Daddy was ready. Spiritually, he had been saved and baptized as a teenager and had been a faithful Christian for almost 70 years. Business-wise, he had his affairs in order. Emotionally, he had already stood at the gravesides of his first and second wives, both beautiful and much-beloved. He knew they were in heaven waiting for him, and he longed to join them.
My brother, sister and I spent the 5 months after the death of our stepmother taking care of him, loving on him and having many meaningful and important conversations. Less than a week before he died, the three of us were in the room with him. He was dozing but still hearing us and responding when he wanted to interject, nod or make a face. We each, in a very lighthearted way, apologized for antics of our childhood and teenage years that might have caused him grief. We reminisced about many good times. In the middle of the night, two days before he died, he said to me, “I just want to go to sleep and never wake up, and I want to do that right now.” I gently reminded him that he didn’t get to choose his final hour. He said, “I know, but that’s what I want.” The day before he died, he told my brother, “If I start to go, don’t let them do anything to bring me back.” He was ready. He wasn’t in terrible pain physically, but the increasing weakness in his body brought on by cancer and his advanced age, the grief over losing his sweet June, and the loss of his independence and dignity had made him anxious for the release that death would bring.
The day before he died, daddy was extremely agitated and restless — something his hospice nurse explained was a symptom of pain. After repeated attempts, the pain medication dosage was finally able to give him some relief. When I arrived to sit with him on the morning of July 28th, the medicine was working, and he was much calmer. I watched the pattern of his breathing: 4 labored breaths, then a 10-second pause, 4 more labored breaths, then another pause, etc. After awhile, a rattle (or a gurgling sound) was added to his breathing and the pattern changed to: a short breath, 2 long breaths, another short breath, then a pause, etc. etc. Nurses came in wanting to do things that would have disturbed him, and I asked that they just let him stay comfortable and not bother him. It seemed best to just keep everything very quiet.
But then, about 12:30 p.m., a voice inside (I’m sure now that it was the Holy Spirit) told me to draw closer to him and to touch him. I was urged to make sure he knew that someone who loved him was nearby. I thought, “Do I just talk to him? Do I read Scripture to him?” But neither of those seemed right. If I’d had a piano handy, I would most certainly have started playing. After all, this was the man who had spent $1000’s of dollars paying for my piano lessons and my college degree in music. If ANYBODY deserved to hear me play, it was daddy.
However, no piano was available, but I knew daddy’s heart language was music, so I began to sing. I knew he wasn’t a big fan of the praise and worship songs so popular in churches today, so I went back to the hymns of my childhood and his childhood. I sang “At the Cross,” “When We All Get to Heaven,” “It is Well with My Soul,” “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” “Blessed Assurance,” “To God Be the Glory,” “How Great Thou Art” and (because he used to love hearing me play it) “The Lord’s Prayer.” A few of them I sang twice. Right after I started, he opened his eyes, and in a few minutes, he made a soft sound, almost as if he were trying to sing with me. Whatever it was, I felt that he was cheering me on, so I sang louder. About 1:15, just as I got to the second verse of “Amazing Grace,” two things happened: a sweet nurse (who had apparently been listening out in the hall) walked in and came around to where I was beside daddy’s bed, and daddy took a long breath in but didn’t let it out. It was immediately obvious that he had taken his last breath on earth. That nurse helped me to finish that song, then while I wept, she sang a beautiful song about heaven that I had never heard before. What I know for sure is that I was in a very sacred place at that moment. My daddy’s pain was over, and his promised, perfect eternity had begun. I said to him, “Can you see Jesus? Can you see Momma?” but, of course, I didn’t get the answers I would so like to have had. I won’t know those answers until my turn comes.
For the rest of my life, I will be grateful that God allowed me to help usher my dad into heaven by singing the songs of our faith to him.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones.” Psalm 116:15