks with her grandsons.
Bryan made coffee and scrambles and toast with honey. Before Auntie Pam came to be with Tanner and Ty, Bryan found Dad’s phone and made a beautiful discovery, a grace thread connecting the details of his last day together. Do you remember the evening of Dad’s stroke, when earlier that day he’d walked the Huntington Beach Pier before heading home for Bible Study? Recall the afternoon we learned of his terminal brain cancer, and the images of ocean waves in my prayer?
These are the last pictures Dad took, hours before his stroke, and I can’t help but imagine they were an early glimpse of eternity:
The middle days wavered between pain and joy, exhaustion and hope. It was in the middle, that God began meeting me in the deepest way, offering His indescribable peace, proving that He is a Creator that transcends time, and desires to give good gifts to His children, even in pain, even in the middle.
Grandma Harris, Dad’s mom, was brought to his bedside. I’ll never forget how she pressed her face into his cheek and cried. It was heart-wrenching and painfully precious. A mother’s final words to her son, words no mother should ever have to say. I pray I never stand in her shoes. She told Drew, “You and Bekah were both so blessed to have such a wonderful dad.” So true, grandma. And he was blessed to have you for a mom.
To friends and family Lil’ Mom shared, “After deep prayer and much discussion, the kids and I are in total agreement about releasing my precious husband into the arms of the One who knows him best and loves him most. This is clearly what Dean would have wanted. I can picture Jesus standing at heaven’s gate with open, welcoming arms, saying, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” as Dean runs to meet the Lord he intimately knew and served all of his earthly life.”
Throughout this time, people asked how mom was and I always answered, She is brave. She is so, so brave.
Dad, now off the ventilator, was in a deep coma, comfortable and free of pain, and appeared as though he’d just drifted off for a nap. Dusk declared, and we headed back to Mom’s, joining Em and Galel, dear friends, who had brought their kids up for the day and entertained all the children with Easter cookie decorating and nature walks. Ty had managed to escape four times, only to be discovered shoveling jelly beans in his mouth at rapid fire pace. That evening, as a collective family, we feasted on Pam’s dinner of pulled pork sandwiches with chipotle slaw and cookies and glasses of wine. We focused on hope, on what Jesus had done thousands of years ago. It felt good to put my feet on living room carpet and squish my toes in the backyard grass, a pleasant change from the hospital’s linoleum floor. Surrounded by laughter and kids running and the energy of life, it was a Good Friday celebration indeed, and Dad would have savored every second.
On Saturday, Comfort Care Floor, room 575, became Dad’s new home, a room with a magnetic pull/push; the pull of never wanting to leave his side and the push of never wanting to step foot in the hospital again. The pull won, and each day brought us to him. A handmade quilt made by volunteers was laid upon him, and we weren’t surprised to find its colors matching that of sand and sea. Even in the details, God showed up. Even in a quilt. Friends came to say goodbye, to offer one final hand squeeze, to whisper their sentiments.
A grace glimmer visitor that day was Dane, a long-time friend of my folks. He came with sweet news: on the day of Dad’s tragedy, at 3:11pm precisely, Dad had emailed Dane, asking him to bring the story of Edith Easter to bible study that night. Of course, bible study never happened, and so Dane brought a copy, and over dad’s bed, read it aloud, stopping several times to catch his breath and start again. To summarize, the story is about a woman who introduces herself, “Hi I’m Edith, do you know the story of Easter?” She goes on to share the message of salvation with all she comes in contact with. Edith is diagnosed with terminal cancer, admitted to the hospital, and with God’s Spirit, wins the cranky floor nurse to the Lord, then passes away to be with her Savior on Easter Sunday- her legacy continuing with the nurse. That’s the story dad wanted shared at bible study that night, and that’s the story he lived out every day.
Easter Sunday’s message was Heaven Crashes In and touched close to home. Maybe too close. Through tears and heartache, we raised our hands and lifted our voices, singing “Forever Reign” (you can listen along here).
You are peace, You are peace
When my fear is crippling
You are true, You are true
Even in my wandering
Waiting, in those middle days, was daunting and tiring. Every day we gave Dad permission to meet Jesus, and every day we squeezed his hand, unsure if it was for the last time. Tears lacked and a numbness set in. We were ready, but Mom joked that perhaps his mansion was not. Even so, the grief had begun.
Oh, I’m running to Your arms, I’m running to Your arms
The riches of your love will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign
“It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien