Saturday, August 26, 2006

DYING A LITTLE EVERY DAY

My dad went on medical hospice this week. The nurses and volunteers are leaving pamphlets around my mom entitled "It's time to let them know it's OK to leave". Or some such. I, quite frankly, am quite put off by highly skilled and sensitive strangers telling us what we can obviously see for ourselves and have every right to deny.

My dad is not a Christian. My mom and I are. The obvious observation: YOU'VE HAD ALL THIS TIME, WHY HAVEN'T YOU BEEN WITNESSING TO HIM 24/7 FOR THE LAST, WHO KNOWS HOW MANY YEARS!!!!! Well, she said quietly, folding her hands politely in her lap, you'd have to know the fellow to understand. It's not like it hasn't been tried. With disastrous results. But before you form a negative opinion based on this, consider, as I have:

My dad survived the depression. He grew up in what we would consider today, poverty. But my late aunt, his sister, told me many many times of stories of how happy their life was then. How their mom would pack up picnics and they'd go out and play for hours with nature as their toys. My dad told me of the great fun he had with his Uncle Art. How on Halloween they'd go to farmers' houses and push the outhouse back a few feet, then wait for the farmer to come out in the dark and AHHHHHHH! Wicked fun, yes, but as much fun as anyone could have now on Nintendo, and with fresh air involved. Aunt Vera also told me of times that my dad would take her beatings, without a word between them. She is waiting for him in heaven and I'm jealous, because I miss her and I miss him and have for the last few years.

My dad is a WWII hero. As a child, I would tell people about how my dad was a "freighter pilot" in the war. He was actually a fighter pilot. He flew missions over France and Germany. He earned a purple heart and was sent right back out again. He didn't have enough recorded kills to enter his name in the official annals, but he was still a hero. On one mission he felt a sudden "WHOOSH" upward of his plane. When he landed, the crew found an artillerly shell stuck up, unexploded, in the middle of the plane's body. Another time, his plane was in for service, so he took his lieutenant's plane up. The seat was such that it caused him to have to hunch over to fly. In the dogfight, he felt a rush of wind at the back of his neck. When he landed, he felt unearned sweat at his neck. When he rubbed his hand across, a gush of blood covered his hand. A bullet had grazed his neck. If he had been sitting upright, he would have been killed. That's what got him the purple heart. He flew in the Battle of the Bulge. Every time his group went up, only half would return, until it was down to just he and his best buddy. They both went to their CO and requested to stop. Each feared the other would be killed in the next sortie. So they were given leave. They headed to the French Riviera for R & R. The pilot got lost and took them over the Italian Alps into enemy gunfire. They managed to turn around and head back for some much needed rest. I have the key to his hotel room in Nice.

Years after his gift to our country's freedom, in the midst of battling his Parkinsons disease and macular degeneration, he turned to my mom, his lifetime sweetheart, and asked "How does it feel to be married to a murderer?". This question comes from the horrific experiences he lived through in WWII. Experiences he has never fully shared with us, because he says they're too hideous. For many years, I made it a practice to call my dad on Veterans Day and thank him. Because he is one of the reasons I have such a cushy, blessed and comfy life.

Now he's dying. He wasn't a perfect dad. He was a royal pain in the ass to my mom and me so much of the time. Because of his obsession with excellence. If it wasn't perfect, it had to be thrown out. I learned from him the benefits of being an autodidact. I watched him read book upon book, and then try and try to create from what he'd read. Sometimes with failure and many times with brilliant success. He showed me that fearlessness pays. More than it doesn't.

My folks lived in Hawaii for several years (I was born there) and my dad fell in love with tree ferns and orchids. Back in Reseda, he built a greenhouse to grow them. And they would die. I can't remember how many tree ferns he went through. The orchids didn't die, but they wouldn't bloom. For years. My dad fed them. He misted them. I think he even played music for them. And they would not bloom. Until one day, he walked into the green house and I heard him yelling. I asked him what he was saying. Being too young to know, he didn't tell me till years later. He had cussed them out. Said "You either grow or I'm throwing you in the trash". Within a month they exploded with blooms and bloomed for years afterward.

My dad's dying. I don't know what I will do without him. He always fixed everything. He always knew what to do. He was my hero. He's been dying by inches from the evil Parkinsons disease for more than 10 years. Now he has esophogeal cancer added to his dance card. And every day of his life he wakes up and does as much as he can. If he complains, it is with humor. He is walking this hideous path with more grace and dignity and humor than any Christian man I have ever known. But my dad's dying. And I'm not handling it well at all.

3 comments:

Classical Presbyterian said...

Sorry it took me so long to come over to 'your place' and leave some friendly comments!

You truly write with your gifts!

I know something of this...my dad is not a believer either. Yet, in his own way he taught me some things of God: He loves me unconditionally, he cares for me and gave me all the gifts he could afford and he never minded devoting to me much of his time.

I don't know if he'll come to Christ in this life or not. The question for those of us who have non-believing family is this: Can we live with the mystery of God's electing-saving grace? Can we live with the fact that we really do not know everything about how and why God works the way he does? Can we trust in the meantime that God really is just, loving and good?

I hate not knowing all of the answers! Yet, I am content to abide in that discontent...to await that day where God will answer.

So what do I do until that day?

I do the work that Jesus calls me to: being a faithful son, a loyal friend and a patient-persevering person of prayer.

Paul's dictum still holds for me in all tribulations, maybe it will help you too:
"I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13

Keep writing, I'll keep reading!

Presbyterian Gal said...

Thanks so much, Classical. I relate that scripture to my mom. She'll appreciate it too.

We have another one we like: John 10:16, "But there are other sheep of mine, not belonging to this fold; I must lead them as well, and they too will listen to my voice. There will then be one flock, one shepherd."

Backwoods Presbyterian said...

You'll definitely be in my prayers. God Bless.