In July my 88-year-old father took a cruise by himself on the Queen Mary II and now he is receiving palliative care. Things change so quickly, and since my attention is on my dad, I’ll post as I have time. However, here’s a reflective thought for leaders about what sustains us when at death’s door.
What is sustaining my dad at the end of his life
We tend to be consumed with leading our organizations. But as Dad assesses his life, he is very satisfied. Not with his professional practice (he was an optometrist) nor with his material possessions. What counts most to him right now are the times we had together as a family and the contentment he has with how we kids have developed into adults with families of our own. He says he thanks God many times a day for the blessing of having the love and care of his children in his time of need. He looks at a picture of himself and Mom in their fifties and says, “She was an amazing woman. I can’t believe how fortunate I was to have her as my wife.” He is appreciating the people with whom he travelled through life.
As I clean out his house, I have the sobering realization that all the furniture, all the electronics, all the books and DVDs and all the knick-knacks really mean nothing. They were enjoyed, but in the end, life is not about them. I know that and you know that, but actually going through everything while knowing that Dad’s life is now restricted to his immediate surroundings (apart from almost everything that he owned) really drives the point home. What survives are relationships and the memory of those relationships.
What is sustaining me as I face Dad’s mortality
While cleaning out the house I’ve found many things that display a side of Dad that he was not too comfortable talking about: the spiritual and emotional side of life. Notes with thoughts about God. An envelope marked “Cards from the children: These are treasures.” Copies of sermons he found helpful. Even some love letters from Mom written during their engagement. Dad was of a generation that didn’t talk too much about private thoughts, although he has shared a fair bit with me. I feel like I have come to know him a lot better while preparing the house for sale and I will enjoy sharing what I have found with my siblings.
I also take great comfort knowing that over the last twenty years of his widowhood, I have done everything I can to be the son that Dad should have. I have involved him in my family’s life, taking him many places. Some CCCC members may remember Dad from the 2004 and 2005 conferences. I have respected him, honoured him and served him, so that now I have no regrets at all.
I got the news from the doctor that Dad’s death is imminent about a week ago. Over the same time period two CCCC staff members and one retired staff member have lost people in their immediate families: a brother, a mother and a wife. This has been a sobering week for us all. You don’t know when life will change, so:
- As far as it is up to you, do your best to have rich relationships today so you can live (and die later) without regrets. If there is anybody you need to repair a relationship with, DO IT NOW!
- Create the memories today that will sustain you later. They don’t have to be huge events. Dad remembers some trips we took, but he also remembers us singing in the choir together, and doing other normal family activities. Be involved with people, not just related to them.
What ultimately sustains us as we face death ourselves or the death of someone near and dear to us, is the certainty of the constant love of God in this life, through the experience of death, and then eternally in the life to come. That is the greatest comfort of all.
“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.”
Leaders tend to travel a lot and be away from their families. Leaders tend to think about their organizations pretty much constantly. People who become leaders may tend to be workaholics. We must fulfill the responsibilities of our leadership positions, but make sure that your relationships, particularly with family and friends, are not neglected. You’ll be living eternally with them, not your ministry. Now, I can’t help it. I have to recommend two great books on the afterlife in heaven. Here they are:
- Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by Tom Wright, and
- Heaven by Randy Alcorn.
Both are quite good, but Wright’s is the more weighty one (if you like that). Alcorn’s is written for a general audience, and has a bit more speculation in it.
Please pray for a peaceful and painless transition for Dad from this life to the next. PS: For the answer to this prayer, click here.