I am just back from attending the annual conference of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). I had the privilege of presenting a workshop on the topic of suffering and sorrow. The timing of the conference was interesting in that one week ago I buried my 95-year-old father. The Lord was, of course, aware of the proximity of my dad’s death to the workshop I would teach at the conference.
As many of you know, he had been suffering for the past few years from vascular dementia and was slowly going downhill. Since having double pneumonia in February, his cognition declined significantly, and he was much frailer than before. When I saw him in June, he didn’t know who I was. The hospice staff had been informing us he was failing, but I don’t know if a person is ever ready for “the call” when it comes. In my case, I received a notice to come to my dad’s side on Friday afternoon. Despite my best efforts to make it there, he passed away before I arrived. I didn’t get the last goodbye I had hoped and prayed for.
Death and loss cause us to reflect and remember our loved ones in better times. I have experienced a flood of memories as I’ve looked through old pictures and recalled vacations and holidays. Seeing pictures of my dad before the disease took hold of him reminded me that he was always extremely active. In fact, nine months ago he was still bowling in his senior leagues. He was even golfing twice a week last fall, although his personality had changed quite a bit by then and his behavior was erratic.
So much has happened in the past fifteen months, and much of it has been sad and hard to watch. When my dad began to fail mentally, it caused him a great deal of emotional suffering. He was accustomed to being independent, and suddenly he was moved from his own home into a senior living apartment. From there he went to an assisted living facility (which he didn’t care for) but only lasted six weeks because he began to wander off the grounds. From there he had to move into a memory care unit, which he hated. Every time I spoke with him he was packing his belongings to get out of there. When he arrived in memory care, he was one of the sharpest people there. Contracting double pneumonia in February is what started the rapid downward slide. As a family, we experienced sorrow as we watched him disappear into a shell of a man due to this disease. At the end, he was unrecognizable as the dad we knew.
The Bible warns us we will suffer, and his demise has been a reminder that misery and sorrow are universal in this life (1 Cor. 10:13). Pain and sadness cause us to either look to the Lord with hope and acceptance or to be angry with Him. I saw anger at God among some people at my dad’s memory care unit. They despise what is happening to them, and their families are crushed by the slow withering away of their loved one. Alzheimers/dementia are such thieves. These brain diseases literally steal the essence and personality of your loved one away from you day after day, often while leaving a healthy body behind.
My dad’s suffering and death accomplished something in me; it reminded me that God is sovereign. The day my dad died, I realized it could be tough to accept God’s timing in the number of days we have with people we care for. You see, I wanted things to go very differently for him. I wanted to be there when he died. I wanted to be able to give him the gospel one more time. I wanted to hear him tell me he loved me…just once. I accept that In God’s sovereign plan, things went the way they did because that is what most glorified Him. This is challenging to embrace apart from grace and faith.
God is always in control. He is entirely aware of and in control of the composition of the suffering that brings my sorrows. I am confident He is using my pain and is working in it. The Lord wants to build my faith, and that is being accomplished through the loss of my father. God wants me to trust Him deep in my heart. He is using death to conform me to the image and likeness of Christ and increasing my dependency upon Him.
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NASB)
This is yet another reminder that I need God, that my comfort comes from Him. However, my loving heavenly Father has also seen fit to use you, dear reading friends, to bring me comfort and consolation at the loss of my earthly father. Please allow me to express my heartfelt gratitude for the cards, messages, emails, notes, and messages of condolence you sent me and posted online. One dear couple came to the funeral visitation, and many, many of you made personal contact with me at the ACBC conference to express your sympathies. I cannot adequately express how touched I am by your gestures of love and compassion. May God richly bless you for your kindness to me.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4 (NASB)
I know I am not through processing this loss, and I am sure there will be more thoughts flowing onto the keyboard in the future. Please keep me in your prayers.
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