I’m finding grief to be not like the stereotypical dark, hovering cloud, but more like a portion of my heart has been removed, not to grow back or forget it’s original whole, forever changing my journey with a new heartbeat, a changed rhythm.
My heart beats heavy as I write. Conjuring up dad’s last day on earth is an unexplainable tug of sorrow and peace. It’s one I have to share, can’t help but process; it’s the day that will impact today, tomorrow, and every day after.
The afternoon of April 2nd, behind-the-scene momentum built after receiving the doctor’s shocking words that Dad would have to be discharged from the hospital. A shared skilled nursing facility room, or going home on hospice were our options.
We made calls.
We checked facility availability.
It’s not unlike calling for hotel reservations, but with the realization that once you check in, you don’t check out.
My years as a hospice intake coordinator came flooding back; talking with grieving families, helping them understand end-of-life-care. And here I was, on the other side, shaking my head at the horrible irony. We didn’t want Dad sharing a room with two other people, left to die in a foreign place. But we couldn’t bare the thought of watching him take his final breaths, lying in a hospital bed in the living room, near the piano. It was a lose-lose situation, and in the end, hospice at home was decided for the next day.
Before leaving, I found dad’s ear: Dad, please, go be with Jesus tonight. I don’t want mom to have to remember you passing away at home. I don’t want her to walk down the stairs every morning and re-live finding you there. Please, go be with Jesus. As much as I want you here, God would you please call him home tonight?
Leaving room 575, my dad’s breathing was regular, his deep coma almost a joke, as if he’d been taking a 5-day nap. We exchanged hugs with Michele, a dear family friend and former ER nurse, as she was planning to sit with Dad for a bit.
Ten minutes after arriving back at mom’s we received the call. God had called Dad home. He’d heard our cry. Dad was in glory. God’s timing perfect.
There are moments I’ll always remember: looking at my husband when the pastor pronounced us “husband and wife,” the elation at seeing our first positive pregnancy test, the joy at seeing it again two years later. And now this news; the reality that my dad was gone. It was a thousand emotions in the same heartbeat: relief, sadness, confusion, numbness, but blanketing them all was peace. An uncanny, undeniable peace. It was finished. Dad was no longer trapped in a cancer-infested body. He was now in eternity.
During the next few hours, time sat still. Every action became deliberate, every sense heightened.
We bathed the boys, the water feeling neither hot nor cold, but wet.
Food tasted like sandpaper, and moving took every ounce of energy.
To bed- first Ty, then Tanner. Snuggled under dinosaur sheets in the bed he slept in when staying at Mimi and Papa’s, I cupped his face. Papa went to be with Jesus tonight, T. He got a new body, and they are having a huge celebration for him in heaven right now. My words came but tears lacked. We laid there, Tanner holding his Mario stuffed animal, his body wrapped in my arms. He was quiet for some time, and then spoke.
What about his glasses? Does he need them in heaven?
I smiled, touched by his child-wonder, a concrete question.
No buddy, he doesn’t. In heaven, he can see without glasses. He gets a new body; one that’s healthy and free of sickness. Simple faith, pure questions, that may be my new prayer. God, help me have child-like faith.
We met back at the hospital, our final visit to room 575, a building that had become our temporary home for the past week. I shut the door behind and approached my father. How different he looked in the hours since he’d passed. I’d seen death before- when working for hospice, and with my grandpa the day before he died. I’ve heard people talk about this peace but somehow thought it was a played up, spiritual emotion to make people feel better.
Bending near, holding his cold hand, I can attest to the peace. A peace that surpasses all understanding. Staring at dad’s face, I couldn’t help but smile in the pain, feel joy in my greatest sorrow. I was looking at someone who was standing in the presence of God. Such a surreal and shadowy experience- like peering from behind the stage at a soloist’s dress rehearsal, seeing the lights, but not feeling their warmth as they do on their face.
That’s the image I had of dad in that moment: warm light on his face, seeing His Savior, experiencing complete healing, then looking behind his Heavenly Father and seeing a familiar figure- his earthly father! Oh the hugs, and pats on the backs, and cheeseburgers that were enjoyed in heaven that evening.
And herein lies the clencher: this is not the end. Oh no! This, my friends, is the real beginning. The beginning of dad’s journey in Eternity, his journey enjoying Forever with his Maker, and this marks the beginning for each of us affected- his family and friends.
As his daughter, this is the beginning of the story God is writing in my life. My story does not end here. I refuse to say that at 64, my dad passed away, and my world fell apart. Sure, it will for a while, really forever. But I refuse to hang my hat on that date. I refuse to say my life ended the dad my dad died.
I choose instead to let this experience, this horrible, grace-threaded, full-of-heart-ache journey change me forever. Like Donna said, I will never be the same, and chances are if you’ve walked this with me, or someone dear to your heart, you too will not be the same. Good. Let this crazy grief process begin. Let the sobs and anger and questions and quietness come. But let us not forget that God is doing something beautiful in His time. And His time is every.single.day.
As I reflect on that week in the hospital, in the music God brought to mind, the prayers, the texts, the visitors, the clinging of Dad’s arm and the clutching of one another, in the questions and in the answers, one thing stared me head-on. Not once in that week did I think about my schedule.
Amazing how I worry about the calendar and to-do lists and the entertaining of dreams and concerns of what if or if only…How quickly in an emergency, do the extras dissipate and priorities come into focus. Friends have asked how losing a parent affects my day-to-day and I say this: the small stuff doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter. We are given today, and that in itself is a gift.
Busyness or distraction is my tendency and I don’t want to miss a thing. I want to sit in every feeling, taste every tear, be present in every second of this process. God is calling me, as He has for some time now, He is drawing me to the edge and asking me to jump. He is asking if I trust Him to be my everything or if I simply sing about it. It’s the scariest act I’ll ever do. But this is where His peace is made perfect, and I jump into waiting arms- the same arms that hold my dad, that hold all who know Him and have passed from this life to Glory.
If I live to be 64 like my dad, that means I have the next half of my life to experience this peace, God’s perfect love, this freedom in letting Jesus reveal His story day-by-day. And each day I’ll whisper, God, don’t let me miss you. Give me ears and eyes, hands, and a heart to see you everywhere. I’m here.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11