When President Ronald Reagan was facing a decline in both his physical and mental health, his devoted wife Nancy called the season “The long goodbye.” It is always painful to watch a loved one decline and face the winter of their life; right now, that season involves me, my older brother and my younger sister as we walk through these long days with my 90-year-old father.
He is slowly slipping from the plane of earth and will soon enter the plane of heaven. Soon, his broken and worn container will cease to sustain his life and he will grasp and occupy a perfect and glorified new vessel. His mind will be infinitely clear, and his body will no longer be limited by a failing heart, weak legs and tired lungs. The hearing that is now weak and the eyes that are faulty will be replaced with senses that are far exceed the five we are limited to in these earthen bodies.
Over the last few weeks, our conversations have meandered from talk of the here and now to talk of the then and there. We have spoken of that succinct moment when he will step from one world and into the next. We have discussed what it will be like for him to fall into the presence of his Savior and to look into the eyes of the One who bore his sins. And oh, the joy of that moment when he spots my mother; not the broken down old woman who occupied a bed in a nursing home for four cruel years after being defeated by a horrible stroke, but the young and beautiful woman he met and married. Only now, she is even more beautiful. Her long, dark hair… her big brown eyes. The laugh, the smile, the way she looked as before, but even more stunning as only the perfection of glory can produce. We’ve been talking about that.
We have talked of him seeing his mother, the matriarch of our family; the one who set in stone the rich heritage that we all benefit from today. A quiet and gentle woman of mighty faith and steady humility. The mom who cared so deeply for him, welcomed in my mother, and who found each of her grandchildren to be unique and wonderful. My dad looks forward to seeing his mom again. He cannot wait to see his older sister Blanche whose early death left him hollow, and his younger brother Ralph, whose much more recent death robbed him of a friend for life.
And then my dad’s voice cracked and said, “And what about Bonnie? Will I even recognize her?” My father’s younger sister, my Aunt Bonnie, was born with severe cerebral palsy. Her twisted body, halting walk and with a language that only those who spent a lot of time with her could decipher, carried her much further in life than any would have guessed. At birth she was not expected to live long enough to mark her tenth birthday, but she lived into her seventies. My grandmother and my aunt were inseparable, both depending on the other and walking through life with determination and grace. I rarely saw one without the other being close by. My dad is not a man given to an abundance of tears, but he strained to control them when thinking of seeing his dear little sister in a perfect body and with a voice that could compete with the angels.
He misses his high school buddy who died two years ago. He misses the man he worked with for 30 years. He misses all his church friends. When you hit 90 years old, you’ve been to a lot of funerals.
My dad was released from a rehab last week and sent home with hospice care. He now appreciates that I am praying for the Lord to show his little boy mercy and take him home soon. There is no longer any degree of “quality of life” and every breath is a struggle, yet I am immensely grateful for this small, elderly giant whose only hobby in life was his three kids. He never played golf, he never went hunting, and the only fishing he did was with us. He loved my mother for the 50 years God granted them, and as my mother’s beauty and abilities faded, he loved her even more.
We speak almost every day now, and he is settling into a peace that comes when the race has been run and the course is finished. We now await his body to agree with his spirit, and for it to release him to real life. As the acorn must fall and die for the oak tree to take root, my dad must surrender this life to take hold of the next. He keeps telling me, “I’ve never done this before” as he contemplates stepping from here to There, yet he is ready.
Henri Nouwen often said that the only way that we can die well, is for us to live well. My dad has lived well, and it is with joyous sorrow that we will say this temporary goodbye.
Thanks daddy. Thank you for living well.
Update: My hero left the building on the evening of Friday, July 17th. The man who taught me to catch a baseball, to work on cars, to love Alabama football, to properly mow a yard, and to love Jesus has departed this earth.
He mirrored Christ well, and he taught me what it is to be committed in love to one woman. He never claimed the best place or presumed upon greatness. He was a simple man of humility, integrity and ruthless honesty
He loved his wife, his three kids, each of his thirteen grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. He loved his church, woodworking, Southern cooking, the Atlanta Braves, Cheetos and Diet Mountain Dew. Clearly, he loved me.
So much that’s reflected today in Youth-Reach originated from my dad. He was always looking to share his faith, and wanted everyone to know his Jesus.
His legacy, now passed on, means that a great responsibility is carried by those who he fathered. The blood of a faithful man runs through my veins.
I’m thrilled at his home-going, and crushed by the loss.