What an awful week I have just had. Actually the whole year hasn’t been great. Let me fill you in on the events that have transpired. This actually all started at the beginning of November 2007. My Dad was diagnosed with small cell carcinoma of the lung. This is a very aggressive tumor and had already spread to the lymph nodes and to his liver when it was diagnosed. Dad had had a cough for almost 2 months which is what prompted them to get the CT in the first place. He started chemotherapy, which at first seemed to be wonderful. His cough improved and he felt better. However subsequent doses of chemo weren’t as effective. On Dec. 31st my maternal grandfather died in the hospital. He had been on dialysis for about a year. He was in a high speed car accident and developed an infection. This loss was hard for all of us. Grandpa was always full of life and told me a few days before his death that he may have gotten older, but he would never grow up. A few weeks later, the oncologist determined that the first type of chemo was not working and offered Dad the option to quit chemo or try another type of chemo. The doctor wasn’t as confident in this chemo for this tumor. Dad said he would rather die fighting than quit, so they tried it. Again the first round seemed quite effective. Dad’s cough disappeared, but was replaced with hiccups. He began to develop back pain and had lost between 30 and 40 pounds by this time. Dad began to get weaker and weaker. The subsequent rounds of chemo seemed to do little. He had repeat scans done and the tumors had grown. There were no more alternatives. Dad was placed on hospice. Two weeks later he died in our home. To complicate things even more, two days before Dad passed away, my mother found my maternal grandmother dead in her home. Mom had gone over to get her to bring her to spend time with my Dad. That is three deaths in 77 days. This was devastating to our family. My mom lost her father, mother, and husband in 2 ½ months!
Through this tragedy we could clearly see God working. I would have written the story much differently, but I’m not the author. I was able to be with Dad for all but about 24 hours of his last week. This was an awesome time. We got to talk about things we had never talked about before. My dad knew Christ! I had never been sure. He was not a church-going man. That’s where the hypocrites were. There were two major sins in my house growing up. The first was laziness and the second was hypocrisy. You were to do what you said you were going to do to the best of your ability and with quickness and vigor. My dad lived by these words. He also believed that one should speak louder with actions than with words. He often said that he had to tell someone he was a Christian, then he wasn’t being a very a good Christian. I know that his life lived out these principles not only by growing up with him, but by the stories of the friends and relatives that visited him when he was sick and at his funeral.
While dad was sick these last few days, people stopped by in droves to visit with him. Some had an agenda (to win him to Christ) and others just to visit one more time with their valued friend or relative. He died at 5:30pm on Tuesday March 18th. That day he had 12 visitors before noon. There was constant ebb and flow of people for his final week. For many it was difficult to see Dad in such a weakened state, but they couldn’t miss the opportunity to spend a few more moments with my dad. I set up a website for Dad at CaringBridge on March 8th. In 10 days we had over 500 hits and people from as far away as California leaving messages for Dad. There were so many lives he had affected in a positive way. It was very encouraging to see this parade of friends and family. I swelled with pride. I started to get a glimpse of the legacy I had. I saw the full picture at the funeral. Dad had over 450 people come to the funeral home. His funeral was standing room only. The casket was surrounded by flowers. Almost $2000 was raised for his favorite charity. The out-pouring of love shown to my mother, sister, and I was amazing. God showered us with affection from his people. I was very saddened to lose any future here on Earth my Dad and I will miss him very much. I know my Mom will be well taken care of. Not only by me, but by the mass of friends that Dad helped during his life. They can’t wait to find a way to give back to our family. I promised Dad just about an hour before he died that I would be there to take care of Mom. I intend to keep that promise. I will not be lazy or hypocritical. One of the people that stopped by was the pastor of a very good friend of Dad’s. He quickly realized that Dad already knew Christ. He offered communion to Dad. Dad had never felt worthy to take communion. The pastor and I explained to Dad that no one is worthy, but that it is a free gift from God. Mom, Dad, and I took communion together for the first time. This was an unbelievable moment. I will cherish it forever. What a gift God gave me! The only thing better was that Kyle, my 14 year old, was there to witness this. He later told his mom how cool it was and how much better it made him feel that Grandpa had outwardly shown an example of his faith. I believe that it secured in Kyle’s mind that Grandpa was going to be in heaven waiting for us.
I have also learned that relationships are the most important thing. Stuff doesn’t matter. I knew this in my head long ago and teach it my classes at church, but over these last few weeks it became a heart thing. When was the last time you saw SRO at a funeral? Dad took nothing with him, but left behind all the friendships that he had made. Even in his absence he is still taking care of Mom. He left behind much more than money can buy. As an example the people in the car club Dad belonged too, were there with Mom and Dad every step of the way. At the funeral 16 of them lead the procession to the cemetery with their classic cars. One last car show for Dad. As if orchestrated for Dad’s benefit, two of the Fords wouldn’t start. Dad being a Chevy man would have given them a good ribbing and then helped them fix their cars.
My grandfather was much the same as my dad. My mom married a guy a lot like dear ole dad. He was funny, hard working, and hard headed. My legacy is much deeper than one generation. My dad’s dad wasn’t as funny, but worked hard and expected much. He had to quit school after 8th grade, because his father died. Even though he wasn’t the oldest, he became the man of the house. After he married he worked 40 hours at a coal mine only to come home and tend 40 acres. He made sure his family was well cared for, just as my other grandpa and my dad did. I have big shoes to fill and plan to do my best to fill them.
My dad’s humor also endeared him to many. I was told countless stories of when Dad used humor to make hard work go by faster or just to pass the time. He was using humor to help us all through the trying times in the end. When the hospice nurse came in the first time to visit with Dad to see what we might need. She said, “Hi John, I’m Wendi.” Dad replied, “I am too, but I excuse myself.” He said this just enough smile to let her know it was a joke. It worked. The tension was broken.
There will be a part of Dad for some time to come. My oldest has his quick wit, my youngest his personality, and Katie has his heart to help others. I would like to think that I have his common sense ability to diagnose a problem. He was brilliant at troubleshooting while an electrician at the mine and the power plant. I heard stories of lives he had saved because of his quick thinking. I heard stories of him sacrificing for others. He once was driving a bulldozer at the mine and a buddy of his was studying for a welding test. The job that Dad was doing on his bulldozer didn’t require much activity; the other guy’s did. Dad traded him jobs, so the other guy could study. That guy never forgot his kindness.
My grandmother was strong as well. Her parents were told she would never survive childhood, secondary to her severe asthma. Grandma died at 86 years old, after 63 years of marriage. She had been on steroids most of her life and had severe osteoporosis. She had been 5ft 6in tall, but when she died she was less than 5 ft. tall. She had multiple compression fractures and rib fractures thru her later years. This had to be quite painful, but she never complained. She was always able to count God’s blessings and knew they out-numbered her aches and pains. She may have been the best example of a Proverbs 31 woman I’ve known. My mom and my wife are very close behind her. I have been blessed.
God’s timing in all this was impeccable, as would be expected. The kid’s had two half days of school the Thursday and Friday before Dad died. We took them out of school to visit Dad, because we didn’t know how much time he had left. We had a great visit. We left on Saturday, because I had to work that evening. I got a call from my sister while at church on Sunday morning telling me that Grandma had died. We got packed up again as quickly as possible and headed back south. We ended up be away from Dad just over 24 hours. The change in him was dramatic. I was able to assist my mom in taking care of him while she planned her mom’s funeral. We were quite worried about what to do with Dad while we were at Grandma’s viewing and funeral. We had friends to sit with him, but we knew he would need nursing help. We contacted the visiting nurses to help us out. Dad died the evening before Grandma’s viewing. We spent the next morning planning Dad’s funeral and that evening at Grandma’s viewing. The next morning was Grandma’s funeral. If Grandma hadn’t died when she did I wouldn’t have been able to spend Dad’s last hours here on Earth with him. If God hadn’t taken Dad when he did, it would have made Grandma’s viewing and funeral much more difficult. It was incredibly difficult to grieve the loss of both of them at once, but now there can be rest for Mom. At least until she finds someone else to take care of.
I, also, found it interesting to see that no less than 5 people stopped by in the last week to see if they could lead Dad to Christ. In this case, Dad already knew Christ. Although it’s never too late to accept Christ, there was a point where Dad was out of it enough that he couldn’t have understood the gospel. Why do we wait till the last minute?
I have learned two things from this experience. First and foremost, relationships are what it is all about. God put us here to worship Him and help others. Ami and I have decided to make a much better effort at fostering new and old friendships. Stuff doesn’t matter, so we plan to make several trips to Goodwill in the near future. Number two; do not shy away from opportunities to share the Gospel. Speak mostly with actions, but don’t be afraid to use words.