I have not cried more than I did during the several days as we (my sister and our families) sat vigil as my dad, Ray, slowly died from cancer.
A World War II vet, he was two months short of 97 years old. He served as an advanced scout for the Canadian military, meaning he travelled behind enemy lines looking for the German troops.
As a young boy, I loved to listen to his war stories.
Though 97 he was still living independently in the same retirement home where my mom was under care. My dad died a few days after they celebrated their 71st anniversary.
Doctor’s had diagnosed him with colon cancer two years earlier, and after surgery believed they had caught everything.
Dad was a tough guy. Two years earlier at 92 he had open heart surgery to replace a valve. He was supposed to be in the hospital for a week, but they let him out early because he had recovered so fast. Meanwhile, people 40 years younger were still in the hospital two months after a similar operation.
But dad had recently fallen in his residence and they sent him to hospital to check him over. While there doctors diagnosed him with stage 4 cancer. Two months later he was dead.
As he lie in hospice during the final stage, the highlight of his day was eating ice cream and sucking syrup out of the fruit cups.
It was so sad watching as his life slowly ebbed away. By the end, he only had strength to utter one word answers to our questions. We were constantly asking if he felt pain and thankfully it never came.
But I remember one time asking him how he was feeling. He answered with one word:
I wept, because there was nothing that we or the doctors could do to stop what was happening. He was in God’s hands now.
He fought and faced death in World War II. But in this final stage of life, he was vulnerable and at times depressed with tears in his eyes. He knew this was the end and couldn’t stop it.
But we constantly assured him of Christ’s promise that the Lord had prepared a place for him in heaven.
What meant the most to him was the extended family who gathered during his final hours as we said our good-byes to a man who had been the rock of our family. He knew that we all loved him and we would dearly miss him.
But what I saw first hand in this vigil was the fragility of life. He was active and living on his own in a retirement home that supplied his meals and in a matter of a few weeks was an invalid.
Some may point to his age and say he had a good life and wasn’t going to live forever. And though that is true as we sat in vigil at the hospice, my niece had to leave one afternoon to attend the memorial of a young 17-year-old girl.
My niece works as an addictions counsellor and a girl who had gone through the program had relapsed and died from a fentanyl overdose.
She died among strangers. Fellow drug addicts, who didn’t even know her last name and did not bother to call the police until several hours after she died.
One 96 and one 17 and life left both quickly. Life is fragile, no matter what the age.
But most importantly I saw the positive impact that dad had not only on me and my sister, but also the grand kids. My son wrote a Facebook post of his thoughts about grandpa.
There are forces at work in our world intent on destroying families and lives.
Parents are not perfect and neither are kids and offences may occur that can drive them apart.
But God wants to restore.
In the last book of the Old Testament, as the prophet Malachi looked ahead to the coming of Christ, he wrote:
5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (Malachi 4:5-6 NIV)
God’s desire is to restore the hearts of the children to the father. Family is important. If you have offended, ask forgiveness even if you are not at fault, seek to reconcile with your children or parents or siblings.
More importantly realize God will help you do this.
Life is too fragile and family too important.