We arrived in my parents’ city last Tuesday, from Brazil. We went directly to the hospital, where my dad had worked for 34 years. Where I was born and, at 17, had undergone surgery. Where my grandfather gave up his last breath, missing the age of 100 by a month.
Hospice care has been arranged at the hospital for my dad. Nothing more can be done for him, besides making him comfortable. With 83, almost 84, years of age, suffering from Alzheimer’s for several years, this man who lived in full vigor, who worked with his hands, who hunted white-tailed deer and wild turkey with bow and arrow, and who devoted himself to the work of Christ, now barely has strength to cough and none to turn himself in the bed.
Yesterday, he was more alert, talked more, although we struggled to understand him. Is it that last surge of awareness before the passage into the Beyond?
On the night of our arrival, I spent the night with him, to let my mother and sister rest. Wednesday, more hours within four walls that seemed to shrink with the leakage of life. Hours with just the two of us in the apartment, he barely aware of my presence, I observing the rise and fall of his chest, the shallow breathing, the hands either searching for something in the air or grabbing the blanket, as if still clutching at earthly life, his dry lips trying to form words that no one hears.
In the weak light of the third-floor room, I peered over my dad’s rumpled bed, through windows that looked on an atrium formed by the wings of the building, to the incessant rain; to the top of a tree waving in the wind — nature’s goodbye, perhaps; to a light fixture of modern design whose modernity no longer shines so brightly.
Years ago, my dad would have told me what kind of tree was growing outside his window. Now, it is merely another unidentified tree. Sign of changes to come, without his familiar presence.
When I read the Word of God to my dad, using his own Bible, in that old version that he learned as a child, he seemed to react to the reading. Might the Word be penetrating that tired and misty mind?
And how to pray? In such moments, some ask God to take a loved one and free him of suffering. That’s understandable, certainly, even to divine ears. But who am I to know what is best? Let him go, or make him remain? Might we be impatient with his delay, when we ask for God to take him? Or might the heavenly Father still have some lessons for us to learn with my dad’s presence?
The only thing I manage to pray right now is to deliver into God’s hands my dad and all our family. Ask for strength for this moment. Make the most of this day which has halted our work, our plans, and our activities, and focus on one person and his needs. Feel the intensity of life and death and see the thinness of that line between the two, both for strong and weak.
Prayer, at this time, becomes as much quietness as a request or expression of doubt. We are not afraid, but amazed before the immensity of that portal to which we accompany our loved one. We remember that soon, in an unknown moment, our time will arrive to enter it. The mortality of my father is also my own.
But this moment is his, not mine. We are here — wife, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends, family of faith — for him. We speak in low tones, out of respect for the step he will soon take. We set up a schedule to keep him from being alone in the room, in his honor. In my parents’ home, one rises from a bed, and another soon occupies it, in the come-and-go between house and hospital, a holy pilgrimage of service and love for him.
Even with his foggy mind, soon my dad will pass through the portal and experience an immediate clarity of perception, before the divine glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. And we, with minds at full strength, will continue to see this passage only in a dim outline.
Perhaps, this way, our main prayer, besides serving and loving our dad to the end, might be to learn from him to seek this clear and eternal vision of Christ.
Randal’s father passed away Monday, July 13.
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