Fifteen years ago today, Jim’s dad died from cancer. Jim had taken some time off to be with his parents during those last weeks of his father’s life. He and his mother were with his dad when he died, at home and in peace.
Two years ago, when Jim was sick, we spent a lot of time on this anniversary talking about his dad’s death. “He was not afraid to die,” Jim remembered.
Soon after we marked this anniversary, Jim’s brain cancer spread to his spine. His legs began to weaken and then he began to fall, repeatedly. It was frightening to see Jim’s condition worsen every day and to watch him decline.
I looked up “end stage brain cancer” to see what the symptoms were; Jim had them all. We knew this time was coming, but at that moment of awareness, I remembering being overwhelmed with sadness.
One day, as we left the grocery store, Jim said, “I wonder if any of the people walking by me know I could be dead in a month.”
Sad, sad, sad.
And yet, from the day of his dad’s anniversary, we both had a strong sense of his presence with us.
I don’t think Jim had realized it at the time, but during those final weeks of his dad’s life, Jim was learning how to die. When he was facing his own death, he remembered his dad’s dying, and his dad’s example gave Jim strength. If was as if his dad was coaching him, encouraging him. “You can do this,” I imagined his dad saying to Jim. And to me.
I most strongly felt his dad’s presence in moments of exhaustion and frustration, when I doubted that I could lift Jim after he had fallen or help him up the stairs when his right leg was not working. In those moments, I felt his dad encouraging me, assuring me that I could do this for his son.
As much as I felt God’s approval, I also felt Jim’s dad’s approval. He was with us through those difficult days. The line between this life and the next seemed a tenuous one.
Near the end of Jim’s life, we marked my father’s death anniversary—March 25, the feast of the Annunciation. It was a day Jim would have liked to have died. On that day, he had the sense my dad was reaching down for him, trying to pull him into heaven.
I am certain that both of our fathers welcomed Jim into heaven.
Now Jim’s mom is on hospice care, and I can almost hear Jim whispering to her, “Hurry home, mom. We are waiting for you.”