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Our Last Day Together
The doctors told us that Dad wasn’t going to leave the hospital this time. The ALS had paralyzed his entire body, where the muscles to move his eyes were even struggling, and it was impossible for him to breath without the high-flow oxygen. As a family, we sat down with hospice to have the difficult conversation of what to expect and what Dad’s wishes were.
“Don’t you think for one second your Dad doesn’t know what’s going on,” Andrea, the hospice nurse shared. “He knows exactly what is going on, so don’t try to hide any of this from him.”
Dad didn’t fear death, for he longed for eternal peace and he knew exactly where he was going. It was the ones he was leaving behind he was concerned for. The difficult reality of ALS, is that most patients pass away because respiratory failure. The muscles that control breathing slowly become paralyzed until they can no longer breathe. In other words, suffocation. We could give him medicine to help him not feel the air hunger to keep him comfortable as he would pass. Everything was so difficult to hear, but we needed to be prepared to best be there for Dad for this entire journey.
I asked my brother if he could be the one to tell Dad that if they would take off that high-flow oxygen, that he wouldn’t be able to breathe on his own. Oh the courage it took to give such a message. We embraced the seconds and moments of that day because it was probably his last.
Worship and Prayer
We were all moved to see his beloved church choir pour in with hymnals, singing their hearts out, and not a dry eye in the room. They all knew which songs were his favorite and sang them beautifully. I sat at his right holding his hand that hasn’t moved in years, and watched the moments of him being overwhelmed with emotion to see all his friends, thinking this could be the last.
Choir members and Christian friends gathered around him and still prayed for a miracle even when we were told he was going to pass away. His system was septic, had MRSA, pneumonia, and all medical staff said he wouldn’t last much after removing the high flow oxygen.
We braced ourselves, for he had been fighting ALS for almost five years. Over four of those years he couldn’t speak or move a finger, yet his mind was a brilliant as ever. Trapped in his body, I couldn’t imagine the thoughts or the feelings.
Miracles Do Happen
I sat at his bedside and read Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young to him. It was a devotional that helped us connect with the Lord and invite His comfort and peace through this disease. I wish I knew what he wanted to say and then it hit me; he wanted us to know more than anything that he loved us. Just as Christ was hanging on the cross himself, he too wanted us all to know how much he loves us.
The next morning, the high flow oxygen machine was removed, and we were shocked to see his oxygen saturation actually improved to 100%. This could not be physically possible!
He continued to breathe and defeat medical explanations. Furthermore, test results came back saying he was no longer septic, and that the MRSA and pneumonia was gone. Absolute miracle! Such an answered prayer because he wanted to be in peace at home with his family for his last breath. God wasn’t done with him, yet!
The next day we got to leave the hospital when we were told that was not going to happen. We set up our parents bed, and the three oxygen generators that helped him breathe. This all was surely a gift to have one more moment with Dad and for him to be at peace at home.
“Could you read the scriptures where Jesus was washing the feet of the disciples for me?” My brother brought in a wash basin, removed dad’s socks, and gently washed his feet.
Trying not to choke on my own emotions, I read the thirteenth chapter of John,
Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (v 1)
The Dream of True Peace
I believed God gave me a dream on how to pray for Dad. In this dream, he was fighting the gusty wind while attempting to fly a kite. He tried controlling it, but not until he finally let go did he actually have peace. In the dream I could see he had the peace that surpassed all understanding. He wasn’t fighting, but had overwhelming amount of peace and the bluest of eyes.
I asked God what I was to do with that dream, so I prayed for Dad to experience such a peace whether it was in this life on earth, or if that would be the peace he’d experience in heaven. I never felt the timing of sharing that dream with him until all these years later, after my brother had washed his feet and prepared him to leave this world and go to the Father (John 13.1).
“Dad, about ten years ago or so I believe God gave me a dream for you. In this dream, I saw you fighting the wind with this kite. When you let go and watched the kite freely fly away; the peace that was all over you was overwhelming and beautiful. You were free and covered in peace and joy, and your eyes were the bluest of blues…. and I want you to have that kind of peace, Dad.” I tried describing this heavenly picture I had of this inexplainable peace and joy.
“Dad, it’s ok to let go of that kite and have that peace and freedom…” After ten years, it felt like God’s timing to share that with him.
Seek the Wisdom of Others
If you want to succeed in anything in life, you need to learn from those who are already doing it and succeeding. This is why I turn to the most respected professionals in their field. They don’t only know what to do, but they live it.
I didn’t want to just sit by and wait for Dad to take his last breath, I wanted to walk with him step by step all the way to those pearly gates. Something I’ve never done, and wanted to give him my all in this journey.
Friends that had recently lost their fathers, gave beautiful insight for such a difficult time. I cherished their wisdom and experience for preparing for this journey with Dad.
1. Make sure everything is pre-planned in advance. Such as the will, living will, know his wishes, speak with funeral home, cemetery plots, purchase headstone, and many other overwhelming steps. Have copies, physical and digital.
2. He may need permission to die, to no longer hold on.
3. Assure him that everyone left behind was going to be ok and taken care of.
4. Remind him of what a great man he always was.
5. Give everyone space to grieve in their own way.
6, Always remember that hearing sharpens as the body prepares to shut down, so keep speaking sweet words to him.
What a hard thing to do, to tell someone that it is ok to die, and that we were all going to be ok. But those were the things that probably weighed on his mind and he needed to hear it. I longed for my words to be what God wanted me to say in those moments.
His Final Hour
The hospice nurse informed us that Dad was actively dying and may have a couple hours or maybe even a day. I rushed to his side and could see how different he was in just a short period of time. I asked God to remind me of all the wisdom that friends have shared to be sure to walk this journey with him.
A dear friend shared that hearing is that last sense to go with the dying, so it’s important to continue speaking sweet words to him. Singing the childhood songs he introduced us to, read more of Jesus Calling Devotional, read scriptures, his pastors visited and prayed in his last few hours, and I read my daughter’s Bedtime Prayers.
Mom was curled up next to him, holding his hand, and reminding him of what an amazing husband, father, and friend he has been all these years. She was thanking him for all the wonderful memories and vacations, and how he always put God and family first.
“It ok to go home, Mike, we are all going to be ok. You gave us a wonderful life,” mom said in between her tears. Their marriage of 38 years was a testament of love and selflessness. She was his full-time caretaker for these years for his 6 foot 6 frame. Although he couldn’t move, his eyes always went to her.
It was only a few more breaths after finishing Bedtime Prayers, where we were prepping his next morphine dose, and there wasn’t another breath. “Mom…. Dad’s not breathing.”
It was the sentence I selfishly didn’t want to speak, but knew it was for his gain.
“I know; I felt it.” Was all I could hear mom say with her head buried under her pillow still curled up next to him.
We were gathered around him, in awe of the peace over him. That the kite was flying free. Peace that he had given God, his wife, kids, and church the best he ever could, and was in heaven singing beautifully once again in his pain-free body, in complete peace, joy, and freedom. He was probably dunking a basketball again, laughing with old friends, or perhaps sitting in awe of Jesus himself.
How Could God Allow Suffering
Sometimes bad things do happen to good people, although it’s hard to wrap our minds or hearts around it. Maybe we aren’t supposed to understand, but the day he was diagnosed he said, “God is fair, but life is not.” While most people would respond in anger, Dad responded in grace and concern for others.
Even then, he was more concerned for the ones that he loved so much who still didn’t know the Almighty God personally; that is something so easy to invite into our lives and free.
“People wonder why God wold let bad things happen and its’ because if we did have a perfect world, we wouldn’t rely on God,” mom humbly said in his final hour. In our weakness, He really is made strong.
“He’s the reason I believe,” many people told me as he fought ALS with a smile. I couldn’t be anymore proud of my Dad. God used him in ways that it took someone with the greatest courage to do.
A Warmth that Never Leaves
Mom watched the funeral home drive him away. She stood in the drive way, watching even after the van was out of sight. Her arms were crossed, her head hung low, and she wandered back inside to sit on his side of the bed.
“It’s still warm,” mom closed her eyes and tried holding onto what body heat was still left where he laid. When that warmth was gone… it was gone and it wasn’t coming back. All the memories and the legacy he built and left by knowing Christ is a warmth that will never die.
In those quiet moments of memory, that we can still feel his love. The warmth comes back in sweet memories, and we all cherish them.
His Legacy Continues
Not only did Dad want us to know that he loved us, but everything that was on his heart he sang it beautifully with the CD he released shortly after being diagnosed. The very message he wants us to hear is found there and I enjoy listening to it, being reminded to love God, to remember Dad well, to be a living Bible, and to not be ashamed of Christ. He sang about it all and you could feel it in his songs. Music is something that moved him, and God used Dad to move others through his own CD in Spiritual Journeys, and pray his ministry of music touches your heart in some way as it continues to do for the rest of us.