Last month, while we were on a home visit to the USA, my Dad passed away. Dad was 94 years old and had been failing for some. Last year he told me there were three things that made him sad. One, he was almost deaf. Two, he couldn’t remember what he did hear. And three, he could no longer sign his name.
I think he was more than ready for the new body God had for him, and for his new home. He fell three times in the last months of his life. I was overseas when he fell. Each time, I would wonder if this was the time I needed to rush home to see him and help my family. Each time I spent a day or so crying and praying and never felt it was right for me to go. Each time he would pop back up. We began to call him “The Energizer Bunny,” like the toy rabbit in the battery commercial that kept, “going and going and going.” Nothing seemed to keep him down for long.
I really didn’t know if I could be there for my Dad and my family at the time of his death. As cross-cultural workers, we often cannot be home when loved ones die. Each year, when I’d leave to return to our field, Dad and I said goodbye as though it would be our last. We ended each phone call with, “I love you.” But it’s not his loss that echoes so strongly in my heart. It’s that his life was so well-lived.
About two weeks into our annual US visit, we got a call that Dad had not been eating and was unconscious. In a few hours, my husband was able to change our internal travel arrangements, get me a hotel reservation and a rental car so I could be with him and my family. God provided so well for these additional expenses through friends in Malaysia and in the US.
Dad never woke up. As my sisters, brothers, step-mom, and I sat around his bed, we talked about Dad and his life. He meant so much to each of us. We’d tell stories we remembered him telling us and laugh. There was sadness that he was going, but the overwhelming atmosphere was of peace and joy. Bonds strengthened between all his children and grandchildren that could be there.
He went to heaven in the middle of the night, no struggle. He just stepped from this life to the next.
Unlike the usual memorial service for a 94-year-old, there were over 100 people there. People he had known over the years; workers in his assisted living and nursing home, members and pastoral staff from churches he had belonged to, and friends of his children came.
Every word, from every person, honored Dad as a man who lived his life for Christ. He was a decorated WWII veteran, worked over 50 years as a commercial artist, and raised 6 kids. He faithfully loved his two wives with extraordinary grace. The first, my mom, eventually died of cancer. The second, my step-mom, has suffered with Parkinson’s Disease for more than 20 years. Yet Dad patiently loved them both to the end of his days.
He was a quiet man who never liked the limelight. He was a family man who loved and cared for his wife and children. He was a hard worker, though it was at a desk with an airbrush. He was not a great Biblical scholar, though he taught Bible studies for a few years.
Everyone who knew him loved him. Their lives were better because of their relationship with Dad. Many of us said that we’d like to be like Dad when we grow up. At 70, I still hope people will say of me, “Hers was a life as well-lived as her Dad’s.”
My Dad’s Exemplary Life
Here are just a few things that made my dad a man of true worth and substance:
He believed in Jesus with all his heart. There was nothing he wanted more than that everyone who knew him would also believe in Jesus wholeheartedly.
He prayed. He prayed for everyone, for everything that was needed, all the time. To the last evening before he lost consciousness, he prayed before sleeping. Though he could not remember the names of his loved ones any more, he prayed the Lord’s prayer without missing a word. The impact of that prayer on one granddaughter was great!
He listened. At his memorial service I told how much it meant to me that Dad would listen to me ramble on and on, like only teenage girls can, while he worked In his little studio in their bedroom. Even when I didn’t think he could possibly be paying any attention to me, he would ask a pertinent question or give his view of what I was concerned about. Afterwards, my sisters all said they could have told that same story, because that was their favorite time with Dad too.
He kept his promises. He kept his promises, even when it meant hardship for himself. He never turned in an assignment late. Even if it meant no sleep the night before, he would be on time. He kept his marriage vows even when his wives were sick and needy for many years.
He loved. He did not love only in word, but in attitude and deed! His last words to each of us whenever we parted was, “I sure love you!” We knew it to the core of our lives.
He forgave. He didn’t hold grudges or remind anyone of things that had been done against him or those he loved. Being a nice man, he was sometimes taken advantage of. But though it cost him, he forgave and went on loving.
He loved to laugh and hear others laugh. He had a dry wit that sometimes fooled us into believing some wild idea of his imagination. With a twinkle in his eye, he would wait for the laughter that would always follow. He told stories on himself and no one was ever the victim of his humor.
He thanked God and anyone who ever did anything for him. Dad’s prayers were full of thanks to God. No nurse nor cleaner, family member nor friend ever left Dad’s presence without a smile and thank you for something.
Will you. . .?
None of us know when or how we will die. It may be on the field or long after we have had to return home. Let’s live our lives so that others will remember what a well-lived life looks like. Let’s do what my dad did:
- Love Jesus with all your heart.
- Pray about everything and for everyone.
- Keep your word, even if it’s hard.
- Listen with your heart, not just your ears.
- Thank God for everything.
- Thank others for every kindness they show you.
- Forgive immediately. Don’t hold grudges.
- Say, “I love you” often to your family and dear friends.
- Never give up on anyone. Believe the best for them.
- Find the funny side as often as possible.
If you would like to read more about my Dad and me, please see, A Daughter and Her Dad