Thursday, October 05, 2006

My Daddy Is Dying

When I reported this to my seminary community in chapel worship on Tuesday as we shared our joys and concerns, it was as shocking for me to say as it was for our young students to hear. Death is not a category immediately accessible to creatures in full commencement of their lives.

For the first time in this years-long slow sink, Dad no longer recognizes Mom. Those clear blue eyes have now clouded. He forgets how to swallow. His brain can no longer tell his tongue to lick the trickle of drool descending down his chin. He has been sucked into a watery unwaking. Mom wonders if he will ever emerge.

Where does he go? Is there some alternative world into which he descends? Does he know others there? Is he awake in this place in a way our wakefulness cannot detect? Is he aware? Happy?

The doctors cannot say with exactitude, but my father is nearing death. Medical professionals are understandably reluctant to forecast such mysteries, but, when pressed, one finally ventured only a matter of weeks remaining.

Dad got ready to die a long time ago, long before neurological disease calcified his brain cells. Rarely have I known a person to live with greater readiness. Cavalier or wise, who's to say, but he always had a wry insoucience about what lay ahead.

I carry an early childhood movie in my head of an approaching hurricane, the neighborhood in panic, folks scurrying and scampering to protect themselves against the coming storm. In the midst of this frenzy of boarding up windows and packing up cars, my father reclines on the porch swing, gently rocking, his head laid back in calm as he draws on a cigarette. "Daddy, aren't you scared?" a wide-eyed little boy asks as he climbs up in his father's arms. "No, son. We'll be fine. Just fine," my father says, smiling, as he bends down to pick me up, his Marlboro dangling between his lips.

And, of course, we were. With him, we always were.

The National Weather Service warns us about such people, and with good reason, as recent weather events indicate. I'm not suggesting such stoicism is smart. Only interesting for a small child looking for clues about how to act in the face of fear. (No wonder my oldest brother rode out '04 Hurricane Ivan at his bayside home in Mobile, his wife Cheri having evacuated to stay with her mother in the relative safety of inland Montgomery, but Langdon stubbornly staying, declaring he would rather ride out a hurricane than spend the night with his mother-in-law!)

Now, the darkening cloud is settling in on my daddy. We know it will soon carry him away. No greatness of spirit will be able to prevent it. If he could speak, he would say those familiar words, "It will be fine, son. Just fine."

Come, cloud, carry.


Unknown said...

Charlie, if you have not heard this song, please find it and listen. It gives me chills and lifts my heart.

Chris Rice's Untiteld Hymn (Come to Jesus)

Weak and wounded sinner
Lost and left to die
O, raise your head, for love is passing by
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus and live!

Now your burden's lifted
And carried far away
And precious blood has washed away the stain, so
Sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus and live!

And like a newborn baby
Don't be afraid to crawl
And remember when you walk
Sometimes we
Fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus and live!

Sometimes the way is lonely
And steep and filled with pain
So if your sky is dark and pours the rain, then
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus and live!

O, and when the love spills over
And music fills the night
And when you can't contain your joy inside, then
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus and live!

And with your final heartbeat
Kiss the world goodbye
Then go in peace, and laugh on Glory's side, and
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus and live!

I lost my dad a piece at a time, too, but the gift of God, eternal life - LIFE! - means the unclouding of eyes, the renewal of limbs, the restoration of humor, the reunion of saints... Touch while you can, mourn when it's time, and then look ahead to the joy an an eternity with him in the light of Jesus.

Much love from Martin and me,

Anonymous said...

Charlie, our hearts go out to you in times like these. No one but you, friend, truly understands the pain in your soul. While I do not wish to be categorized in Job's memorable words as a "miserable comforter," please know that you and your family are in our prayers. I've heard it reaches from TX to GA with ease!
Ben & Ginny

Anonymous said...

Charlie, my heart goes out to you too! You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers! Love ya!

Anonymous said...

After giving many funerals, and assuring many people of the celebration of moving on to our just reward, I just don’t understand how you now face what so many of us has, can you not understand the pain of losing a person that made such a difference in mine or your life. Charlie, is it just a nice face put on when a preacher gives a eulogy for a person that has meant so much to the ones in grief? I have felt that pain before, and what advice do you give to a person seeing his loved one in such shape? Tell me why is this happening? Is it deserved? What is the reason, and why would God have us see this happening? My Daddy died 24 years ago, and I still think of him every day.

Anonymous said...

Oh Charlie, this brings me to tears. What is there for a Daddy's girl to say to a Daddy's boy but "I'm sorry"? If you were here I would put my hand on you and offer up a prayer. My prayers are daily nevertheless.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, We are so sorry that you and your family are going through this pain. I know from working with very sick people daily that you are never prepared for that final breath of someone you love so very much. We can only live by God's wonderful promise that we will see our loved ones again. We will pray for you and your wonderful family as this hard time approaches.

Our prayers and love,
Fran and Terry

Anonymous said...

Hey Charlie!

So sad to hear about your dad's health failing rapidly. From the many comments you made about him from the pulpit I know how much he means to you.

I thought your allusion to his calm in the midst of the hurricane was poignant and unquestionably a powerful impression to leave with you about life and how to face any trauma that carries the scent of death attached to it. As someone I read put it, "The only thing we owe God is to 'fear not'." What an enduring gift he has left you in that experience!

You're loved Charlie; you're also prayed for and valued. If you ever find time to write an old friend( I would be so thrilled to hear from you!

Blessings my friend!

Steve Davis

Anonymous said...


I can't type this without tears. We watched you as you went through this over the last few years. Wish we could be with you now at this time. Know that we are praying for you. We miss you and Jana greatly.

Jan Pullin

Anonymous said...

There is a time for everything under the sun. No, we may know that a loved ones time is near and we know they will be in Heaven and healed. It is so hard to let one go, a mom or dad. They are a part of us and we are a part of them.
BUT GOD will give you what you need when you need it. When we are weak he is strong! My mother went to be with Jesus three months ago, I was with her at that time. It was a beautiful thing and an experience I will forever have to share with others and pray for God to open doors to help other people. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Look for the miracles God wants to do during this time for people around you and lives you Dad has touched.

Anonymous said...


We were saddened to hear the news of your father’s passing and wanted you to know that we are praying for you and your family.

I can’t help but recall the times you shared stories of your father during your sermons at TBC especially in the later years as his health was fading. I always sensed a great deal of love, respect and admiration for him. I know you will miss him, but I also know that he will always be a part of who you are.

May God give you comfort and peace in your time of sadness.

Dave Ballard

Anonymous said...

How sad, Charlie, for such wisdom to be silent when it is most important, most needed.