I know the latter for two reasons: One, Dad was a great believer in the Lord’s promise of paradise; and two, he saw where he was going. I’ll tell you about that in a minute.
Dad practiced medicine for 37 years, so when, as he put it, “everything just went wrong at the same time,” he knew of what he spoke. But rather than dwell on the inevitable, he mixed in a lot of enjoyment with the pain he was having. Several months before, he had seen me looking at his array of daily pills and said, “don’t laugh, that’s what’s keeping me alive.” And so it was. Thanks to big pharma for all the extra years I had with him.
But I digress. My mom, my sisters and I (as well as grandchildren, in-laws and many, many longtime friends) got to spend time with Dad either in person or on the phone during his last two weeks. There were bad days and good ones. But in the middle of that final fortnight, he had four incredibly great days. Dad may have chosen medicine as a profession, but at heart he was an entertainer and a great singer. During those four days, we did a lot of singing.
Among a hundred songs, one hymn sticks out in my mind: “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” Dad started it and we all joined in. We got stuck on the words to one verse, but just la-la-la’d our way through it. When we finished, Dad said, “That sounded good, let’s do it again.” So we did. Twelve times. We never did get the words right.
He had asked me last year if I’d write his obituary. I said sure, not thinking I’d have to actually do it any time soon. A while ago, a phrase had come to me in the middle of the night. It became the opening of the obit: “A thirst for knowledge, a passion for people, a soul full of singing.”
When he asked me in the hospital if I had the obit ready, I told him that line was all I had. He said, “Well, I guess you really don’t have to go much farther. That’s pretty good right there.”
But the next day, I stayed behind while everyone else went to the hospital and put together a draft. Having emailed it to one of my sisters in his room, by the time I showed up, he had read it. He said he had a couple of suggestions. I said, “You want to edit your own obituary?” He laughed and said there were one or two minor things.
We did a lot of laughing those four days. He told us stories we’d never heard before, and he sang songs from 70 years ago. Sometimes we’d “entertain” the rest of the hospital with our loud singing. (The nurses later told us Dad would even sing when we weren’t there at night. And one nurse even did a duet with him on a gospel tune they both loved.)
Now, as to that place he saw. This happened three times that I know of, but only once when I was actually there. He was talking to my daughter, my youngest sister and me. At one point, he looked up and away. Out of the blue, he said, “We’re going up? OK, let’s go up. No, that’s fine, let’s go up. (Pause) Oh, now we’re coming back down? OK, let’s come back down.”
During his trip, we asked him questions. “What do you see, Dad?” “Well,” he said, “we’re on kind of a large piano bench and we’re going up.” “Who’s we?” “The kids,” he said. But it wasn’t my sisters and I, nor his grandchildren. He never did say who the kids were. However, he said “the colors are just unbelievable. Lots of gold, but all kinds of other very vivid colors.”
He didn’t know why he didn’t go to the top level right then. But he said that’s where he was headed and it was beautiful.
I’m pretty sure he’s there now. Which makes this more of a happy time rather than a sad one. He’s greatly missed, but as he said, “I’ve had a terrific life.” Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Keep a spot in the Heavenly Chorus for us please.
Bill Lewis is a freelance writer in Marietta.