I have some really beautiful memories of time well spent with my Dad. For some reason, one of my favorites is from my dance recital days as a little girl. It was always a chore, getting on the itchy tights that would go under the costumes we wore at dance recitals. But once my feet were in the right place, my Dad could grab those tights by the waist, hoist me up into the air (just holding the tights) and with a couple of bounces, my tights were exactly where they were supposed to be. I can remember laughing, feeling joy, feeling small and safe with my Dad.
He often let me stay up past my bedtime — a treat I always relished — on the condition that I sit beside him and brush his hair. Sitting on a couple of pillows so that I was tall enough to reach, he may have gone bald sooner than he should have because I’d brush his hair, sometimes even add some hair clips, and absent-mindedly laugh at the jokes I didn’t get while Sam Malone wiped up the bar as Norm made a wise crack on Cheers. Every once in a while, just in case I needed reassurance, I can remember him patting me on the knee, and saying Daddy loves his Caroline. He’d get back to watching the show, and I’d continue putting the few strands of hair that still bedecked the top of his head into clips, or I’d just smooth them down for a while.
I absolutely felt loved. And even though getting in trouble made me terribly afraid of him, still I knew my Dad loved me. I knew it for sure.
Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated TigerTank’s second birthday. After a wonderful lunch, cake and candles and gifts, we went outside to blow bubbles. I came in and saw my Dad asleep in a chair. He was so full of peace I didn’t make a sound. I just smiled. Life was good.
Last week, my Dad’s body stopped working. My brother and sister, his girlfriend, and lots of friends were by his side. We watched as they poked and prodded. We waited as they ran tests and looked at screens. We cried and prayed. We wept and hoped for a miracle.
Throughout his week in the hospital, nearly every day, I took an opportunity to stroke his hair. It was often disheveled as he lay propped up on a pillow in the hospital bed, and I felt transported back to my childhood as I smoothed it across and settled it down.
We all talked to him. We played him music. I read Scriptures, said prayers, played videos of our three-month-old laughing, our four-year-old reciting the pledge of allegiance, right by his ear, in case he could hear them.
The doctors said everything about his mind that made him him was gone. They ran tests and said his brain activity looked like applesauce.
People came and told wonderful stories I’d never heard. I wanted to ask them to hold on while I got a pen so I could write them all down.
One of his first days in the hospital, I stood beside his bed and prayed for a miracle. I prayed that this would be the beginning of a Renaissance for my Dad. A second chance. That he would miraculously recover, and go on to do awesome things for the glory of God.
The days ticked by and he didn’t wake up.
The tests came back and there was no good news.
In the midst of the storm, there was a sense in me that he was gone. That he was already with God.
And I felt like I could hear the faintest whisper in my heart: that Renaissance already came.
I thought about the Dad from my childhood and the Dad I spent the last eighteen months with. I thought about the stories coming from all around about his thoughtfulness, his kindness, his quiet acts of service and generosity. I pondered the amazing realization that he almost never darkened the door of a church during my childhood, and yet, now, he was known as the “Holy Grillmaster,” so involved in enjoying and serving his church family.
That whisper was true. That Renaissance happened. My Dad was a changed man. The prayers I’d started praying over a decade ago, when I started taking my faith seriously, were answered. Not in a flash-bang-wham-pop moment, but in the way God very often moves. A small seed falls in good soil, with water, with sun, with time… it begins to bear fruit. Thirty…sixty…a hundredfold of what was sown.
In the midst of the these heart-wrenching days that seemed to string together in a blur, hours in the lobby, hours in the room, I believe God met me with a sense of peace. Leaving aside theological conversations about His will in all this for another day, the basic long and short of it is we knew our Dad was gone and we had to let him go.
For six days there were needles and tests and anguish and waiting. My brother spent his nights in the hospital. I spent nights in a dark hotel room with a sleeping baby nearby, where I’d lean hard into Hero Hubs and cry until I ran out of tears.
We listened to him breathe. The nurses explained the injury to his brain resulted in his rapid breathing. His body looked hard at work with every breath, shoulders turning in, his whole middle moving up at down, often twice as many breaths as necessary, each and every minute.
Even in dying, we’d expect nothing less than hard work from our Dad.
For six days there were tears and prayers, visits with folks who ministered just by being present, stories, hope and heartache. Sometimes we laughed, more times we cried. Most times it hurt to think about the future, to remember the past.
I worked hard at just staying present.
Near the end, a chaplain came to pray with us. She prayed for him, for us, asked questions about his life, and concluded that he was a real “Renaissance Man.” My heart swelled with this precious word choice – she didn’t know what that meant to me.
Then we stood by his bedside, a woman he loved, three children who see him in the mirror and cling to his name, and a pastor who’d washed his feet and helped his heart find a home. I held yellow flowers and stole a chance to stroke smooth the hairs on his head one more time, slipped my hand into the hands that lifted my tights and me high into the air a couple of decades ago.
Slow and peaceful and gentle, like an afternoon nap after a two year old’s birthday party, the hard work of breathing settled down to look more like sweet sleep.
We listened to each breath, now pausing, now breathing. I held my breath, we all held hands and prayed.
Sixty-four years of hard work. Six days of hard work, breathing.
They slowed and slowed until there were no more breaths to be breathed, and on the seventh day, he rested.