On July 18th, 2015, my dad complained of shortness of breath, so we rushed him to the emergency room. We learned that his colon cancer had spread to his lungs. The doctors estimated that he only had a few weeks to live. Dad had the option of battling the cancer with another round of chemo, but the chances of success were very low. My dad had always wanted to have quality of life over quantity, so his decision was clear. Dad came home to live his final days in hospice care with us.
A Bleak Outlook
The first night back home from the hospital, my dad’s condition worsened terribly. He had extreme difficulty breathing and was semi-conscious all night. We prayed at his side and lifted him up to God. We prayed for an end to his suffering, even if that meant him leaving us.
For the next few days, we tried to tell him how much we loved him, but it was not clear how much he understood in his semi-conscious state. My mom cared for my dad nearly 24 hours a day. I don’t know where she got the energy. She would lie next to my dad and sing him hymns, which amazingly seemed to calm him down. My brother flew in from New York to help us.
During the worst of the ordeal, we put all of our trust in God’s mercy. Technology and modern medicine had little to offer at this point.
A Miraculous Recovery
As we were preparing for the worst, my dad’s condition improved over the next few weeks! He started eating and drinking more. He became fully conscious and alert. Soon he was even able to stand and walk with a walker. He was able to smile and laugh. He was not cured, but he was back with us, at least for a while.
We rejoiced! No one could explain how this happened. It was an amazing gift from God.
We tried to make the most of his recovery. We had visits from friends and family. We took him to the nearby park where he had played with my brother and me when we were kids. We took him to Palisades Park to see the ocean. He and Mom used to walk there often, and he had often said that seeing the ocean had reinforced his faith and reminded him of God’s greatness and power. One of my dad’s favorite hymns was “How Great Thou Art”.
I wanted to tell Dad much I loved him and thank him for everything he had done for me during my life. He was such a gentle and loving father. I wrote up my thoughts but could not say them without crying. The best I could do was hand him a printout and have him read it while I sat next to him.
A Peaceful Ending
Slowly, the disease grew stronger and my dad grew weaker. After two months, he was unable to walk and was constantly coughing. We had become so accustomed to my dad beating the odds that we thought he would have a month or more left. But one evening after dinner, he passed away peacefully with Mom and me by his side.
Although it had been difficult to see my Dad suffer during the previous two months, we had some of the sweetest and most tender moments together during that time. We got to tell him how much we loved him and thank him for his lifetime of devotion to our family. He thanked us for caring for him in his final days.
We also experienced such love and kindness from family, friends, and our church. They sent cards, brought food, visited us, prayed for us, and offered help. This was a source of great comfort and reassurance to us. This too was a gift from God.
The more I talked to friends and family members about my Dad, the more I heard of much more heart-breaking ordeals: of other families struggling through years of Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, dementia, cancer, strokes, Parkinson’s, and on and on. Sometimes the suffering lasts a decade or more in these cases. The silent strength and courage of these families are amazing to me. I had no idea so many families were going through this. I have so much sympathy for families who have suffered year after year.
My Dad was 84 years old and had a full life. I can’t imagine what it would like to lose someone in the prime of their life or a child.
Although I miss my Dad terribly and hate that he had to suffer, I am grateful for the time we had together, especially those last two months when we were able to experience a tender closeness that we had never before felt as a family. Despite the suffering, those last two months were a gift, and I look forward to seeing my Dad again someday.
A Greater Understanding and Compassion
This experience has given me a new compassion for families facing illness and death. I pray for mercy and grace for the many people facing the loss or illness of a loved one now.