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“You know, Virginia, the way I’m feeling, I think this just might be the day.”

The last day of my dad

Published on:
November 19, 2018
Read time:
5 min.
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One year ago today, I planned to sleep  up on my parents’ couch.

Before my father turned in that night, I sat on my dad’s bedside, which was now just a few feet from the couch instead of his bedroom, and said, “Dad, I’m on duty tonight. If you need anything at all, I am right there on the couch . . . just say my name.”

He peered at me over his glasses, a look that I was very familiar with, so I knew a question was coming.

“So you’ll be the only one in here?”

Dad went on to explain that the last couple of nights he had had a string of visitors, one after another.

What an odd question, I thought to myself. “Yup, Dad. It’s just me tonight.”

He let out a long sigh. “Okay . . . you’re sure?”

Again, I assured him it would just be me.

Dad went on to explain that the last couple of nights he had had a string of visitors, one after another, into the wee hours. It turns out, he hadn’t been getting much rest either.

Taken aback, I asked, “What do you mean . . . visitors?”

Animated, he told me, “All sorts of people! One of them was a kindly Boy Scout Leader. He just stood there at the foot of my bed and talked. They just keep coming.”

The thought made me chuckle, even as my mind was trying to sort out exactly what Dad was experiencing. Was this the product of a brain now fighting metastatic cancer? Were these memories of people he had met throughout his life? Maybe the side effect of pain medicine? 

All during those dark hours, I laid awake watching my father. He was fitful, so I played soft hymns through the portable speaker connected to my phone as he struggled to sleep. He had told me before that he liked the music, so I thought it might calm him. I watched him fiddle with his blankets and move his lips as if he were having a lengthy conversation. But that night I saw him do something else that I wasn’t accustomed to seeing. 

Time and again, Dad would stretch his arms up toward the ceiling, straining to reach something beyond my view. At times, he would nearly lift himself off the bed and make grasping motions with his hands—over and over and over.

What was he seeing?

Time and again, Dad would stretch his arms up toward the ceiling, straining to reach something beyond my view.

Save for the constant hum of Dad’s oxygen tank and the soft music, there wasn’t a sound in that room. I even stilled my breathing as I lay there watching this scene repeat itself again and again. It felt almost holy, certainly solemn. Like stargazing during a meteor shower, I didn’t want to close my eyes and miss anything. I prayed quietly to myself, and I took it all in. 

In the morning, I was relieved when Mom joined us in the living room, not simply because I was tired and ready for reinforcement. I loved to watch Mom’s tender, loving care for Dad in those fragile days. Her demeanor and actions were the embodiment of the traditional wedding vows—she loved, cherished and cared for him right up to the end. 

Yes, that morning I was ready for Mom to walk in and take my place at his bedside. But I wasn’t ready for what my father said next.

“You know, Virginia, the way I’m feeling, I think this just might be the day.”

Mom’s tender voice cracked slightly, “Now, don’t say things like that.” 

The hushed conversation continued for a bit, and I don’t know what they were talking about. But I do remember thinking two things:  

First, I remember thinking, “Doesn’t he know that things are probably going to get much worse before he actually takes his last breath? He’s still getting out of bed at night. At some point he is going to be bedridden. We’re not there yet. He’s not being realistic.” 

Second, I thought—and I wish it had been my first thought—does he know something we don’t? Has the Lord mercifully prepared him for the next step of his journey to begin sooner than any of us thought? 

Mom’s tender voice cracked slightly, “Now, don’t say things like that.”

Later that morning, Dad apologized to Mom for what he had said. He was sorry that he had upset her and wished that he hadn’t told her what he’d been feeling. She persuaded him that everything was okay. 

I didn’t know what to think. 

But I did know that I needed to get going. My son was coming home on the train from Chicago that afternoon, and I needed to pick him up, and it was forty-five minutes away. 

Having my son around makes everything better. Having him several hours away at college was an adjustment for all of us. I was so glad he could be home that weekend to visit his grandfather. It had been stressful for him to leave for school three weeks earlier when my father’s condition was worsening. Seeing Grandpa would be good for both of them.

We didn’t waste any time. As soon as my husband locked our shop door at five o’clock, we headed back down to my hometown. Dad was weak, but he perked up when he saw his grandson. We visited until it was evident that Dad was getting pretty tired, so we decided we should let him rest and promised a return visit the next day. I won’t share the details of what was said, but as we hugged him goodbye, he said something personal to each of us. It was unnerving. His words sounded so final

When we arrived back home, I set about getting dinner ready. I laid my phone down on the kitchen counter, and within seconds I heard it vibrate. A photo of my brother, who rarely calls, flashed onto my screen. Instinctively, I knew this couldn’t be good. I couldn’t pick the phone up fast enough.

“Hello?” 

He told me that when Mom had been trying to help Dad get back into his bed, he had collapsed into her arms. She called my brother, who lived just around the block, and asked him to hurry over to help. “You should come back,” he said.

Within seconds, we were back in the car, racing toward Dad. If this was it—if this was the moment Dad was going to leave us—I wanted to be there.

Within seconds, we were back in the car, racing toward Dad. If this was it—if this was the moment Dad was going to leave us—I wanted to be there. The familiar thirty-minute trip seemed to take an eternity. I called my brother on the way to find out what was happening. It was obvious he didn’t want to tell me over the phone.

“He’s gone.” 

The pit that was growing in my stomach seemed to explode into a thousand pieces. The rest of the drive was a blur. 

When we arrived at the house, I walked in and looked straight at Mom. She was standing there, looking so strong.

“He knew!” I wailed. 

“He knew, didn’t he?” I repeated and wrapped my arms around her. “Yes, he did,” she responded and held me tight.

She told us a little more about the moment he passed, adding some details to what had unfolded after we left. One detail, in particular, seared into my mind.

The moment before Dad collapsed in my mother’s arms, he cried out. 

“I love you, God!”

The last words my Dad spoke on this earth were, “I love you, God.” 

A Year Later

I couldn’t think of a better way to recognize the anniversary of Dad’s death other than spending time in Scripture. This morning, I had a barn-burner of a headache, so I listened to some recorded teaching about Jesus, his return, and the hope of heaven. My faith is emboldened by learning about fulfilled prophecies of the past and those that are likely soon to be fulfilled. This evening, I’ll visit his grave and see the beautiful fall flowers my sister put out with Mom this morning. There will be more tears, but they will be a mixture—tears of grief and tears of gratitude.

Duska Cornwell
Duska Cornwell lives in the heartland with her husband, Todd, where they share a love for Jesus, repurposing old stuff into new creations and enjoying the outdoors. The older she gets, the more she writes.

Cover photo by Amisha Nakhwa.

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