On June 24, 2011, I arrived in Fort Worth to see my dad for the last time. My mom called while I was on the road to tell me that they had made plans to release him from the hospital to receive hospice care at home. But I knew. I didn’t have the heart to tell her, but without even seeing him, I knew he wouldn’t live through the night.
I’m no expert on how God communicates with believers, so I don’t want to cross a line and claim that it would happen this way for everyone. The day that I found out about his diagnosis—leukemia—I had the strangest sense that for a long time this testing of my faith had been rising up in the distance—the same way a mountain range appears on the horizon, slowly taking shape until each craggy peak is distinctly visible. God was preparing me. For several years before his illness, something inside me felt a little sad every time I said goodbye to my dad on the phone. One time, I remember actually saying to myself as we hung up, “Tell him you love him. There’s only so much time.” Simultaneously, God stressed his authority to me over and over. In every bible study, each time I sought His guidance, the Lord revealed Himself—He is on the throne. He is in control. He has proclaimed the end from the beginning. Even as I drove to Fort Worth on that terrible day, I heard from Him as clearly as if He were sitting in the passenger seat, “Katie, nothing touches you that hasn’t passed through Me first.” I prayed against bitterness. I asked to see His purpose.
The car rolled to a stop on my parents’ driveway, in the exact spot where I said goodbye to him on my previous trip. My parents always waved goodbye from the porch when a visit ended. On that day, he stood with me on the driveway and gave a hug I will never forget—the kind that’s almost too tight and your toes almost leave the ground but it’s exactly what you crave. I also needed words that he wouldn’t speak. I needed him to tell me, straight up, that he was dying. He kept it to himself. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have waited six weeks to return.
I flung myself and my luggage through the front door with acute urgency. Long overdue at the hospital, I was afraid that he would not live long enough for me to see him. Dread dripped from me, making every move clumsy and slow—like the all too familiar nightmares featuring monsters and dreamers with lead feet, unable to flee. There were only a couple of things to do: drop my bags, bathroom break, get to my dad. But I seemed to have lost the ability to efficiently command my own limbs.
With all of us in town at once, the only place available for me to sleep was my parents’ bed. Once inside, I froze at the foot of the stairs, staring up at their door just beyond the top step. On my previous trip, I’d peeked through that same door and saw him in bed trying to sleep. I remember how little of his hair was left. So very sick, but not admitting it—at least not to me. Now I was to sleep there in his place.
“There is only one door,” my brother had said of the loss that we faced. “There are no choices. One door. And you have to go through.” I really didn’t have time right then for metaphors, or for insight, or melancholy memories. My bags and I lumbered up the stairs while I attempted to push any real thought from my brain. Just put it on auto pilot. It’s time to go see him die.
On his last night at home, my mother found him, bleeding where he had fallen and hit his face on the nightstand. Leukemia patients are in great danger when they fall because their platelets might be so low that the blood won’t clot. She never knew how long he laid there, bleeding and bleeding. As I drove to Fort Worth, I’d tried to prevent myself from imagining what this had been like for them. She had called an ambulance, and I assume left the room the way it was when she found him. All day, I had sort of saved the inevitable hysterical crying fit for the impact of seeing the blood stain on the carpet next to the bed where I would be sleeping.
Mercifully, someone had cleaned the floor so I wouldn’t collapse at the sight of it. There was no trace of blood to be found.
Where I did have the breakdown was odd and unexpected. Shaking my hands dry at the bathroom sink, I caught sight of my own face in the mirror. A face which reminds me that, though I’m a long time Beasley now, I’m still a Prescott and favor my daddy. In that slight moment I confronted the features that I had inherited from him, and how proud I am to be his, how much I cherish the words she’s so much like her dad. Many, many things I had looked forward to in the coming years. Now fresh fear washed over me, fear of who I would be—who all of us would be–without him there.
“I can’t do this! I can’t do this!” I said through sobs to the face in the mirror.
But there were no choices—just one door.
Finally at the hospital, my anxiety rose with the elevator to the seventh floor. Nothing could settle me. Silence had hung between us, preventing us from talking about death. What would we say to each other now?
I had worried over that detail needlessly. Now at his bedside, I realized it was too late for talk. My family left me alone with him. I gently touched his arm, but he jerked away as if in pain. Words left me. I never spoke to him that I remember. After a moment, his eyes opened and fell on me, and he sat still so I could hold his hand. Quickly he looked away. I wish I had some assurance that he knew who I was.
For some reason, I imagined that the room would seem dim to him, growing darker and darker the closer he came to death. As I held his hand and watched him struggling, unsettled and in pain, I realized that someday we will all be there, facing the end. Suddenly I appreciated Jesus more than I ever had. Maybe I truly worshiped Him for the very first time.
Those few moments I spent alone with my dad are a turning point for me and my faith. So many things that I knew superficially, that I had believed with childlike faith, I now understand with more depth in light of God’s authority. The darkness is real. It is deep and vast, full of pain and horrors and evil. We should fear it. We should be racing to God for our rescue. Sin is evidence that this darkness exists, and we should run from it as if all the darkness of hell is nipping at our heels–because it IS. No wonder Jesus is the Light of the World.
Somehow, I did come to see God’s purpose in all this pain. Our sin separates us from Him. Without God’s mercy, that pain and darkness my father faced would be all we could hope for. Even after a lifetime of rule following, generosity, and goodness, my father could not reconcile himself to his God. We all fall short of God’s glory.
God is in authority over us. The law, God’s standard, is inflexible. It does not yield for anything. It is not redefined because of our weaknesses, because we refuse to resist temptation. It does not bend for our excuses, nor for any of our debate and reasoning. The law does not budge because we decide that evil is not evil after all. It does not change if we are rich or poor, educated or ignorant, or because we are born this way or that way. The law is the law even if you don’t believe you are under its authority. The law does not pass away—even for our good intentions or our seemingly right motives or for things beyond our control. The law must be fulfilled.
And this is a mission that only Jesus could accomplish.
We live most of our lives oblivious to suffering until it is thrust upon us. Believers spend years trying to understand the value of obedience to the Lord, trying to live in the belief that the rewards of Heaven—so intangible and abstract—are better than anything we could hope for here on earth. Yet Jesus did it in the opposite order. He understood suffering first. He already knew all the rewards of Heaven, but chose to leave it and suffer for us. He came to accomplish all that we can not. He followed each rule to the letter so that we could enter into relationship with the Father–so that what seems like the end, even though it is painful, does not lead to darkness after all. Jesus fulfilled the law.
“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” Revelation 1:17-18
Grief left me so raw that I truly feel pierced by the truth of His Word. Darkness is so terribly dark. Why shouldn’t God make us face it, so that we turn to Him and walk in the light? I needed to see it, what it’s like when darkness closes in, to truly see Jesus’ worth and worship Him. I had to experience the pain to have real gratitude for God’s mercy and for the future with Him that Christ bought for me with His own life.
Three years ago today my daddy went home to the Lord. Once, when I was having miscarriages, I let loss interrupt my relationship with God. Now my father’s death is a catalyst that transformed my faith. I probably talk about it too much. It comes up in my teaching maybe a little too often. But my prayer is that someone reading this will allow God to reveal His purpose in their pain. I hope this story makes a difference to someone out there.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2