(It’s been a few years now since my Dad’s death in mid-December 2011…we pray this will be a help to those dealing with loss, grief, and loneliness.)
Some of you are wondering about us here on the sudden death of my dad. This is written in hope that others will be comforted by the Lord Jesus Christ as they too work through their loss and grief.
There’s always a sadness even years after as we remember a departed loved one. And sometimes the sadness is that the departed one is really not missed much at all due to the negative influences of their earthly life.
Some of you, also, have tasted grief and sorrow amongst the Lord’s mercies even in the face of death yourself or that of a loved one…or even a parent. In the West, most of us are ill prepared for the end of mortal life, a necessary part of eternal life.
The mobile phone custom ring tone from the song “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” blared out the announcement that a special call was coming in later Tuesday afternoon that week. I suspected it was my wife.
My hands were full of groceries taken from the cart at Costco. I think I had a bag of pecans in one hand and a gallon of OJ in the other at that very time. They were shuffled quickly into the empty cardboard boxes on the floor of my white and blue GMC conversion van. As usual, I was behind schedule.
The phone continued to play the ring tone as I hurried. Both the cart and I were wedged in the tiny space between my van and the SUV parked to my left. Being irritated that I hadn’t done a better job pulling between the lines, I commandeered the iPhone out of the Otter Box and glanced at the screen with my Dad and Mom’s picture that was tied to their contact record.
The name on the call declared “Shirlee White,” and the time was 4:34. The call was originating from her mobile handset, which she disliked and hardly ever used.
Strange, I mused. My Mom normally doesn’t call during business hours as she is very sensitive to our work schedule of running our small digital marketing and consulting firm. And from the mobile phone, not the home phone. I’ll finish here and call her right back was my next decision. The phone quit ringing.
I tried to force my mind to go blank.
It didn’t work.
My next approaching thought was one of fear.
My Dad, Bob, and Mom, Shirlee, were both 85 and in declining health. My Dad was especially ill over the last few years, and was still ambulatory with the help of a cane. But, as described by my mom in our daily phone calls, the last three days had produced constant back and chest pains with little sleep.
The groceries still were not all away when the iPhone fired up again at 4:36, two minutes later. It was, again, my Mom. This time, I stopped, and accepted the call.
To this day, I can’t remember how I answered the call, for by now I had a sickening feeling in my stomach and my heart was racing…
I put the phone to my ear, and answered with great apprehension.
“Marc, this is Mom. Your father’s heart has stopped beating. They have him on life support in the hospital. You better get on down here.”
The tone and inflection of her voice was similar to one I had heard before during her calls as she attempted to describe his life threatening emergencies in the past.
But, still, this time the emotion in her voice revealed something deeper, more grave. I still have a hard time recalling my side of the conversation, which was mostly questions and listening, with silent prayer to Jesus.
They had been married almost 65 years, both caring, deeply emotional creatures made in God’s own image. My Mom could be the more take charge type when she felt she needed to make a stand, and very stubborn. But she always deferred to my Dad when she felt the decision was not super high stakes. In the end, she ruled the roost if she felt it needed to be that way.
My Dad had confirmed that in tears the few moments before Mom’s dangerous heart bypass surgery a few years before in the very same hospital. He was loved by all, with that wide smile, quick wit, encouraging word, and strong opinions when he felt he could get away with it. Both of them had hearts as big as Texas.
As of that day that week, Tuesday, December 13, 2011, and that hour in the afternoon, both my Dad and Mom were lost as far as we knew, separated from our God the Father, and His holy Son, the Savior of the world. If they had made that confession, and profession, certainly they would have called me, wouldn’t they? After all, for over 20 years both myself and my wife had proclaimed the love of God, His demands on their life, and the repentance available to escape the wrath that abides on their souls.
She continued. “He was in the doctor’s exam room sitting next to me, when he suddenly sighed a deep breath, and slumped over. They resuscitated him in the office, and again here at the hospital. Dr. Martinez says it’s very grim.”
A thousand jumbled thoughts. Was this it for my Dad? If that was the case, had Jesus broken through with all his sudden rising interest in spiritual things in the last year or so?
All of a sudden I realized I was still there standing between the two vehicles in the Costco parking lot, looking down at the ground, phone in hand. The favor of God kicked in.
“OK, Mom. I’m in Altamonte, and have to get back to Lake Mary. We’ll be at the Winter Haven hospital as fast as we can.”
“You be careful, and drive very safe.”
She was quite composed for it all, it seemed. After all, she had been through hundreds of doctors visits with him. His two bouts of cancer from 50 years of smoking. Six plus surgeries. Last fall a major fall off the entry stairs to the concrete with six months at the rehab center. Diabetes, as he continued to eat himself to death, ignoring both my exhortation to a more natural diet and basic lifestyle.
And his confession after my discussion with him that his refusal to take care of himself was not loving to his wife, and my Mom. But his health only got worse. He wouldn’t change his bad habits. But people still loved him. But he and my Mom had more “to-do’s,” the arguments, in this last year over this and his now habitual daily naps that lasted hours at a time.
But the added stress and fear in her voice and words to me this time came through loud and clear. God help her. Save her. Give us grace, wisdom, protection as we drive down, I desperately prayed.
Heading back to the house in heavy traffic on Interstate 4, the major interstate that split Orlando in two, my natural male logical protection mode of get-it-done-and-be strong asserted itself. OK, 20 minutes back to home. Calling my wife, the call went to voice mail. Maybe on the phone, or maybe forgot to carry it…again. I tried to stuff my frustration.
What next, Lord?
I called a new client from the speed dial at 4:40, since we had a major video shoot the very next morning at their office along with several testimonials from their customers. They were extremely sympathetic, and I reiterated I would call them the very next day to reschedule. I think I thanked God that the timing on all this was such I could still reach them before the end of business that day.
In the van on the road, I tried to reach my youngest son, Nathan, and youngest daughter, Lauren, and left a voice mail for each. I was bothered I couldn’t speak with them but they both were working. I was surprised at my extreme need for comfort just then. Familiar voices, maybe a touch, and maybe a voice saying it’s going to be all right.
Five minutes later, in desperation and while driving, I texted them both the same message, “Papa dying.” The next minute Nathan called.
It was a God send. He was comforting…and very concerned. Call me, Dad, when there’s more news, he urged me. His oldest son, Elijah, had been born two years earlier in 2009. His youngest son, Zachery, had been born by the sovereignty of God on my Dad’s birthday in July 2011 just five months earlier.
Then, I prayed again. Boy, I prayed. But it was not as strong as I hoped for my heart was heavy…
Other emotions I wasn’t even sure what they were. Jesus, You know, You understand. Forgive me, and, Spirit, pray for me, for us. That’s all I remember then.
I called a couple close brothers in the Lord and left word. No one else was available, live on the phone. Troubling.
The rest of the drive was a blur…seems there was a lot of tears, angst…those of you who have been through something like this know full well.
Back at the house as I burst through the door with the first of the groceries. My wife consoled me and then headed back upstairs to finish our preparation. I also unloaded the video and lighting gear from the van. In my dot-every-i-and-cross-every-t way, I even remember taking the huge garbage totes to the street for Wednesday morning pick-up. In 30 minutes, we were back on the road.
I tried to reach my mom’s mobile twice more. No answer.
By that time, we had fought through the heavy Orlando area rush hour traffic, and exited the interstate 35 miles downstream. On the exit ramp, the phone rang again.
It was my Mom. The phone said 6:40. The call lasted less than a minute.
“We’re at the emergency room. It doesn’t look good…drive safe.” It was now dark outside.
One last word from her. I still remember the calm sadness.
“Take your time. Don’t rush.”
My heart sank. I felt sick to my stomach. “OK, mom. See you in a half an hour or so.” Be strong, I thought.
What? Don’t rush? Why not?
Blurting out what seemed to be the obvious to me, my wife then replied to my statement that if he was still on life support, they were probably waiting for us to arrive. Even that scenario was unacceptable to me.
But no rush?
He’s dead, then, right? I said it aloud as if part of a dream. I started to weep. It was a long, long 30 minutes more to reach the hospital parking lot.
There, in the first handicap parking space, was their bright red Toyota Yaris. The “Tomato,” my dad had nicknamed it. “When we make our final payment,” he grinned, “they’re going to give us the rest of the car!” Yep, that was him alright.
A slight night chill was in the Florida air as we walked through the auto doors to the emergency room. I’m uncomfortable in these places, I remember thinking, but am so grateful that here in the West our trauma care is the best in the world.
The receiving nurse was kind, knew who we were, and pointed ahead to the large wood grained, double doors just ahead of us. As I turned, we saw through the windows in the doors my Mom walking by on the other side.
Her slight 5 foot 2 inch frame was bent over from advancing osteoporosis, a far cry from the 5 foot 7 inch frame at her wedding to Dad. Her hair was manicured as always, and she looked weary.
She saw us, came through the doors as they automatically swung open in our direction, and we met in an embrace, the three of us. We all began to cry, sobbing. “I’m so sorry, Mom, so sorry,” I moaned not knowing anything else to say. Mom shrugged, said something, and began walking to his room.
Down a short, wide aisle, she turned left, and slowly hobbled to the entrance of the first area on the left.
The privacy curtain was drawn completely closed across the doorway, and the sterile florescent lighting shown through the top glass partitions.
Mom, to the right of my wife and I, declared with some resolve, “Be prepared.” And I seem to remember she pointed toward the curtain.
I was numb. Just numb. Helpless. Jesus, I remember saying to myself, help me. Help us. You can heal him. You can raise him up.
Moving forward to the curtain, all the emergency room noise seemed to momentarily dim. I took my left hand, grabbed the curtain and pulled it left.
How can anyone be prepared for a moment like this? I forced my eyes to look ahead and left to the bed…
There he was…just lying there. My Dad. I had just seen him three weeks earlier for Thanksgiving dinner, and talked with him a few days ago.
He was dead…already.
It was so grotesque. His face was bloated, turned slightly to my left. A clear tube stretched out of his mouth into space for 6 inches, his lips pressed around it. The EMS team had used it earlier to assist his breathing. But no more need now… His stomach was unusually distended. And his swollen tongue pressed up against his mouth. It was, obviously, nothing I expected. But I didn’t know what to expect.
I moved to the left side of the bed. My Mom stayed at the foot of the bed, as I recall. Even through the shock, tears came…my wife asked if I wanted to spend some time alone with him. I tearfully nodded trying to speak through a throat hoarse with tears. The women quietly left the room, drawing the curtain closed after them.
When I moved closely to his head, I reached out and began to stroke his hair.
His gray and white hair felt the same as when I hugged him at Thanksgiving just three weeks ago, all the while giving him a kiss then on the left cheek as I always did, saying, “I love you, Dad.”
But now…I moved my hand to his cheek…and it was very cool. Not cold, but not warm like the past when he was upright and alive.
I was startled.
I drew my hand back quickly in shock.
It was all so final…
My eyes moved down to his right arm. It looked normal, even with the dark purple splotches that many old folks get. I reached out to touch him there. That, too, was very cool. This time, I kept my hand on his arm, and then ran my hand up and down that arm. Just to touch him. One more time…
He’s not there, I thought. Meaning his spirit, his personality. But this was no comfort. I forced it out of my mind for the moment.
When I moved to the end of the bed, his legs looked normal, and he had his white crew socks still on. I touched his feet. In his diabetes, sometimes at his home when visiting I would take essential oils and massage his feet. As I rubbed his foot now, my thoughts drifted back to those days in his easy chair as I looked up from the floor into his eyes.
Now, again, I began to weep.
I tried to touch and rub his leg, but it too was getting cold. It had been over two hours now since his death around 5:30.
Death is ugly. It’s supposed to be that way. It’s God’s design.
Only in affluent areas do we whisk the deathly sick away to hospitals, and when they die, to funeral homes. It’s all so neat, isn’t it? But in most of the world, the family must take the body, chase the flies away from laying maggot eggs, wash it, prepare for burial, dig a hole, place the loved one in, and cover it up with dirt. How in the world do they survive that? They must, for no one else can or will do that.
It’s all so final…
I just couldn’t believe it. My only Dad. I never really thought he’d die. No matter how sick he was.
The very worst part was the uncertainty of his spiritual position. Did he make it? Or was he carried away from God to eternal torment? Oh God, I agonized, so full of emotional pain and great uncertainty.
But there was hope. He had become more curious than ever about my constant claims of Jesus, love, sin, victory, God’s great power, and his lost position. He asked me a few months ago to let him watch our DVD called Exodus Revealed. In it, the producers make a glorious presentation of the Red Sea crossing, chariot wheels on the gulf floor, etc. Combined with my photos of the real Mt. Sinai in Arabia, the golden calf altar, the split rock at Horeb that I showed him on my iPad and also on Google Earth, he was startled – or so it seemed.
Did he repent is his last moments? Later my son Nathan consoled and reminded me by phone that night we never know what God may have done in those moments. And dear brother Bruce each told me separately to trust in God’s mercies.
Then, I moved to the doorway to be joined again by my Mom and wife. Mom sat in the chair next to him. It was then I noticed she had his watch dangling around her right wrist.
She reached over to his right arm and began loosening the blood pressure cuff as if to make him more comfortable.
There was silence and tears and a few words about his life. She lamented she had fussed with him in the doctor’s office minutes before the massive heart attack, and not told him she loved him. I assured her he knew of her love that day.
Unknown to us, my wife, as a former nurse, a bit earlier had found the ER shift manager and demanded they prepare my Dad for a last viewing by my Mom by removing all the apparatus. This they did, sending a man named Bill who also served as a chaplain.
Bill called us back in after 20 minutes. Dad was now ready for a last viewing, as both Dad and Mom had decided for cremation for each of them. His hair was combed, the tubes removed, his mouth completely closed, and new sheets placed over the lower part of his body.
“He looks like himself, doesn’t he?” asked my Mom. Yes, I said, lying…it was better than before, but still ugly.
“Oh, baby doll…” my Mom cried, stroking him one last time. She looked so frail…and forlorn.
Bill then prayed with us all, but made a crucial error.
In his prayer, he said Christ died so that everyone “will be” at his throne. Not “can be,” but “will be.” And that my Dad was there with God in a better place. I was upset and a bit angry at the false assurance he was proclaiming in front of my Mom, who was lost at that point.
With all our heart’s, we want all our parents in heaven. But what does Jesus warn us? How many make it? “Few there be that find it (the narrow gate)…”
Never, ever, ever, give a false assurance or compromise of salvation to anyone…at anytime…for any reason. Their blood may be on your head when you meet Jesus. I in the last few days since my Dad’s death have met numerous people giving assurance to my Mom about my Dad’s final destination.
Even these folks themselves are giving hints of their own spiritual condition by using pagan phrases like “in a better place,” or “passed away,” or “with God,” but no mention of Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, and His throne and glory. When we preach Jesus to these same people, most of them get very nervous and try to change the subject.
This is nothing to fool around with, beloved, as the Holy Scripture declares over and over. In Revelation 14 we boldly read:
And I saw another angel flying in mid heaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”
And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.” Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.
And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.
Certainly, I long to see my Dad, and eventually my Mom, in a new heavenly body, without pain, worshiping and serving God the Father and His Lamb on His right. So do you for you parents.
But…and a big “but,” God makes exceptions for no created human.
The doctor, whose office resuscitated my Dad the first time and accompanied him to the ER, called and explained to me in the ER what happened that fateful day, and later sending a card of condolences. So, we left for the drive home to my parents’ home (now “parent”), as I drove my Mom in the “Tomato” and my wife driving our van.
Mournfully, as we drove through the night, I thought about how I had wanted to say “good-bye” at the end, just like the dozens of Hollywood movies we see. But now I know many never get a last goodbye. I felt empty emotionally. This was, among many other things, something I couldn’t fix.
Now, looking back, God’s merciful grace was preparing us for this trauma. The very night before in our bed, the Holy Spirit prompted me to begin serious discussions of how we’d care for both parents, and also my Mom in the very likely event of my Dad’s death.
My Dad and I were fairly close in the last years. There’s always a breach when one soul is saved and another is not. This assumes you’re living Christ, and not something like the American dream. My Dad never had a dad that taught him or cared for him since his dad found the bottle and stayed in it for years after the untimely death of his wife when my Dad was only seven. But my Dad did a good job with me under the trying circumstances of his own life.
Pray for us, and me, if you will. Let us know your own victories in the tragedy and sorrow of losing you own Dad…or Mom. We want to minister to others in comfort.
My wife often told others of how her own Dad was in a coma dying of painful bone cancer at the young age of 38, suddenly awakened the day of his death and in the care of his mother-in-law, my wife’s grandmother.
“Do you see Him?”
“See who?” the Grandma inquired.
“It’s the Lord. He’s so beautiful!”
She didn’t see Him. But he continued with describing his vision.
“Do you hear it? I’ve never heard more beautiful music,” he finished. He then lapsed back into the coma, and was in glory within a few short hours.
And..ah…the hope of victory both now and then!
“DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?”
Keep proclaiming this Truth to your parents, children, loved ones, friends, and strangers. And then disciple those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Never…ever…give up. Never…ever. We’re never more like Jesus then when we obey Him here.
Your friend and brother in fighting the good fight,
Saints, we’re one day closer to Home, and Him! Love Him wholeheartedly!
You may view our Archives here: DEAR BRETHREN – ARCHIVES; Complete Archives; feel free to write and proclaim your leadings in the Spirit in an honorable fashion. May our Father richly bless you with His grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in order to walk worthy of His name.
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