Here I sit on an airplane 2 weeks and four days after sitting in a very similar plane. That was the morning I learned of my father’s death while waiting for take off from Laguardia to head home for Christmas. As is my routine, that Monday morning I dialed my dad’s cell phone to let him know my flight was leaving on time. If my parents leave from their house when I leave from NYC, we will arrive at the St. Louis airport at the same time. He didn’t pick up. Not alarmed, I dialed my mom’s phone. She didn’t pick up. I dialed the home phone. No one picked up. I tried his phone again. No success. Slightly alarmed, but knowing that sometimes my parents leave their phones unattended, I dialed my sister’s phone; then my brother-in-law’s; then their home. No one responded. With my concern raised and the flight attendant telling passengers to turn off their phones, my phone rang.
My brother-in-law was on the other end. Best I can recall he said, “Andrew, something happened.”
“Your dad passed away.”
“What did you say?”
Fighting back tears (as I am doing right now), “Something happened and your dad passed away.”
“OK. I will see you guys soon.”
I turned my phone off and shortly after the plane took off.
Previously while I was calling all the different phones, my mom, sister and brother-in-law were with the paramedics and coroner. My mom had only found my father about 30 minutes prior. They didn’t know whether to answer the phone and tell me before my flight took off or wait until after I landed.
My father passed away, best we can know, from a seizure at about 2 or 3 in the morning. My mom had slept in a different bed as she went to bed later than him and didn’t want to disturb him. She woke up and got ready to come to St. Louis to pick me up. She noticed my dad wasn’t in bed, but that is not abnormal as he often heads outside early and feeds the horses and accomplishes chores. By 10 am she was getting concerned as that was the time they had discussed leaving. She started looking around. She found him laying between the bed and wall. He had fallen out of the bed during the seizure. She knew he was dead and called 911. She then called my sister. I can’t imagine those first 30 minutes as she sat there with him by herself. She later said God was taking care of her because as hard as that was, she thinks it would have been a forever haunting image if she found him face up.
Meanwhile on the plane, I sat navigating a roller coaster of emotions. Three hours of silence and little interaction, wondering what had happened. At one point I opened my iPad and played a new Monopoly game app. It provided a needed distraction. Arriving in St. Louis, I had about a three hour wait at the airport. My mom, sister and brother-in-law were on their way.
A parade of thoughts as well as a parade of phone calls came (it is amazing how fast news travels!). I always say (and believe) that God works through difficult circumstances. In Lambert International Airport I made a choice that my goal through this life-event was to glorify God. After making that choice, God made it clear how I should respond: not as people who are hopeless.
My father was a believer. The Word of God gives us the promise of heaven. If I really take God for His word, then this honestly is not that big of a deal. My dad is in heaven. The time that I will have to wait to see him again is minuscule when compared to eternity.
On a rainy evening in St. Louis, my family pulled up to the passenger pick-up. I loaded my things in the back of the Trailblazer and sat next to my mom in the back seat. There was little to say besides what could be communicated by a tearful hug between my mom and I. They told me how the morning had unfolded which at this point was still a mystery to me.
Two days later my brother, his wife and two daughters arrived from Indiana. On Thursday a visitation service was held at our church followed by a funeral and burial in a veteran’s cemetery the next day. We were honored to have a dear friend, pastor and show-organist, Charles Ritchie, bring his organ and perform music that would have had my dad tapping his foot. It wasn’t sad. The Gospel was shared by two pastors. God was glorified.
The days following were occupied first with celebrating Christmas. Having four kids under the age of five around the house certainly provided an appropriate distraction. They each (except maybe the three month old) had a sense of what had happened. After being informed that Papa was gone, my nephew later asked, “Who is going to charge the gator (a little vehicle him and my nieces drive around on the farm)?” That had always been my dad’s job. On Christmas eve we sent them to bed. The adults stayed up busily wrapping and accomplishing in one evening what normally took place in a week. This is and will likely remain one of my fondest memories of Christmas.
In To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus tells Scout, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” For the two weeks that followed the funeral, I developed a whole new understanding for my father. I lived his life. Got up in the morning and fed the horses. Fed them later at night. Tried to get a grip on all of the loose strings from his business as well as his personal life that needed to be tied up. I walked in his shoes, literally. I wore his rubber boots to do his chores around the farm.
In this busyness I developed a different (not new) respect, love and compassion for my dad. In my experience perspective always leads to compassion. Seeing life from another’s view certainy brings new understanding. For example, at one time in my life I saw felons and criminals. Walking through the court house today, I now see sons, brothers, sisters, mothers, and daughters. I see possible friends and neighbors. I see people that are missing the hope found in Jesus. Perspective brings compassion. I now understand my father better than I ever have before.
One of my tasks in the past two weeks was to destroy the confidential appraisal work of my father. In the city they use shredders. In Fairdealing, MO, we burn it! As I tended the fire and added more papers to it, several thoughts crossed my mind. First, nearly 20 years of my dad’s work went up in flames in about 3 hours. A sobering reminder to re-examine what is truly valuable. Second, as I stared at the flames, thinking through some of the potential problems that stood before me, God reminded of words I had read that morning in a devotional by Eugene Peterson. “God is free above and beyond what we observe of His ways. He is free to do whatever He wills, whether it conforms to what we have observed as the laws he established in creation or not.” God is a God of miracles. God clearly told me, “Andrew, you have already seen miracles. There are still miracles left to come.”
I am praying these miracles, looking to glorify God and celebrating the life of a truly good man. A man that worked hard (until the day he died), loved his family, helped others, and lived a life in reverence to God.