What is it like to live with someone in their last days? It is a combination of pain, joy, laughter, tears, aching, loneliness, emptiness, privilege, honour. My dad was diagnosed with brain cancer and given mere months to live.
One day I took dad for a walk in his wheelchair. We walked down his street and talked about the homes, the landscaping and we talked about his journey and our faith.
I told Dad, “I am not mad at God and I am not happy with God. I am not questioning him and I am asking lots of questions. My faith is strong – but my heart is weak. My belief is solid and true, but my body feels empty. I love my amazing God and I love my amazing father who sits in front of me.” Dad just nodded and understood.
Life is an interesting journey and there are God moments that we miss and ones we only recognize much later.
Many years ago, in the corner of a hospital room filled with medical students and a specialist, Dad sat in a small chair beside my bed. I was ill with ulcerative colitis and was pregnant with twins. They were going to take some bone marrow from my chest to test it because my iron level was so low. I was scared and intimidated by the students, the doctor and the idea that a needle was going to be shoved into my chest. My dad was not great with medical stuff. He is tough, but got a little light-headed at stuff like that. But he came to my side. He sat beside me, holding, no, gripping my hand. The procedure required them to pull down my hospital gown to expose my chest – so now I am embarrassed. But he gripped my hand and looked me in the eye and held my gaze as they pushed the needle into my chest. The whole room gasped along with me as the pressure momentarily took my breath away. And Dad held my hand.
Then there was another hospital room where my son lay – nothing serious – just a giant blood clot on his tongue that had formed overnight after he bit into it playing on the trampoline. I sat with my boy until they said they would suction it off – then I got a bit light-headed – so who is outside the door who says he will take my place? My dad. He took my place because he knew it was hard to watch and he sat with my son and held his hand (and then got a little light-headed!!).
I always thought I was so privileged to have Dad do those things for me – I was so touched. This week I realized something.
As I sat at my dad’s feet and washed his legs; as I sat at his feet and helped him with his catheter; as I held him up as I washed his back, arms and hair; I realized that this WAS being PRIVILEGED. I was honoured and humbled to be able to do this for him. When Dad sat with me in the hospital I was so glad to have him and it was a gift – I realize now that it was an honour and a privilege for him to have been able to help me.
In our servant stance, we gain more than when we receive. It is in giving that we receive.
In the Prayer of Saint Francis:
“O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive”
This is hard – nothing about this is easy – but how amazing is this opportunity to sit at my father’s feet and learn from him. Learn from his grace, his patience, his kindness, his wisdom. The beauty in knowing that he too would soon sit at his Father’s feet and learn from his grace, his patience, his kindness and is wisdom.
So I share this with you – to encourage you – to inspire you – to uplift you.
This is hard – nothing about this is easy. One day I played hymns in the hospital room. My prayers went up in those songs. Prayers of sadness, prayers of faith, prayers of life extensions. Dad sang. I sang. We may never make American Idol, but that morning, we were awfully good!
This is hard – nothing about this is easy. But each moment I get to sit with my dad and do those little things for – is a gift from God and I am honoured to be an active participant in my dad’s final walk on this earth.