On the morning of March 30, 2021, I made a last-minute trip to Arizona to see my dad. The day before, I spoke with my brother about Dad’s illness. He said it didn’t look good.
It came on suddenly – double pneumonia. Dad had been in a dementia-care facility since the fall of 2020. His mind had been slipping the past few years. Life had reached a point where my brother had taken care of Dad as best as he could. Dad was 91, fairly healthy, but the mind…well, the mind wasn’t the same.
The place was right for Dad. My siblings – all in Arizona – would take turns visiting him when possible, amidst COVID restrictions. All I could do from Washington was get updates and write letters.
I decided to write to Dad at least once a month. It seemed silly, at first. I never thought to write him letters before – no idea why. But, I decided to do that. I guess I just wanted him to know that I was still here.
My dad was strong-minded. Some might say, he was ‘stubborn’. To be honest, I didn’t know the man well. My parents divorced when I was a young child and he didn’t come around all that much that I recall.
He had always said that he’d live to be 100. He was so strong-minded that I didn’t doubt it for a second. I once told him that he would probably outlive me. He laughed. (I think)
Even as I saw him laying there, I still had the notion that he would pull through. That would be a very dad-thing to do, I thought.
His breathing kept changing. That was something I remember my husband telling me about right before his mom passed away in July 2020. The sound changed. Labored breathing. Yet, I still had this thought that he would pull through.
How could he not? I’ve been praying for him…I’d been praying for him for a long time. That seems like it should be hard to type. It kind of is – I mean, I can’t pray for my dad any longer.
I was praying for his salvation. I was praying for his soul. I was praying that before he took his last breath upon this earth that he would believe in his heart and confess with his mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord. Romans 10:9 (NIV) says it best, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Verse 10 continues with, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with our mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
The Bible makes it clear, so I prayed for my dad. I prayed God’s mercy over him these last few years. I was praying mercy over him on March 30. God loved my dad.
I did too.
More than two decades ago I began the forgiveness process with my dad. Forgiveness isn’t just about three little words. Forgiveness is a mental process to realign your emotions and spirit. I told my dad long ago that I forgave him.
It wasn’t until I started praying for him, praying for his soul that I began to truly feel that I DID forgive him. Over the past several years, my prayers had become more earnest. The last six months alone, mercy was at the heart of my prayers.
A few years ago, I wrote about the word “dwell”. I asked the question, “Where Do You Dwell?” (January 2018) and I said, The longer we hold on to anger, the more what we are angry about has control over us.
I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to dwell in anger. Too many people in life don’t realize they dwell in their anger. How do I know? Because they can’t forgive those who have hurt them. For me, praying for those who hurt me was a release to dwell in peace.
Since that first time, I’d said those words many, many more times to my Dad. The second to last time I said it to him face-to-face, I added, “God forgives you too. And He loves you very much”.
Luke 23:34 (NKJV), “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Even on the cross, Jesus, God’s son, asked God, the Father, to forgive them. He prayed for their forgiveness while He was being crucified! How could I not do the same for my earthly father?
When I heard my brother’s voice on Monday, March 29, telling me things weren’t looking good with Dad, I was numb. I didn’t know how to process. Perhaps this was the moment I was praying for all these years. Before he breathed his last breath on earth…
I had to fly down to see him. In the afternoon of March 30, my brother pulled the chair next to Dad’s bed and offered it to me. I sat down. While I held Dad’s hand, my brother and I said something to each other briefly and then…
Dad opened one eye. His right eye looked at me. Surprised, I quickly said, “Hey Dad. We’re here. We love you.” And, in a brief moment, I felt compelled to say those three little words, “I forgive you” – and then he breathed his last.
Wait, what? What did that mean? What was that last moment about, God? Is my dad saved, God? Did you have mercy on him? Was that moment just for me? What about all of my prayers, Lord? What about the letters I wrote to my dad, God? Did anything get through to him?
I don’t fully understand God’s mercy. “For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” (Romans 9:15 – NKJV, referencing Exodus 33:19)
God’s mercy was in that room when my dad took his last breath. Did I get an answer to my prayers? I don’t know. I may never know while I walk this earth. What I do know is that my dad was forgiven. By me and by God.
I praise God that He walked me through the forgiveness process (Don’t Let the Pain Win, May 2018). If I had not walked it out, there is no way I would have been there for my dad’s last breath. I am grateful that God made a way where there seemed to be no way.
There are no more prayers to pray for my dad. And that, my friends, much like forgiveness, is a process in and of itself.