I took one last look at the old man. His beleaguered body lie flat on his bed, propped up slightly by the pillow he always used. He stared vacantly at whatever was in his line of sight from the angle his head was positioned. The white sheet covering his body up to his chest gave the impression he was already dead. But dead he was not- the slight heaving of his belly made the sheet rise and drop with his shallow breaths.
I stood there, eyes red and heavy, at this point due to exhaustion and not tears. I had long accepted the fact he was dying; now I just wished he would hurry up and go. Everything that needed to be said between the two of us was said, and that was satisfaction enough. Now there was nothing left- except to watch him, cold and lifeless as he slipped away.
I sucked in a deep breath, realizing I hadn’t been breathing myself. I walked over to Dad and squeezed his hand tight. It was cold and clammy, like a dead fish. I didn’t know if he could hear my words or detect my presence. That was the hardest part. I doubt he could, but nobody leaves a parent to die by themselves. No good child who loves their father does that.
I decided it was worthwhile, if for no other reason to pass the time. Perhaps not everything that needed to be said was said after all. Perhaps this is why Dad was still clinging to a completed life. I had written it just a few hours before, and finally decided it mattered not whether Dad could hear me. Even if he couldn’t, he would know about it soon enough, and I’m sure it would please him just the same. I took out the napkin I had scribbled it on and began to read:
There are few things more important in life than having a father that loves you. Besides having the love of God, what a child needs more than anything is the love of his parents. And to have it means to know, to feel and experience through action and affection, that love. I do not know how children from broken homes make it. Truly, I do not. To have parents who hate their children is a horrible thing, it would be better to never have been born. Neglecting a child is to leave them naked and defenseless, exposed and susceptible to all the sorrows and dangers of this world. Some never hear their parents say they love them. Some do but know they really don’t.
You said it and meant it Dad, both you and Mom. You demonstrated it in word and deed as you were called to do. You kept me from danger even when, in my ignorance, harm was what I wanted. You taught me right from wrong, good from evil, and disciplined me when I chose the sin and despised the pure. When you failed you admitted it; you repented and confessed to me, and modeled how I should repent and confess to others, to you, and to God. You prayed for my soul and played with me as a child. As I grew into adulthood, you became like a good friend with wise council. Yet, whenever I needed you to still be Dad, you were. I knew to go to you as my father even as I was a man and a father myself, because you rightly taught me that you as a man still needed God as your heavenly father. So my dependency on you was an extension of my dependency on Him, because when I depended on you, I knew I was depending on Him.
A firm hand prompted by a loving spirit is how I model my family, because it’s how you modeled your family, because it’s how Christ models His family. This only works when the child sees not only the angry father with the belt ready to spank the rebellious child, but the hug after the punishment from the same swatting father who says to the child, “I love you, I love you. This momentary pain is to keep you from traversing that road that leads to greater pain and eternal destruction.” With that, I see loving discipline that hurts yet heals. Indeed, the hurting is part of the healing.
In you Dad I see a loving care that dares to correct even when the correction runs the risk of causing your very child you love to misunderstand, hate, and despise you. But better for the child to be warned and you be hated than for you to be loved yet the child not know. It’s very true, nobody likes discipline when it’s received, but in the end we appreciate it for what it teaches us. And our wicked selves often only respond when a bit of pain is applied. God, by His grace, often afflicts us to sanctify us, because it takes affliction to wake us from our spiritual slumber, to remind us that everything we are depends on Him, that apart from Him we can do nothing.
Thank you Dad, for not buying into the worldly psycho-babble of the day that shunned spanking and discipline as child abuse and favored medication or simple words of encouragement or giving into the demands of the children in order to pacify them. Our problem isn’t our environment, it is our hearts. Our wicked behavior has its root in our own wickedness ultimately, not confusion or being misunderstood. To love is to correct, to neglect is to let the child do as he wishes. Thank you, Dad, for teaching me, for loving me as God loves His children, and then, as I grew in the Truth and walked in the Way, thank you for giving me the freedom to use my own discretion and make my own choices so that I could someday lead a family too. God used your corrections and disciplines time and time again to wake me from spiritual slumber.
You ran the race well father, and now you are going home to see your Father, who will greet you as a son! Imagine it, as a son! He will greet you as He greeted Jesus when He returned to Him after rising from the dead, after paying for our sins. I pray He brings you home now, so you can enjoy that homecoming, that celebration. Seeing you in this state, as if between two worlds, is worse than when you were in conscious pain from this malady. It’s time to go, and I want you to know that it’s okay. You’ve done me well, and God has forgiven you for when you did fail, and I have forgiven you too. I have no doubt you will receive many jewels in your crown to cast back at His feet.
Go now Dad. Whatever our fellowship will be like in heaven, it will only be sweeter, for it will be freed from all struggles with sin, and it will be in the presence of our Heavenly Father and Saving Groom, and together we will sit and learn then walk and talk about Him with Him and all the saints without fatigue or distraction. Forever.
I love you Dad. And I will see you soon. Say hello to Mom for me.
I finished the letter and crumpled it back into my pocket. The tears still did not come, but when I felt the faintest squeeze of my hand and then watched as the sheet stopped rising, I knew he heard.
And with absolute comfort and peace, I joyfully cried when my father died.