Episode 15: Dad

Tomorrow morning we will bury my father.

It was only a few short days ago that I got a call from my brother: if you want to see Dad one last time, I suggest you make arrangements soon.

I was on a plane the next morning back home to St. Louis.

As a pastor, I have been attendant to the dying process for many beautiful people. Being present with death is familiar to me. What is not as familiar to me is being present with death when it is visiting my household.

I have heard stories through the years of those who discovered something deeply profound and meaningful in the days they spent with a dying parent. What happened to me and my family in the days and hours of my father’s passing is something we will never forget; and will always cherish.

When I arrived, Dad was non-responsive. I held his hands. I told him I loved him and was grateful for all the sacrifices he made as a father to make my life possible. I forgave him for his impatience with me at times; and apologized for my own impatience with him at others. I tried to discern some sense of knowing or recognition in his eyes, in the touch of his hand, across the lines of his face. Nothing.

For two days he lay there motionless. Nurses came every three hours, each time reporting there was no pulse and no discernable blood pressure. They wondered how it was he was still breathing. They said he showed the classic signs of one waiting for something. We all knew what that was.

Our youngest sibling, Jay – the seventh child – would not arrive until late the next evening. He was feeling a tremendous amount of guilt thinking he would not make it before Dad died; and that he would be the only one not there.

The hours slowly ticked by. Nothing changed. No movement. No sign of recognition. No pulse. No blood pressure. No Jay. Only the rise and fall of the chest as the lungs filled one breath at a time.

Late into the second day of our bedside vigil, the front door opened and Jay arrived. In the hour preceding that, the house grew eerily quiet. I sat by the bed in that hour with two other siblings, and tears streamed. No words were said.

Jay came to the back room where Dad lay, and one by one over the next hour 31 of us – including Mom and Dad and all seven of their children – gathered. Through a veil of tears; through voices racked with deep grief; with story and with song and with prayer; with pain and with joy etched across the atmosphere: we all said our goodbyes.

And then it happened – the indication that Dad was there all along and knew exactly what he was doing and why he needed to do it. His eyes opened for the first time. His mouth moved. My brother reports he heard what others did or could not: I love you all. And then he breathed his last.

Nothing I write here will capture what we all felt in those moments. It was beautiful. It was rich. It was profoundly spiritual. Dad’s last gift to us all was waiting till the family could be together; reminding us one last time how important it is to be family.

This is a small homage to the man I knew as Dad. I did not anticipate that this part of his journey would be such a powerful testimony to the presence of the sacred and the power of love expressed in the gathering of a clan.

Dear listener, let this serve to remind us all of God’s lingering presence in all the moments of our lives. And may your own walk through on this earthly soil fill you with awe and wonder as you journey Into the Mystic.