My dad died Saturday evening.
I drove down Friday and went to the hospital to visit him. He was asleep; I never saw him conscious. We met with a lady from hospice, and made arrangements for his final care. No-one could give us a very firm prognosis; it could be a few days, it could be 2-3 weeks, or even a month.
When I arrived on Friday, I was met by all my siblings but two - one brother who is local, but didn't have transportation, and my youngest brother, who lives in Arizona. He called and told us he was flying in on Saturday, and we made arrangements to pick up the other brother, so we could all be together Saturday afternoon. I had originally planned to return home Saturday morning, after all the hospice issues were decided, but when I heard he was coming, I decided to stay longer so I could see him.
Saturday morning, I had nothing in particular to do, so I went to the hospital and just sat at Dad's bedside by myself for a few hours. I alternated between reading, and occasionally speaking to Dad, telling him that the other two sons were on their way, and would be there soon, telling him how grateful I was for his fatherhood, and that I loved him (all of the medical people assured us that, even though he looked to all the world as if he was unconscious, he could hear everything we said). It was a surprisingly good and rich time, for just sitting there for a few hours, and occasionally taking a walk around the ward.
It was mid-afternoon when my brother arrived from Arizona. It really was good to see him; because he lives so far away, we don't get to see him very often. Shortly after that, the other brother arrived, and all of us were together at Dad's bedside (for some background on our family, you can go here). We spent an hour-and-a-half, maybe two hours, just talking, reminiscing and joking with each other (although tears were not absent from the proceedings). Then we went to another brother's house for dinner.
I had planned to head home in the early evening, so I could at least be home by midnight (I had some things to cover back home Sunday morning and afternoon). We were sitting out on my brother's deck, enjoying a beautiful late summer evening, and each other's company, and continuing with the reminiscences. The dinner dishes were cleared, and we were just getting ready to break into dessert, when the phone rang. It was the hospital, informing us of Dad's passing.
We went back to the hospital to spend a little more time with what was left of Dad. At first, none of us said a word, for a long time. Then one of my sisters asked if we could join hands and pray together. I led us in a short prayer, and then we prayed the Lord's Prayer together. It seemed fitting, like we were on some kind of Holy Ground, on the narrow margin between this world and the next one. Just a short time before, Dad had been there, and now he had taken his leave.
There are mysteries here too deep for words. It comes to seem as though Dad was just waiting for the last of his children to arrive, and once we were all present and accounted for, he could bid us farewell. It's a little bit awesome, honestly. . .
Peter Kreeft is one of my favorite authors; probably my favorite living one. Many years ago he wrote a book titled Love Is Stronger than Death, which is probably my favorite of all his books, and I've read quite a few of them.
Kreeft is wonderfully perceptive, and draws some really sharp insights. For instance, he notes the double meaning in saying that death is the 'end' of life - both its termination, but also its consummation (or even its 'goal'). "If death is not meaningful, then life, in the final analysis, is not meaning-full. For death is the final analysis...Life cannot be meaningful in the short run and meaningless in the long run, because the long run is the meaning of the short run."
He draws an analogy between death and birth that is acutely perceptive. A child in the womb is warm and secure, and outside the womb is - he knows not what (although he might have some inklings of the 'world beyond' - muffled voices and such). Birth is a painful thing, and yet he is born into a world infinitely wider and richer than the womb; he is infinitely freer in the 'outside world' than he was in the womb, and he spends his entire life 'growing into' this larger, richer world. Even so, we are comfortable in this world, and at any rate, this world is all we know (although we might have inklings of a 'world beyond'). Death, like birth, involves pain. Is it possible that death, like birth, brings us into a wider, richer, freer existence than we have here?
And, as the child in the womb draws his life from his mother, he can't SEE his mother, much less KNOW her AS A PERSON until he is born. Is it possible that, just as, in this world, we can't see God, death brings us into a new relationship with Him ("then we shall see face-to-face")?
Of course, we can't know for certain. But the analogies are at least intensely provocative, don't you think? . . .