Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Lessons My Father Taught Me About Living . . . and Dying
I learned that hard work is a good thing. My dad didn't work in a faraway office. When I was a child, my father owned a dairy farm - a business where the work never seems to end. He took me on the tractor to the fields and let me "drive" it even as a young girl. When he was building on an addition to the barn, he hung a swing from the rafters for me so that I could play while he worked. When I was older and the farm had been sold and he ran a sawmill, I went with him into the woods while he cut down trees. As a thirty-something adult, I finally came face to face with the realization that this was not the way most kids grew up. For many Dad left in the morning and came home again in the evening and in between they didn't see him. I learned about work by working side-by-side with my dad doing things that little girl hands could do. I don't ever remember him asking me to do something that was beyond my ability and I remember him protecting me from the things that could harm me in the hazardous work he did. He seemed to know what I could and couldn't do and asked me to do what I could, but didn't ask more.
I learned not to complain in the face of pain and difficulty, but to keep going, pace yourself, and do the best you can. When I was an infant, just 6 months old, my father had his second back surgery. As long as I can remember, he lived with chronic pain and significant health issues, yet he rarely complained. Sometimes in his sleep you could tell how bad the pain was because in those unguarded moments he would moan, but in his waking hours he rarely complained. And, despite the pain he built two successful businesses - the family farm and then a rough cut lumber business. His lumber business grew mostly by word of mouth. Customers would come back again and again because of the quality of the product they received. He did his best. And he paced himself, resting when needed, taking family vacations, and weekend getaways with my mom. Then he would return to work hard and do his best.
He was a man of few words, yet when he spoke his words carried weight and had impact. When he said he would do something, you could count on it.
I also learned about love. He was a quiet man and words of love didn't come easily to him. Yet his love for his wife and family was deep. He loved to have his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren in his home. He always seemed to know that people were more important than things and that family were most important of all people. As long as he was able, each year he would drive the many hours to visit my sisters who lived far away to spend time with his daughters and their families. He made many gifts in his wood-shop for his children and grandchildren. He helped remodel houses, build potato bins, play games, hike, pick berries, and visit historical sites for and with his family. All of these expressions of his love.
He also taught me lessons in his dying. I had the privilege of helping to care for him the last 10 days of his life. The hospice workers warned us that it is normal for people to do things that we're not accustomed to them doing - like swearing a blue streak. My father, although in incredible pain those last days, didn't cry out, didn't get cranky and didn't swear. I don't think I ever heard him utter a swear word during my lifetime and that habit, I believe, was so deeply ingrained that even in death those words were not a part of who he was.
I knew that he loved Christ and had served Him faithfully for many years. It was his custom to spend time reading his Bible each day. As he lay in the hospital bed, the toxins building up in his system, I read to him from his Bible. One day I asked him if there was anything special that he would like me to read. His response was, "No, it's all good."
He died on a Sunday - Mother's Day - and the night before he uttered the last words I would ever hear him say on this earth. He had been basically in a coma for the few days before that, talking little, sleeping much. On that Saturday night, he spoke in a clear strong voice and said, "Thank you, Jesus!" I knew that he could see and was experiencing something very real and profound in the spiritual realm. In that moment, I felt closer to God than I had in a long time.
I am thankful for the lessons my father taught me in life and in death. He lived well and he died with dignity and honor.