Is My Father in Heaven?
No – I’m not talking about God – I know He’s there. I’m talking about my Dad. Because thirty-three years ago today, Friday, June 2, 1978, Dad died after a 4 year struggle with bone cancer. And almost every year since then, the question of his eternal resting place haunts me. He had been in remission from March, 1974 until May, 1978; at which time the doctors started to increase chemo dosages in an attempt to once again arrest the spread of cancer.
Oddly, even before the tests confirmed the return of the cancer, I knew that something was different. Even the hematologist and oncologist said that I should not worry – nothing had changed – but I sensed it. And it was as real and palpable as anything I had ever known in my life. Then, a week before the end, Dad was asked to make a choice. Without aggressive treatment, he was given a month to live. However, there was a radical new treatment that could put him back in remission; or kill him in a week. He had one day to make up his mind – and chose the aggressive alternative. In short, it didn’t work – he died seven days later.
On Wednesday of that final week, May 31st, it was evident that things were going downhill. Dad was struggling to stay in control of his mind; which was very important to him, and he vowed to stay coherent as long as he could. We had the proverbial father-to-son-passing-of-the-torch conversation; which I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. He warned me about competitors trying to come after the business and cautioned me against using his death as an excuse for selling or merging the company. After all, he had trained me for 4 years and he announced that he had taught me all he could. He shared with me that he was tired, and not giving up, but deciding to let go. It was important to him that I realize he was not a quitter. And since he had finished training me, there was no longer a reason for him to continue to fight the cancer ravaging his body. Of course, I was not ready to hear this, but that didn’t make any difference.
His brothers, and other family members, were in town and speaking about almost every topic. Childhood memories, families, children and business were all areas of discussion. Sadly, none of us were all that religious in those days, and the subject of belief in Christ never surfaced. To be honest about it, I have been dreading writing this post for some time now. The last several days have been filled with recollections of my Dad from my childhood, primarily surrounding Memorial Day, and I was not sure that I could cope with the reality of my annual question – which, as you already know, became the title of this post.
My grandmother said that Dad was saved as a child, but somehow, I am not so sure. I’m not trying to judge him, but he just didn’t seem to live a Christ centered life. He went to church, when Mom forced the issue, but he never supported any of the church activities or efforts that were part of the Christian walk. I was baptized, and eventually confirmed, and then joined Trinity United Methodist Church, where Janet and I were married. In fact, it was the same church that my parents had been married in. But other than those periodic landmark events, Dad didn’t see much use for religion. I never saw him open a Bible in my entire life.
And as I look back on it, I wish I had pushed my father about his faith and where he stood with his eternal life. But now, I have to set that burden down. There is nothing I can do about it today, and he knew the consequences of his decision – one way or the other. And tonight, 33 years later, I have a divine peace about the whole thing. Not about his being in heaven, but about my responsibility as a son to push the issue. I did the best I could at the time, but I can’t suffer guilt over this for the rest of my life.
There is, however, one very positive thing that has come out of all this. When my friend Roger Johnson was diagnosed with cancer, and was near the end of his life several months ago, I did push him about his belief in prayer and God – and I have a peace that Roger was a believer in Christ; and that he now is in the presence of God. I prayed with him regularly, and it was completely natural for me, and I think, him. The same thought never even occurred to me when my own Dad was facing death. And I was honored to conduct part of the funeral service for Roger.
Tonight, it is probably evident that I am writing about a deeply personal transition that I found rather painful. I have never figured out if my Dad was saved. And so tonight, a personal verse, about the apostle Paul, told to us in Acts 28:31, “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Why this verse? Because it has to do with my encouragement this evening; and that is to boldly profess your belief in Jesus Christ. And my prayer is that you will not only live out your faith, but make sure that people know exactly where you stand. An additional prayer is that you will make sure that your kids never wonder where your eternal home will be. That’s a tough thing for anyone to wonder about – just ask me……