We sang and prayed my father-in-law, John, into the next life on Tuesday night. His space has been confined to a hospital bed for the past 16 months following a stroke. He has lived in the lovely home of my sister-in-law, Jen and her family, who have given outstanding and compassionate care to him over this prolonged period. Their home is nestled into the woods where John and his father planted countless seedlings seventy years ago. His room looks out on this land where his spirit always resided, whether he was there bodily or not.
At the end of a very difficult day on Tuesday, he surfaced from unconsciousness in such a way that Jen took his face in her hands and coached him into his new life. We had been praying with him and singing hymns. Garrett was singing a song, Come to Jesus, by Chris Rice. While he sang the last verse, Dad took his final breaths. These are the words of that verse:
With your final heartbeat, kiss the world goodbye. Then go in peace, and laugh on Glory’s side. And fly to Jesus, fly to Jesus, fly to Jesus and live.
I am deeply saddened to be saying goodbye to this man who welcomed me as daughter from the first time I visited the family eons ago. He advised Garrett not to let me go and has supported the two of us and our family in more ways than can be listed or remembered. His capacity for inclusion and warm hospitality were extraordinary. We have spent much time in the past two days recounting the many ways he lived out his devotion to his family.
For today let me simply offer you a couple of things. First, there is a copy of my husband’s facebook post from January of 2012 that speaks of dad’s ever-presence in times of need! Second, a devotion I wrote almost ten years ago that was published in our local newspaper as a reflective piece.
Willing and Ready June 21, 2009
I’ve always felt blessed to have parents-in-law who live near me and who are a phone call away. My father-in-law has always been available to drive me to pick up a car in the shop or to pick me up when stranded. But I’m thinking those days are over. He still drives and is certainly a willing soul. But, with macular degeneration in both eyes and dulled hearing I fear that a ride with him could be my last! I have to weigh out my needs: the convenience of a loving father-in-law ready to drive me wherever I need to go versus my own personal safety.
So I’m developing a new list of folks on whom I might call should I get in a pinch. There are many, I reason, who do not live near family members they can count on for favors. So I reluctantly begin to assemble an expanded emergency-support list apart from his reliable service. This seems logical enough until I find myself stuck—with my car needing to be dropped off and my father-in-law available, just a stones’ throw away. So, against my better judgment and keen sense of self-preservation, I call him. “Could you meet me at the mechanic’s in about 15 minutes, Dad? I’m dropping off my car,” I say loudly into the phone. Without hesitation, on the other end of the line he says, “Sure.” Simple as that. He has always been so willing.
I see him swing into the front of the parking lot. I say a little prayer and slide into the seat next to him, securing my seat belt. We talk about nothing in particular, the way family members can do with one another. He appropriately responds to all the traffic signals on the way home. We’re safely going at least 10 miles per hour under the speed limit (giving new understanding to what the word “limit” might mean, in this case). And I make it home safely with no terrifying moments to endure. How blessed I am to have a father-in-law I can call on for help at a moment’s notice even into my 50’s!
God, you place us in families and we are so blessed in the sharing of our days. How good it is to have relationships where we can ask for favors and they are so readily and happily granted. As we roll through the years together, with changes affecting the way we take in our world, help us to be kind in heart and generous in mind. May we be of help to one another as our senses grow dim and our navigational skills diminish. You created us to be interdependent and I thank you for this reminder of how we need each other! In Jesus’ name. Amen.