Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Our Final Time Together As A Family

bit’-ter-sweet, adjective
  1. both bitter and sweet to the taste.
  2. both pleasant and painful or regretful

My 87 year old father lay heavily medicated in St. Mary’s Medical Center in Huntington, WV.  He had begun his descent into the “valley of the shadow of death”.  Now we knew that it would be only a matter of days until he would slip away to his eternal home.

Like the psalmist, Dad had no fear of death because he knew the Shepherd was with him. He also knew that he was going THROUGH the valley – ultimately coming out on the other side.

Dad struggled to make us understand that he was lucid, even though he was slipping in and out of consciousness throughout the afternoon.  He told us he wanted to go to Heaven.  He had read of that place and preached about it for more than 65 years, and now he knew he was nearing his crossing.

Not one to show a lot of public affection, Dad came from a close family who preferred to show love through actions, rather than words.  Now on this Sunday afternoon as his three sons (from West Virginia, Kentucky and Georgia) gathered by his bedside, he told us he loved us and that he looked forward to seeing us in Heaven.  He groggily offered hugs to all who came to visit that afternoon, and told each of them he wanted to see them again in Heaven.

“I just wish Pat was here”, he said quietly, as a tear rolled down his cheek, “but it would be too hard on her”.  This hospital stay was the longest he had ever been separated from his bride in 65 years of marriage.

Mom has been a resident of a local nursing home since just a few days before Christmas of last year.  Although, in her late stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, Mom had adapted well to her new surroundings.  She has been well fed and cared for there, but the past six months had been hard on Dad.  As his physical condition had deteriorated, he still sought to be independent.  Each day he would drive his Mercury to the nursing home and spend time with Mom, helping feed her in the dining area, and sitting with her in her room until she fell asleep.

Now as he knew his life was slipping away, and only a few days away from their 65th wedding anniversary, Dad simply wished to have his lifetime companion together with him and their three sons.

We began plans to try to make Dad’s wish come true.

We couldn’t work it out that evening. It was determined that Dad would be transferred to the nearby Emogene Dolin Jones Hospice House. There were delays in getting his release papers completed at the hospital, and the transfer didn’t take place until after 10:00 PM.  That was far too late to check Mom out of the nursing home, so we determined to try to make it happen the next day.

Dad ceased to be able to communicate verbally that Sunday night.  One of the last things he told my brother Bruce was “I sure love her”.

After arriving at Hospice and getting settled in, we decided we would try to make Dad’s wish come true.

Late yesterday afternoon, Bruce was able to check Mom out and bring her to the Hospice House where our family would be reunited for the first time since July of last year.

Mom was confused, and didn’t comprehend the situation.  Dad could not open his eyes, but she held his hand and said “he needed a nap”.  For what must have been about an hour our family was together again for one last time.  We believe Dad knew she was there.  Although he was unable to join in, we believe he was able to hear our voices as we laughed and spoke of many happy times together.

My sister in law, Sandi, snapped one final family picture just before we had to part for the last time.

It was the most bittersweet moment of my life.

Such a joy for all of us to be together once again.

Yet heart rending to know that this would be the last time we would ever be together as a family in this life.

What a blessing to know that even though the circle will be forever broken here, that the message is true that closed each of Dad’s radio broadcasts for the past 35 years.  “Christians will NEVER see each other for the last time.” 

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