My Dad went home to be with the Lord on September 3. You can read what is in effect my eulogy for him here.
Reflecting back on his loss of physical strength and independence and then on through the last week of his life, my sister, brother and I learned a few lessons – many of them closely related – that might help you. Here they are:
No Regrets – Several times during the last week of Dad’s life, my sister mentioned that she had no regrets. When our Mom died a little more than 24 years ago, it was sudden. She never recovered from heart surgery, and died two days later. She was on a ventilator and we couldn’t communicate with her. At the time some relationships were better than others, and there were some regrets. In Dad’s final days, we fortunately had a little more time to spend with him.
Leave Nothing Unsaid – Any time we leave a visit with an elderly parent or other loved one, we realize that it could be the last time. Of course, we know that a loved one doesn’t have to be elderly; none of us are guaranteed life for the next minute. During this time, we learned not to leave things unresolved. As an example, my relationship with my Dad throughout my life was complicated. We went through long periods of not talking during two parts of my life, time we could never get back. In January of this year, during a time when Dad spent time in three different hospitals, I felt prompted to ask for his forgiveness, which he graciously granted.
During the last week of Dad’s life, we were able to thank him for being such a great Dad and giving us such a good life. We are so glad that we had that opportunity.
Forgive Others – Similar to my example above, do you have unresolved issues with loved ones? You may not even recall what originally led to the break in the relationship. Why not take the step to try to mend the relationship, asking for forgiveness for anything you have done and forgiving the other person for any hurt they have caused you? This doesn’t mean that you have to have a relationship with them going forward, but it’s time to lay that burden of bitterness down.
Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3:13
Stay Connected with Extended Family – Our Dad and Mom were raised in the Chicago area, where much of their remaining family members still live. After we moved to central Illinois in the early 1960’s, we would often make the trip back to Chicago for holidays, weddings, etc. However, as time went by, we each started our own families and the trips became less frequent. After our Mom died in 1996, we rarely saw extended family members. Seeing some of them at Dad’s visitation and funeral brought us mixed feelings – joy in seeing loved family members, and sadness and regret that we have let so much time go by without trying to connect with them. My hope is that after this pandemic, and it is safe to travel and be around people again, we will be intentional and proactive about visiting with both sides of our family.
Tell Them You Love Them – This is the most important lesson of all. Don’t forget to tell your loved ones that you love them. During the pandemic, I started taking afternoon walks, which usually included a call to Dad. We would talk about politics, sports, the news of the day and my brother’s upcoming retirement. I would end each call telling Dad that I loved him. It was uncomfortable at first, as we didn’t grow up sharing our feelings like that, but it became more comfortable, and he would tell me that he loved me as well.
In the hospital during Dad’s final days, my sister, brother and I had the opportunity many times to tell Dad that we loved him. Even if your loved ones know that you love them, why not be intentional about telling them as often as you can?
I hope these lessons that we learned from walking with Dad in his final days will be of some help to you in your particular situation. What lessons that you have learned would you add to our list?
In our busy lives, it’s easy to just keep moving on to the next thing and not really think about how God is working in our lives. We might be thinking about the meetings scheduled for the next day, an upcoming doctor’s appointment, or an important conversation we need to have with someone.
For some time, I’ve tried to make it a practice of briefly reflecting on my day when I lay my head on my pillow at night – thanking God for the day. However, learning about a spiritual discipline called self-examination in a summer discipleship class my wife and I completed has allowed me to expand on my brief reflection of the day. As I apply self-examination to my life I look back at my day and focus on two things:
- How God protected me (or others) through the day
- How I sinned, and need repentance and forgiveness
Here are just a few examples from the past few weeks:
- How God protected me and others through the day. I have two examples here. First, after a recent family gathering to celebrate a birthday, I had gotten into the back seat of the car, forgetting that I needed to open the front door for my mother-in-law. Remembering this, I quickly opened the door and just narrowly missed hitting her – she walks with a cane. If the door had hit her, she would have fallen and could have been badly hurt.