last tuesday afternoon i received a call that my dad was in the hospital and that i should come as soon as possible. my dad had moved with his wife to an assisted living facility in a town about ten hours from where i live, so hopping in the car to see him required some preparation. my wife and i packed and headed out as quickly as we could, stopping along the way to pick up my younger sister who lives about an hour away.
we drove through the remainder of the afternoon and evening through some terrible storms that slowed our speed down to around thirty miles per hour for much of the way. we finally arrived at the hospital around one on wednesday morning to find my dad awake in anticipation of our arrival. he was overjoyed to see us, and we were relieved that we made it while he was still alive and lucid, as we had been told that he might not make it until we got there.
he remained alert throughout the day wednesday, and we enjoyed our conversations with him. all of us, including him, knew that these would be our last visits with each other. he told both my sister and me how much he loved us, what good children we had been, and how glad he was that we were able to come see him. by thursday, he had to be sedated with so much pain killer that he was no longer alert, and he slept through the day thursday and friday. my sister insisted on staying with him each night while my wife and i went to a nearby motel to sleep.
on saturday morning about 5:15 my sister called to say that he was gone. we rushed to the hospital to see him one last time and headed home by around 6:30, having made funeral arrangements and gathered his belongings from his apartment during the day on friday. it was difficult sitting in the hospital room watching him inch towards death, even though we knew he was in no pain. the attempts at comforting us by visitors and callers were little help. i grew tired of hearing people tell us "he's in God's hands now," "we never know when God will take us," "God needs him now more than you do," and similar platitudes that were intended to ease our sorrow.
i wanted to say, "can't you see that his body is simply worn out and can no longer sustain his life? the end of his life has nothing to do with what God needs or wants. life has a beginning and an end, and dad has reached that end." instead i thanked them for their well-intentioned words and kept my thoughts to myself. dad lived for almost ninety-six years and had a full, rich life, and i am glad he was my dad. i will miss him terribly, and his death reminds me that my life, too, will come to an end in the not-too-distant future.
may i come to my end in as dignified a fashion as my dad, surrounded my family who loves me. may each of us live so that when we die people will say that our life was well-lived. may we leave behind a legacy of lovingkindness, compassion, and generosity. shalom.