In the year after my dad died, as part of my grieving, I wrote this book. I’ve waited to make it public for many reasons. But now, more than 11 years later, I want to share it. My dad was a good man. I want you to know about him and his influence. I hope you enjoy.
This past summer my dad kept complaining of back pain. He could hardly walk at times. Sometimes his legs would give out. He lost all kinds of weight. At the church where he worked they were going through adding a new youth pastor and the insurance was in limbo, so he didn’t get it checked out.
In late July or early August we visited my parents in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where they were speaking at a camp. It wasn’t my dad. Usually he was happy and full of life on vacations. I could tell he was trying to be happy. But he wasn’t, he was in pain. While I walked in Lake Superior with my kids, my dad sat on a bench and watched. He went to bed early. Something was wrong. Yeah, he has back pain.
When they got home he decided to try a chiropractor. He went a few times, the pain was a little better. But it wasn’t going away. The chiropractor told him it was strange. He should get it checked out. He went in to the doctor finally and they found spots on his bones and some on his lungs. He had stage four cancer. There was nothing they could do. 12-18 months. Back pain to dead in 12 months.
My dad called me and told me the news. It hit hard. As a son, you know one of the things you’ll face in life is watching your dad die. You know it’s going to come. But you never expect it when it happens. At least I didn’t.
I was philosophic about it at first. Well, these things happen. He’s going to a better place. I had a 100-mile bike ride with some people from church planned for the next day after hearing the news. My mind was focused on that. I rode on the ride and did pretty good. I felt like one of those real athletes who puts the pain aside because I know the pain my dad is in and this is nothing. I gave it all I had, I left it all on the road, gave a 110%, just like my dad would want me to. I did it for you man!
That took up the fist day. The next day was church where I had to preach and then we went out with someone in the afternoon. I didn’t really get a chance to process the whole thing yet. But then came Monday, pastor’s unofficial day off, and I processed.
Brother did I process.
I went out in my canoe and landed on a nice spot across the lake, a spot I had been to many times before to have conversations with trees and God and whoever else happened to be listening.
I sat on an old wooden chair and cried. I pulled my hair. I cried. I was upset with Satan. The big jerk had ruined just about everything in my life. My dad was one of the few things that was happy in my life. And now this. Not only death, but slow painful agonizing death in the prime of his ministry and life. It wasn’t right.
I yelled at Satan. I let him have it. I jumped up and grabbed a branch and snapped it off a tree. I took the branch and swung as hard as I could and smashed it into pieces against the tree. Oh, that felt good. Take that Satan, ya big jerk.
You may get my dad, you may ruin life, but you won’t win. You think you’re winning, but you lose. You lose. Christ makes you lose, you big jerk. He makes you lose. Enjoy it now. Enjoy the pain you’re inflicting now. This will be the only joy you get out of this, you big jerk. This is it, this is all you can do. You may stop my dad with cancer, but you won’t win. You think this is a win, but you’ll regret the suffering you’re giving my dad. Christ makes you regret it. Enjoy your sorry little existence, you puke! You make me sick!
I yelled it all and threw the remaining stick as far as I could. I felt better.
When I got back to the house I called my dad. I told him I loved him. He was the best dad a guy could have. We didn’t have any regrets, we had a great relationship. I apologized for taking him for granted, something I had done before and probably would do for the rest of our time together even if that were for another 97 years. Kids don’t understand what their parents are trying to do for them. I never did. I’m still learning.
The light-headed junk was going away as I found myself on the lower level of the hospital. Suck it up man. Get a drink of water. Breath. You’re fine.
Back into the room. Mask on. Hands sterilized. I hate lotion. Especially smelly lotion and this stuff reeked of cleanliness. “Hey Dad. I’m back.” He said something under his oxygen mask. “What?” He said it again. “What?”
“You feeling better?”
“Oh yeah, just fine. No problem. Just have to get that out of the system. I’ll be fine now.” I stayed in the hospital until about 10 that night. Various family members came and went. I went home and slept a bit, came back right away in the morning with my mom. It was brisk and cold on the clear November morning, but the hospital was the same as always, sterile, boring and yucky. My nausea was over and I was beginning to be at peace around my dad. It was hard carrying on a conversation through his oxygen mask. I hated saying “what?” seven times for every word he said. He was too weak to repeat it often. Very discouraging for us both.
Much of my teen years I said little at home. What I did say was mumbled. My dad’s hearing was never the best either. “Quit mumbling” was said to me thousands of times by my dad. I never fully did. That’s why I write.
Several hours of the day was taken up by a guy doing dialysis. He spoke a heavily accented English. Great, another guy I had to say “what?” to for every word he spoke. After an hour or so, the guy stepped out of the room to go smoke or something, I leaned in to my dad and said, “Wow, between you and that guy, I haven’t understood a word in two hours.” He laughed.
Fathers and sons will have troubles understanding each other no matter what. My dad and I had our fair share of things we didn’t get about the other one, but we always had our humor.
When I was going to college in St. Paul, Minnesota, my parents took me to the, at that time, brand new Mall of America. We passed a photography place and my mom made some comment about how she had read about that place. “They do your makeup and make you look pretty and then take your picture.” She innocently explained. “Think I should do it?”
“We’d be in there all day.” Quipped my dad. Oh man, between my mother being upset and my dad tripping all over the Mall of America hallway, bent over laughing, I didn’t regain normal breathing for about a day.
The hours ticked off. There was always someone coming in poking around on my dad. When they poked, I left, no need to see them poking, or what they were poking. I got to know the hospital well. I always took the stairs. His room was on the third floor. By the end of his stay I could go all the way up the stairs two at a time without lightheadedness. While my cardiovascular health was improving, my dad’s was declining.