My father passed away yesterday, after a long journey through the shadows of dementia.
He was my hero.
Dad was a pastor with sand in his shoes. He and Jesus dragged the four of us all over the globe, serving churches in Texas, Idaho, Wyoming, Indiana, Venezuela, Trinidad and of course, Alaska. We occupied 38 different residences during my childhood. Mom learned it was pointless to hang curtains – we’d be moving again soon.
Dad was an intelligent, well-educated man with 2 advanced degrees. But later in life he experienced a series of strokes which led to Alzheimer’s and dementia. By 2017 it was impossible for him to live alone, so he came to live with us.
My husband David and I were able to care for him until about 10 days ago, when his condition deteriorated to the point we had to put him into a dementia care home. His caregiver called me yesterday morning. “Gina, something has changed,” she said. “You need to come right away.”
David and I arrived at the home to find him laboring to breathe. He was unconscious and unresponsive.
David had forgotten something at home, so he went back to get it, leaving me alone with Dad for about 45 minutes.
Even though his eyes were glazed over and he didn’t respond to my voice, I acted as if he could hear me. Over the years Dad had had many brushes with death, so we’d talked together about what to say at the end. I started in with the most important:
“Dad, I love you.”
I waited but no response except rapid, shallow breathing.
“Jesus will be there. I know it is time and it’s o.k. to go. Remember you told me that one of the questions you wanted to ask Him was ‘Who was Melchizedek?’ You’ll get to know the answer now!” (see Genesis 14 for explanation)
I cried for a bit, then found my voice again.
“Tell Mom I said hi.”
Then I remembered Dad always told me he wanted Amazing Grace sung at his funeral. We were still alone so I felt brave enough to warble…
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see…”
As I sang his breathing quietened and became steady. When I finished the last verse, his breathing sped up again.
I stayed close to an hour. I kissed him bye and told him I’d come back later than evening. There was no visible response.
As David and I left the house, we met the hospice nurse, Heather, coming in to check on Dad. We spoke briefly, then got in the car and drove on.
Within 10 minutes Heather called. Dad was gone.
“I think he waited until you left, because he was breathing when I walked in, but he was gone before you’d driven around the block.”
Our journey with Dad was done.
Thank you to everyone who has been praying for us this whole journey. The race was finished well.
And God, in His providence, orchestrated special care for David and me, too.
Eight years ago when we were caretakers for my mom at the end of her life, we happened to be in Texas. We hardly knew a soul there, but the same week Mom died, some close friends from Alaska were visiting relatives nearby, and we were able to go be with them in our grief. Last night those same friends just happened to be spending time in Phoenix. Once again as a parent died, we were surrounded by the same loving friends in a place where we know few people.
It wasn’t a coincidence; it was just what we needed.