There is not a prayer I remember praying before this one. It is a prayer, which as a child, I frequently prayed with tears. I prayed it with my mother, with my sisters, and often alone in my bed. I even remember my nephew accidently praying it at the dinner table, while the one being prayed for was sitting right beside him: “Dear God, thank you for this food and please help Pop to be saved.” “Please help Pop to what?” came the response from my dad as everyone sat there shocked that this routine family prayer was revealed.
I loved my dad. I did not realize how much until now. Whatever he may have been to others, he was my hero.
One week ago today, I sat beside my dad without much worry. I got him some Advil to break the fever (he was using Naproxin—his beloved cure for everything). His fever broke and I left his little “Popcorn” room at the west end of the house where he has lived for a few years. I was not worried and neither was he.
You see, a little less than a year ago, my family and I moved into my mother and father’s house. After my sister’s death, my mother had a massive aneurysm and stroke that left her a hemiplegic and replaced my very strong willed, beautiful, and talented mom with a disabled child-like mother who wants to do nothing but watch the same movies over and over and drive through my childhood neighborhood every day. My dad was doing his best to cope with the situation, but his grief was too much. Angie’s (my sister) suicide in 2004 drove him back to drinking. This was a lifestyle that he had left in the early nineties (primarily due to the influence of my mother). At this time, my mother was too weak and grief-stricken herself. Within two years, my mother’s brain exploded—quite literally. It was at this time, in 2006, that I decided to leave my pastoring job at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco Texas (where I had been for six years) to be with my family. I knew that my mother, father, and two surviving sisters needed me.
Fast-forward to one year ago July 17th. My father kept my mother at home. After all, she was only 56 when she had her aneurysm and we did not feel right about putting her in a nursing home. My niece was taking her to Quail Creek (my childhood neighborhood), which was her Saturday routine. At this time, my mother’s right leg worked well enough for my father to help get her into a wheelchair, and then, into the car. As they were driving along, someone turned into their lane and crashed into my mother’s side of the car. This crushed her only good leg. After getting out of the hospital a couple of months later, my father discovered that he could not move her or change her anymore due to her leg. She needed someone that could deadlift her (and she has gained quite a bit of weight). That is when I started living there and eventually moved my family into my parents home.
Since Angie’s death, my dad received seven DUI citations. At the time I moved in, my dad was looking at ten years in prison (at least). In November of last year, my father and I put together all his bank account info, mortgage details, and everything that I needed to take care of things while he was in prison. I drove him up to the courthouse just before Thanksgiving to say goodbye and drop him off. However, something happened that none of us could believe, even his lawyer—the judge sympathized with his life and pain and let him go. He told him that the sentence was deferred, but if he got picked up one more time, he was going straight to prison.
I was excited about this (big understatement)! I figured that my dad and I had many good years together. I figured that my family could bring life back to his home. Most importantly, I saw this as a possible movement of God to fulfill my oldest prayer. I have spent the last year sitting with my dad in his “Popcorn room” every chance I got. My dad never spoke much and when he did, it was usually not very nice. But I thought I would talk to him about what I was teaching, share my struggles, attempt to let him invest in my life, and represent the Lord to him.
I had never really experienced having a father. Growing up, he was never around. He was either at work or at the bar. We never did much together, but on the few occasions we did, I remember virtually all of the details, since the moments were so precious to me. I did not know anything about his life. Every detail I received, came through my mother. She did her best to defend my dad by saying, “At least he is not as mean as his father was.” My dad was a mystery to me.
Over the last year, nothing much changed. Though I sat for hours with him in his room, there was not any fruitful conversation. When I was truly brave, I would attempt to have spiritual conversations with him. He would listen, but not respond.
Though many would disagree with me about this (and I understand), I took him to the bar and often picked him up. At least this way he was not driving. I would also try to have a beer with him and watch the game. But he was never really comfortable with this, and it never produced any good conversations.
However, I still had hope. I continued to cling to the thought that God was going to turn him around, someway. . .somehow. He had the hardest heart I ever knew. But if God could change Paul, he could change my dad.
Let me be clear here: I don’t blame my dad for the escapes he took. I don’t blame him for getting drunk three or four nights a week. After all, we could not help but count someone who made it through such tragedy without making any moral compromises (which my dad did in more than one way) as being truly heroic. What he had been through over the last decade would cause even the most committed Christian to fall apart.
All of this being said, my dad was not a happy man.
About a month ago I gave my dad a little booklet called “Try Praying” that I got at church. It was a booklet that attempts to get people who don’t practice much spirituality introduced to Jesus in a unique way. I was scared to give it to him, but I acted very non-threatening when I did. “I got this book from church. They were giving them away. You can have it.” My dad has made many professions of faith. Every time I would ask him if he trusted Christ, he would say “yes” and then not say anything else. I just wanted him to show more Christian commitment, either in his life or in his words. To my surprise, I went in his room the next day and he was reading the booklet. It was almost an embarrassing moment, for both of us. This happened twice. He did not get through much of it from what I can tell, but he was reading it.
Over the last month, he was actually kinda’ nice. At least he tried to be. He acted as if he was happy. He was still going to the bar and doing his thing, but he did seem to be in a good mood for the first time in a very long time. A week ago from last Monday, he went fishing here in Oklahoma and sent pics to me of the fish he caught. It was a great catch. In fact, though he does not express it in the picture (typical of my dad), it was the biggest smallmouth bass he had ever caught.
He came home a week ago yesterday. I noticed he was not feeling very well. The next day, he was running a temperature. This went on for three days. He was talking out of his head and being very funny (same thing I do when I have a fever). However, on Monday, his fever was no longer present, but he was still talking funny. I did not think too much about this at first. However, over the next couple of days his fever became worse and he labored at breathing. I encouraged him, again and again, to go to the doctor, but he is one of those guys who will simply not consider such a move as what a viable, manly man would consider doing. He was so stubborn. Finally, last Tuesday night he said he would go, if his condition was not better in the morning. The next morning, he was worse. In fact, it was so bad that his brother and I had to get him dressed and put him in my mother’s wheelchair to get him to the hospital. I called my sisters, and we all met at Mercy.
The doctors immediately realized he had pneumonia. They put him in ICU. They gave him a heavy dose of antibiotics and I left Wed night thinking all was well. The last thing I remember him saying was that he had to watch the OU game on Thursday night, so they had better have the game tuned in on the TV. I slept at home that night, something I deeply regret.
The next morning the nurse called and said that he had taken a very bad turn and that they had to put him in a coma. I could not believe it. I called my sisters and we all rushed back up to the hospital. From here it was nothing but bad news. The pneumonia had infected his blood and his kidneys were not working. They had him on the maximum amount of meds to keep his heart rate down and his blood pressure up. The doctor told us that night that modern medicine had nothing more to offer him. Moreover, my dad had less than a five percent chance of living. I stayed there all night, apologizing for leaving the night before, reading him Scripture, and talking about how much I loved him.
The next day the doctors told us it was over. His organs had shut down and it was time to let him go. He died at 10:45 on Friday morning. I sat at the end of his bed, my sister (Kristie) to the right, and my younger sister (Lindsey) crawled up in his bed and laid beside him. I watched as his heart rate went lower and lower over and eventually flat-lined.
My father died at the age of 66.
I don’t know why the Lord did not give us some last minutes. I don’t know what the Lord did in the last minutes (or if he needed to do anything at all). My sister Lindsey is sure he is in heaven. I have to believe that he is, or I will go insane. But my earliest prayer was never answered in any definitive way. I am glad he read the book and I am glad he was happy in his last days, but the Lord has left me with something very crushing. I wish he would have done more.
John Hannah, my historic theology prof, once said, “There will be three things we are surprised about in heaven: 1) who is there that we did not think would be there, 2) who is not there that we thought would be there, and 3) that you are there.” I suppose I take some comfort in this.
Now I sit at his house with my mother, who does not understand his death and just wants to watch the television. He left no will and I am having to go through so much legal maneuvering just to get access to his bank account and pay some of his bills. We are unsure what to do with my mother. She is just too young for a nursing home, but I don’t know how to take care of her without my dad’s help (as little as it may have been).
I miss you dad. I love you so much. I am so sorry for all your pain and suffering. I pray that the arms of Jesus are giving you comfort and that you are with Angie.