My father passed away six years ago, this May. Each year, I remember the last days with him as some of the most heartbreaking in my life, yet the most emotionally and spiritually rewarding.
Dad raised our family in Soldotna, Alaska and that was where he spent his last few months, suffering from lung cancer and in need of around-the-clock care. As one of six kids, and the one who founded an in-home care company, I felt a level of expectation from him (and myself). However, it was my oldest sister who he trusted to be in charge and time would prove the wisdom in his choice.
Each of us helped to provide my dad’s care by staying with him 2-3 days at a time. Most of that time, we needed to stay awake, consuming large amounts of coffee and watching many hours of his favorite shows; golf, football and basketball. By the end of each shift, emotions would run high. For me, reminiscing and many tears usually accompanied the long drive back to Anchorage. To this day, I can’t watch much basketball.
Two things really stand out from the experience of being there with my five siblings during my father’s last days. I remember them clearly with deep love and appreciation:
1) I gained a valuable perspective by looking outside myself with a compassionate heart to recognize how each of my siblings and the other people in my father’s life approached and processed his passing.
2) I learned from my father’s need to satisfy his lifelong search to understand religion and his own spirituality as he faced the end of his life.
My father, siblings and I were truly blessed with the opportunity so few get: The patriarch of our family sat with each of his children, individually, to share his last words of love and guidance for us. He then gathered all of us in a group around him. Dad in his chair and us squatting on the floor, he asked each of us to describe to him how it was we came to know God in our own lives. He prefaced the question with the comment that he noticed a real change in each of our lives since we entered a personal relationship with our spirituality. He said he wanted to know God personally but didn’t know how. After hearing our stories, my father made one simple, beautiful, heartfelt declaration, “I want to be with God in paradise.”
I believe my father’s prayer was answered. He passed away a few days later. I think my father prayed for something else that day: that his kids would come closer together and build a deeper love, appreciation and bond for one another than ever before—because that’s exactly what happened.
What’s the moral of all of this? Be open to the signs of interest in a new or deeper engagement in faith; have an open mind as perspectives on faith change with age; and most of all, be ready and willing to face your own spirituality. Doing so will allow you and your loved ones to be a part of a life-changing experience that you will not want to miss and that you will cherish for the rest of your life!