Endings and Beginnings

“They didn’t tell you down there, did they?”

“Tell me what, Daddy?”

“That I died.”

I had this conversation with my father on Wednesday, November 6, 1985. The previous Saturday evening, he had developed severe chest pain  and my mother brought him to the hospital. Both he and my mother thought he was having a heart attack. The doctors did not. He had lung cancer, severe chronic lung disease, and fluid in his chest, plenty of other reasons for chest pain. The doctors did admit him to the hospital early Sunday morning. When I got to the hospital, he moved in bed, anxious, short of breath, restless, and inconsolable. I have never felt more helpless.

The next afternoon while he was in the X-ray department lying on a stretcher, he suffered a cardiac arrest. An X-ray technician saw him collapse and hit him in the chest. His heart started; he breathed, and he woke up. What is remarkable about this story is the change in him. He lay flat of his back, quiet, and serene. He breathed easily, never more calm and at peace.

The doctors called my mother, brother, and me for a conference. Did we want him to be resuscitated if this happened again? With his cancer and other problems, we agreed the answer was no. My brother, seeing the change in our father, asked me what had happened to him. My answer: he saw what death is like and it is okay. Two days later, my father confirmed that answer by the above conversation.

“Well Daddy, you haven’t died; you are still here with us.” No response. “Did you get a glimpse of what it is like?” He nodded, yes. “What’s it like?”

“I saw a bright light.” A faint smile crossed his face, and he said nothing else. I had read about life after life experiences, but I was certain my father had not. He was not a reader.

During the next two days he lay quietly, breathing easily, recognizing people, saying appropriate things, but always with a sort of glow about him and an other-worldly calm.

On Friday evening, he died.

Both non-believers and Christian ministers have scoffed at this story, but it began my real spiritual journey. I grew up going to church, learning the basics of Christianity, becoming more judgmental than loving. Then I grew away. I worked all the time, didn’t stop believing but came to believe that my faith was not relevant to everyday life. Now feeling helpless and grieving, I saw that nothing was more relevant. I knew I had to figure out what I believed and live my life accordingly. Whether or not people scoffed at the story, my family knew that we had been given a gift. My brother and I knew that our father was at peace; he was at peace before he died and because he died.

 

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