Absent from the Body…
Dad died forty years ago yesterday, on June 2, 1978. It was a Friday and early that evening, Dad passed away. Janet and I weren’t there yet. I had been to the office earlier in the afternoon and went home to get Janet for a visit to the hospital. On the way there, to Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL, I turned to Janet and let her know that Dad was gone. I don’t know how I knew – but I knew… and when we got to the hospital and reached his floor, we were told that it was over as soon as we got off the elevator. As I said, I wasn’t surprised – I already knew it, or sensed it. In fact, it was one of the strongest sensations that I have ever had. And it had happened at exactly the time that I turned and told Janet about my premonition.
Two of our kids were very young. Kristin was almost three and Jill was just five months old. Andrew wouldn’t be born for another three years. I vividly remember the events surrounding Dad’s death. I was 25 and although I thought this was coming, I really wasn’t prepared for it. Dad had cancer – he had it for more than four years – and while he was in remission, people were hopeful that he would lead a long life. But in early May, I knew something was wrong. I could tell – he wasn’t quite himself – yet it would be another two weeks before the tests would confirm that he had lapsed out of remission.
With more than several crushed vertebra and more than 150 fractures in his rib cage, Dad wore a vest with metal rods that helped hold his ribs in place. But it was time to get him to the hospital – and he yelled at me as I got him out in the driveway and into the car. He was adamant that he wanted to die at home, but we didn’t have the means back in those days to keep him comfortable and we were still hoping for a miracle.
The doctors let us know that there was one option. They could inject him with a strong chemo cocktail that would either put him into remission or kill him within the week. Otherwise, he would surely die within 30 days. He chose the cocktail – and sure enough – he was dead seven days later.
And although that was 40 years ago, it feels like an entire lifetime to me. The Bible is full of events that included the number 40. It seems to be a sign of completion in the Scriptures. Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days. During the flood, it rained 40 days and 40 nights. King David reigned for 40 years, as did his son, Solomon. And let’s not forget that the people of God wandered in the desert for 40 years. There are many other examples of this, but suffice it to say that many people believe that the number 40 signifies that an event has come to completion. Yet, I don’t feel that way. It’s still going on for me.
Many of my friends still have one or more of their parents – and others have only lost their folks recently. But I have walked down this path for four decades now – and I still miss my father. I am already ten years older than he was when he died. And today, when our son, Andrew, came over, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that he is almost 37 and by his age in my life, my Dad had been gone 12 years already. It’s hard to believe.
There really is no easy way to lose a parent. The pain gets easier but it lingers on. For me, I wish that my faith had been stronger in those days. I would have worked on Dad to make sure that his faith was on track and that he believed in Jesus as Lord and Savior. As it was, I don’t think he was a believer when he died – I think he renounced his belief years earlier. But I don’t know for sure; and perhaps I am wrong and will see him in heaven. I hope so.
Today, that thought is on my mind. I know that we can’t pray people into heaven posthumously, but I really hope that he had a change of heart in his final hours and that I will be pleasantly surprised to see him when I enter heaven someday. I can’t live with the guilt of not pushing him harder – I didn’t know any better back in those days. And I did the best I could with what I knew with what I knew at the time.
Tonight’s verse is from Luke and is found in the book of Acts – written by Luke as a companion book to the gospel that bears his name. Luke tells us, in Acts 16:29-31, “The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…”
My encouragement this evening is that if you are still living, there is time for you to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. The only thing you have to do is to BELIEVE. There are no other conditions. My prayer is that we all do everything we can to make sure that people have every opportunity to accept Christ before they draw their last breath. From one who has wondered about Dad’s salvation for more than 40 years now, I never want to miss the chance again to lead someone to Jesus. Have a great day in the Lord grace and peace…