“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
2 Timothy 4:7
My father passed away peacefully Sunday, Sept. 4 at the age of 92, and the image I will never forget, is that of my mother scooting in her wheelchair as close to his bed as possible, holding his hand, and saying, “I love you”, as he took his last breath.
The promise they made to each other 69 years ago – “Until death do us part” – was realized.
After visiting my father last Wednesday, I made the decision to take a short pre-planned Labor Day weekend trip. God’s grace allowed my wife and I to make it to his bedside less than 30 minutes before he died.
Only God could make it rain so hard in Dallas Saturday to delay the last Houston to Corpus Christi flight by four hours, allowing us to make our connection, get our car at the Corpus Christi airport in the middle of the night, and drive to New Braunfels the next morning.
If you’ve followed this column for any length of time you know my father was a retired Lutheran minister.
The hundreds of messages our family received in the days after his death solidified what I already knew – my father touched the lives of many people, through his actions, his ministry, and in the humble way in which he carried himself.
Throughout his life he served others, and his work for the Lord was awarded with a long, healthy life, until his last years.
My father survived several heart attacks, and probably held some sort of record for the number of stents one can have, but his heart kept pumping.
The man had a heart of gold, and God made sure it kept going until his work on earth was done.
My mother had a major stroke a month before Hurricane Harvey, and my father cared for her, and worried about her at the expense of his own health.
The following spring we got him into assisted living at the nursing home where my mother was. It is the same nursing home were my grandmothers spent their last years, as well as the one where my father served as chaplain for about seven years after retiring from the parish ministry.
Life rocked along as well as can be expected the past five years.
Last month my father had heart valve replacement surgery.
Prior to that surgery, he could barely move with the aid of his walker, and breathing was a chore. He had to stop numerous times to catch his breath during his daily walk(s) to visit my mother in another wing of the nursing home.
I closed my eyes and wept listening to him after he came out of recovery from surgery.
He was like a new man. He ate his whole meal and asked for more. He was laughing. He was no longer short of breath. It was like he was 15 years younger and we were enjoying one of our many family trips together.
I’m no doctor, and there was no time to diagnose what happened in the weeks that followed, but I imagine the additional blood pumping through his body acted like fertilizer to whatever it touched.
Shortly thereafter he was diagnosed with lung cancer (but not verified with a biopsy), which ended up being a blessing. It allowed him to move into the room next to my mother at the nursing home in New Braunfels, and he was able to spend the last weeks of his life near the woman he loved.
He meant the world to my mother, and my mother meant the world to him, but as it was in the beginning – he was, is, and will forever be my father.
Many of you have experienced the death of one or both parents, but I hadn’t until now.
The memories of my experiences with my father are flowing through my head faster than water rushing over a spillway in a flood.
He didn’t take me hunting or fishing, but my love for the outdoors was instilled by my father through camping (in an actual tent) while growing up. We covered a lot of miles and many states, and I was able to see, close up, things most people will never see.
My father encouraged us to enjoy the simple things in life God provided, and never focused on material possessions.
I never forgot what my parents passed along to us when we were raising our daughters.
It went something like this:
“When your busy providing your children all the things you didn’t have, don’t forget to give them the things you did have.”
Many of the analogies shared by my father from the pulpit stick with me to this day, and the simple lessons in life he shared still ring true, regardless of societal changes.
I’ve never been impressed with somebody else’s wealth or material possessions, and that goes back to a simple something my father told me in one of our thousands of conversations.
He said, “Son, there will always be people with more than you, and people with less than you, and that will never change.”
For that reason, I believe, I can talk to the President or a homeless person, and not think they are better than me, or me think I’m better than them.
When I was a kid, there were times that I wished my father was more macho, like some of my friends’ fathers, but those marriages didn’t turn out too well in the end.
The true meaning of being a man is another lesson I learned as I matured.
He taught me to stay steady, and stay the course, regardless of what society says.
I wish I could say I’ve always lived my life the way God intended, and the way I was raised, but I can’t say that.
Luckily, my father always demonstrated unconditional love (which included chastisement), taught me to understand I would fall off the path from time to time, and instilled in us at an early age that Jesus, through His death on the cross, paid the price for our sins.
There are so many things I will miss not having my father around, but I know he is in a better place.
More importantly, the way my father lived his life, I know, when he took his last breath, he knew there were greater things coming his way.
I receive a daily devotional via email, and the one I received the day after my father’s death was meaningful. The verse on which it was based is from Romans 8:29. It reads:
“God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son … We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him.”
Rest in peace dad. The tears I cry are tears of joy for a life well lived.
“Well done, good and faithful servant …”
Until next week, have a good week!
Mike Probst can be reached at email@example.com.