Saturday, March 05, 2005


Psalm 116:15-16
Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his saints.
O LORD , truly I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your maidservant;
you have freed me from my chains.

March 3, 2003. A strange date, don't you think? Three 3's in a row. This was the date that my father in law passed away, after a two year bout with cancer. For me, it was my first full engagement with death. Up until then, I had never known death so close. I never had to deal with it, never had to address it, never had to show some sense of leadership and responsibility in the midst of it. I guess thats a part of growing up and having a family, you lead and are responsible in the midst of it all, whether you expected it or not. O Lord, I am your servant.
In our case, we did expect it. The Padre (a name I termed and unsuccessfully tried to have the rest of the family catch on to) was sick for about two years with lymphoma. It was initially a very good prognosis, and we were really hopefuly. In terms of cancer, it seemed to be the best kind that you could get, if you really had to have it. Things transitioned downhill from there. Radiation treatments, chemo, even a very hopeful bone marrow transplant. None of it worked.
The last time my kids saw him, he was in the hospital. We had decided that I would go home back to work and bring the kids home for the week while my wife stayed with her family, about 5 hours away. We all knew it might be the last time the girls saw him.
Before we left, we gathered around and held hands with him to pray. And that's when it really hit me. That the grandfather my kids knew would probably be no more to them after today. As I held my daughters hand on my right and my father in laws hand on my left - a literal connection between generations that would last mere minutes instead of for a few more hours, years, decades - like it was meant to - , instead of praying, I started to sweat, and cry. And then after what seemed like hours, I pulled myself together and prayed for his healing and his recovery. Looking back, it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. You have freed me from my chains.
Later that week, I was asked to call their pastor and let him know that death was imminent. How do you do that? How come nobody had ever taught me how to talk about someone who is going to die? It sounded like I caught Pastor Dave by surprise. It was a pretty jovial greeting until I broke the news to him. Even now, I wonder how I talked about it. I wonder more how pastors and ministers do it every day. Truly I am your servant.
In the end, the day of visitation was marked by a huge snowstorm, and still over 200 people came to the funeral home. A public school teacher - we knew the Padre wanted a snow day. When they did the final viewing for only family, my oldest put a container of M&Ms with him in the casket. At first anyway. Then she wanted it back.
The day we buried him was a crisp, clear, winter day, with a fresh blanket of snow on the ground. It was pretty glorious. And his memorial service saw over 300 people pay their last respects and the Gospel was clearly preached.
I don't know how people do it. How they tell their spouse for 30 years that its okay to go ahead and not hold on. How they sing at their friends funeral. How they speak when their dad has passed away. How they talk about a best friend who is no longer. Precious is the death of his saints.

No comments:

Post a Comment