Grieving, goodbyes & when loved ones die

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Intellectually I knew this day would come, but not really. Somewhere deep inside I held on to the child-like belief that my daddy wouldn’t die. But he did. This is the story of his passing.

A year after my father’s diagnosis of lung and liver cancer, I traveled to California to say goodbye. Six months later, the cancer was progressing slower than expected so he and my mother moved to Virginia Beach so mom could be near family when he passed. By early summer I traveled to Virginia to say good-bye, again.

Late October in North Idaho arrived. The leaves began to turn – a beautiful blend of gold and orange interspersed with green leaves that clung to their chlorophyll a little longer than the others. It reminded me of my father clinging to life. I knew the call would come any day; sadness came in waves.

I dropped to my knees in prayer; God answered very clearly – “go now”. “But I have said my good-byes. Twice!” I had no intentions of being with my father when he passed – I didn’t have the strength for that.

“Go now. Your father feels unworthy of my grace.” In obedience, three days later, I landed in Virginia. I sat with my father through the night, quietly reading aloud the book of John until my shift ended at 2:30 am.

My father was raised in a church in Texas - fire and brimstone, hell and damnation where the theme. Every Sunday the preacher pointed out the sinners amongst the congregation, assuring all that good works and pure living were the only way to return to our heavenly Father.

My father knew nothing of God’s grace. Although he had accepted Christ on February 23, 1947 he had no concept that his belief in Christ as our Savior and God’s grace would ensure his way home. He had shared with me recently that he had been too bad along the way for heaven to be for him. So as life slipped away from my daddy, I whispered in his ear memories of the wonderful husband and father he was. With each memory shared I added, “God is so pleased with you – you finished well.”

On the third day after my arrival, his granddaughter whispered, “Grandpa, Brett (his great-grandson) is just a few minutes away. He’s the last one that can be here.” Five minutes after Brett arrived, with his wife of 69 years lying by his side, surrounded by his family, my father’s breath shuddered. I began the Lord’s Prayer — family joining in. My father smiled, his lips moved as if he was praying along with us and then he left his body peacefully.

For those of you that are wrestling with the decision whether or not to be with a loved one as they pass, let me say this; I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I never dreamed that I would feel so much peace as I watched my father take his last breath. At that moment my love for my heavenly Father intensified and almost overwhelmed me. I have His assurance that my daddy is in His care.

Tami Heather is part of the Outreach Ministries staff at Cedar Hills Church.

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