My father passed away just before noon on October 30, 2017. He’d been diagnosed with cancer 18 months earlier.
I drove to the hospital that morning, surrounded by Halloween decorations on neighbours’ lawns. I remember wishing that people would take them down out of respect for my Dad. It seemed wrong to celebrate death when he was so close to passing. Little did I know, he’d be gone within an hour.
As I got to the hospital, I came across my dad’s neighbour, a man about his age, in the parking lot.
“How is your Dad?” the neighbour asked.
“Not good,” I replied, fighting back tears.
“Why Laurie?” he asked, with tears in his own eyes.
I shrugged my shoulders and walked away, knowing that if I said anything, I too would begin to cry. It was a question I’d asked myself a million times in the past year and a half. Why my Dad, specifically; and why suffering, in general.
From the moment my Dad was diagnosed with cancer, it had felt as though an ominous, dark train was coming to take him and would crush those of us who remained. Every few weeks, when a new complication arose, it was as though I could hear the train’s whistle blowing off in the distance.
After a year of chemo, he required an operation late in the summer, which nearly cost him his life. After several weeks in the hospital, he came home, but never regained his strength. Finally, the doctors told us he was too weak to resume chemo. The train was getting much closer.
Searching for answers
I began searching for answers around the time my Dad went into surgery. I read poetry and books by authors who’d watched their loved ones get taken by cancer, Scriptures, Buddhist teachings and stories by Christians-turned-atheists turned Christ-followers again.
Once a strong believer myself, I’d lost my faith in any sort of God before my Dad’s illness. Earlier in the year, I’d written an essay about my Dad’s journey with cancer, in which I’d shared my thoughts on Heaven.
At the time, I took comfort in the thought that perhaps Heaven was how you were remembered by the living. I wrote that when he passed, I’d “give him back to the universe knowing he taught me the greatest lesson of all—how to show love and to be loved in return. And that, in a nutshell, is Heaven.”
As I started to search, though, I began to believe that maybe there was more to it. Could Heaven be here in this life, but also exist in the afterlife? I began to think that maybe death, like birth, involved a great deal of pain and suffering, followed by something beautiful on the other side.
One morning, after visiting my Dad and seeing how frail he’d become, I woke up feeling overwhelmed and depressed. “What could this possibly be all about?” I asked myself.
“It’s about Love,” came the response, although from where, I wasn’t sure.
I’d felt so much love for my Dad in the last year since he’d gotten sick. Every time I saw him, he told me how much he loved me and how proud he was of me. During the last week of his life in palliative care, he told his visitors how much he loved them and they did the same. Some wept openly, overcome with love for my Dad.
The love in his room at the end was so strong, so palpable that it made me weep every time I approached his bed. It was like a bright ray of sun breaking through during a dark and terrifying storm.
Two days before my father passed, he spoke to one of his friends. “I can’t seem to let go,” he said quietly, from his bed.
My Dad had always been the one to fight for me and to look after his family. He worked hard to make sure we were all happy and healthy. He loved life, his friends and his family fully and completely. It was no wonder he couldn’t let go. He was suffering so much at that point, though, that I found myself praying that God would take him quickly.
“You’ve been the best father anyone could’ve ever asked for. But if you hear God calling you, you go. We’ll be OK.”
As I walked into his room in the morning on October 30, I could see that he was in distress as he struggled to breathe. The train was approaching, shaking the room with a thunderous roar.
“I’m here, Dad, ” I reassured him as I took his hand. “Mom’s here and Michelle (my sister) sends her love. We all love you.” Tears began to pour down my cheeks. “You’ve been the best father anyone could’ve ever asked for. But if you hear God calling you, you go. We’ll be OK.”
Suddenly, his breathing returned to normal and he rested his arms on his chest. He took one final gasp and then left. A nurse entered the room and checked his vitals.
“I don’t hear anything,” she said, while checking the time. The train had come. It had taken my Dad and was now gone, leaving nothing but a quiet stillness in its aftermath.
Love is all that matters
When my Dad had been in the ICU during the summer after his surgery, thinking he was about to leave us, he sent all of his family members goodbye emails. His email to me read, in part, “Remember, in the end, love is all that matters.”
Perhaps the love we feel so strongly for one another always was and always will be there, and is ready and waiting to meet us on the other side. Maybe the train that came for my Dad, the train that’s coming for all of us, isn’t something to be feared after all, but a vehicle of hope, light and love. Maybe, just maybe, love is God and God is love. A simple concept, but so difficult to grasp, so convoluted by human understanding.
As they lowered my Dad’s casket into the ground, the pastor spoke of how it was perfectly acceptable to have questions—about life, about death and about God. So I’ll continue to search, continue to question, but move ahead with a renewed hope that God—Love—is orchestrating life and creating our universe, and will continue do so for all of eternity.
I believe my Dad is in good hands.
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