Last week my husband shared on his blog, Virtuous Relating, this touching story of his father's passing from earth to heaven. I hope you find it encouraging and meaningful.
Touching the Veil
Six years ago this May I picked up the phone. It was my brother.
“If you want to see dad before he passes, you better come now; he’s losing ground fast.”
It wasn’t unexpected news but the kind that makes you drop everything. My wife offered to book my flight and the next morning I found myself on the shuttle to Sea-Tac Airport to catch a plane to Minneapolis. I rented a car for the three-hour drive to the southwestern corner of the state.
Neale E. Strom was accustomed to running the family business, teaching at church, serving on boards, cheering on high school athletes, and doting on us kids and our children. However in the previous year congestive heart failure and Parkinson’s gradually limited his strength and mobility. After taking a few falls he begrudgingly took to a wheel chair and eventually remained mostly in a hospital bed brought in to a main-floor bedroom.
My mom, Jean, remained at his side as his primary caregiver sorting medications, helping him dress, and getting him to and from the washroom.
My sister from Colorado arrived three days before me to support mom and help with dad. Dad had become incoherent and awake a lot at night requiring around-the-clock care. Just that week they finally got a live-in nurse.
I arrived at 6:30 p.m. to a house full of people. They cleared the way for me to spend time at dad’s bedside. I was thankful he rallied to welcome me warmly with clarity of mind.
“Are Shelaine and the boys here too?” he asked.
“No dad, just me.”
His eye-sight had become particularly poor the last few months so I moved in close and put his hand to my face. We talked a bit about my school-end push with marking exams and submitting grades, of our sons and their summer plans, of his tough go the last while and how he was feeling just now.
“Not too good,” he said. “I’m very tired.”
Around the corner mom and Jane prepared a meal for the gathering crowd, and at 7:15 we convened leaving dad to rest a while. We were not long when we heard him cry out, “Jeanie, Jeanie.” Mom rushed to his side and in a few minutes he was gone, his eyes closed and body relaxed. The clock read 7:30.
We gathered around his bed and mom wept out a prayer of thanks for Neale as husband, dad, grandfather, and follower of Jesus.
* * * *
The day before dad died he had one of his rougher days drifting in and out of sleep and mumbling. Jane was sitting by his side giving mom a break when dad suddenly sat up in bed, lifted his arms upward, and looked expectantly at the ceiling. He remained there a second, then turned his wrist downward, looked at his watch, and said to someone, “Not today? Tomorrow. 7:30.”
My faith journey is a relatively rational one as I prefer logical arguments for God’s existence, wrestle with theological issues, and prefer the life of the mind over experience to figure out how God moves among us. But when I heard my dad’s story the veil between earth and heaven thinned to a vapor.
Thank you, Dad.
And thank you God.
I don’t love shopping.
But I have two friends who are blessed with the spiritual gift of shopping and they offered to help me find a mother-of-the-groom dress for our son’s August wedding.
They are so committed they even went pre-shopping and sent me on an assignment to try two dresses they had scoped out. In I went.
The salesperson greeted me warmly and asked what I was looking for. I launched into my explanation of those who had come before and she interrupted saying, “I know who you are. Your friends came in looking for a dress for you. They were worried about your gray hair and said your skin is very pale.”
Seriously, why would my friends say that?
Thankfully, God has taught me a few things about these kinds of situations.
I can’t control which thoughts and feelings first come to mind. They are there before I have time to blink... or think… and are often rooted in deeply held beliefs or fears.
Here’s a sample of my head-space within three seconds of the clerk’s declaration.
What’s wrong with my hair? Of course I’m pale - it’s winter! This woman is really rude!
And then…It really doesn’t sound like my friends to have said those things. I wonder what they really said? Followed by… I want out of this store.
It’s in moments like these where conflict can take root. Will I believe the words of a stranger and harbor hurt? Or, will I check it out with these long-term friends and ask what they really said?
I asked them and there was a reasonable explanation. The wedding colors are soft, but I look more vibrant in bold. How would they find something that could satisfy both categories? Nothing malicious. In fact, they had my best interest at heart.
Perhaps the most important reminder for me is the importance of being slow to take offense. If I choose to hop on the hurt train, chemicals in my body kick into fight or flight mode rendering me less able to think clearly and choose wisely.
In contrast, if I take a breath and ask myself even one clarifying question such as, “What’s really going on here?” I can often see other perspectives and not take the situation personally. I find that having these brief meetings with myself can prevent unnecessary pain and strife in relationships. It makes for more amiable shopping trips, too.
And yes, we found a dress.
With love and gratitude,
That’s what our boys used to call the gift we periodically received years ago from our neighbor, a Brazilian grandma. She asked to be called Vava and the beans she cooked were delicious.
When the kids were little Vava taught me how to make her recipe. It’s simple. Place dried pinto beans, water, salt and garlic into a pressure cooker for 30 minutes and presto.
But I’ve never made them.
Part of my negligence can be blamed on not owning a pressure cooker. But she offered to loan me hers so it’s not just that. The truth is, those pots terrify me.
Recently I confessed my fear to a friend and stated that my irrational aversion comes from my childhood. One poignant memory shaped my attitude and squelched my bean-making future.
I was standing in my grandmother’s kitchen as a pre-schooler watching her snap the lid on her cooker and crank the heat. Within minutes the escape valve began to rattle and steam hissed wildly. My eyes grew wide and with a twinkle Grandma declared, “It’s going to blow! You better run and hide!”
I didn’t wait to see if she was joking.
After hearing my account, my friend looked at me and said, “Shelaine, you’re almost 51 years old. It’s time to face that fear!” I’ve been pondering her admonition.
It’s true. I rarely turn on the news to hear of mayhem and devastation from pressure cookers. As an adult I can rationally consider safe use of a kitchen aid.
But the fear was real, planted in my child brain, even if unintended by grandma.
And the responsibility to address that angst is mine. As a grown-up, I can remind myself that feelings are often not the facts. I choose to ask questions to challenge long-held fears like, “Where is the evidence to support my belief?” and “Do other people experience similar responses?” and most importantly, “God, how do you see this situation?”
I’ve run my pressure cooker avoidance through these queries and concluded it’s time to live on the edge. Good thing. I received one from my kids for Mother’s Day.
With love and gratitude,
PS I wrote this piece before I received the gift.
I have now attended 14 graduation ceremonies.
If each one averaged 2.5 hours, I have spent the equivalent of almost a day and a half in these celebratory events. That’s a lot of names announced and speeches heard.
Last weekend marked our youngest son’s completion of university and it gave me great joy to spend an afternoon commemorating four and a half years of his studious effort. It was a meaningful service and the conferring of degrees on 450 graduates went by fairly quickly.
But I had help.
On Friday, a friend who has endured ceremony numbers close to mine gifted me with a bag labeled “Graduation Ceremony Survival Kit.” It contained a Bingo sheet of 25 circles with items like “Somebody Cries,” “Cap Malfunction,” and “Someone Hugs Presenter,” as well as chocolate and simple rules. When one sighted a particular category, you crossed it off and ate a treat.
The gift demanded to be shared.
So I copied the Bingo sheet, added more chocolate to an unmarked gift bag and entered the arena looking like a mother with a grad present in tow. In reality, I supplied my other two sons and daughter-in-law-to-be with gear for the most engaged ceremony to date.
Baby in the row in front of us let out a holler. Marked it with an X and popped a chocolate covered almond. Woman’s cap fell off during processional. Another X; another tasty morsel. And so on. It was such a hit that the stranger next to us asked if he could get in on the game!
I thanked my friend profusely for the fun her thoughtful idea gave us. Sometimes it’s good not to take life too seriously. Our graduate taught me that.
We were, of course, respectful and appreciative of the importance and formal nature of the event AND we entered in with vigor and enjoyment because of the game. Both/And.
And just so you know, no one yelled out BINGO!
With love and gratitude,
In The Midst