My father died six years ago this February 9th.
I was there with him, with my mother, my aunt and a woman who had lived with my parents for many years. I am not sure of the exact moment of his death because my aunt was holding his hand, consoling herself as much as she was him, and the heart monitor attached to his finger mistook her caress for a heartbeat long after he was gone.
I am still in awe of that moment, to be in the presence of the greatest mystery of life. To see him off on his travels to that “undiscovered country.” What happens now?
But that question may miss the point. We do not know what lies outside the womb and the grave, those mirrored bookends reflecting each other. The works that we shelve there between them, the chapters we write, the pictures and illustrations we use to fill in the blanks on the pages, these are the prose and poetry we leave behind.
I believe that we should write stories of beauty and sacrifice and integrity and compassion, which are all ways of telling someone that you love them. We should be able to show our children pictures of what we did to help others. My father did all those things.
When I was a small boy, he kept a pair of shoes in a box in the trunk of his car. Like the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they were tempting because they were off-limits. He never told me why I could not touch them, but unlike Adam or Eve, I obeyed his command. I found out later from my mother that he wore those shoes in a leprosy ward where he worked as a teacher in the evenings to make a little more money to support our family.
He often was not home when we sat down for dinner, the significance of which escaped me at the time. All I knew was that when he got home, I would get a hug. This is just one example. There are many more chapters.
As he felt his energy slipping away knowing what was soon to happen, to him there was no mystery to his future. His headstone says, “Waiting For Jesus.” He died confident of Jesus’ soon return to claim the faithful to Himself. Was he right? Again, the question misses the point. He lived as if he was right, and there are so many who are better for it.
I think the reason that day in February is never far from my mind is that I saw myself lying there in a convalescent hospital, and I wondered if my wife and children would be around me, sad to see me go because of the person I was to them. When that day comes I hope they will take the books from the shelves and read them to each other and know how much I loved them.
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