There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under
the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die…a time to weep
and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity
in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
—Ecclesiastes 3:1-2a, 4, 11
December 6, 2013 started out like any other wintry day in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It turned out to be the beginning of a very unexpected end.
I don’t remember what time of day the phone call came. Late afternoon, I think. Maybe early evening?
It was my father, calling to tell me he was in the hospital, undergoing tests. Earlier that day, he had collapsed—it was like the muscles in his leg had just given out, causing him to drop to the floor. He had to crawl to the phone in order to call 911. He was convinced he was having a stroke.
It wasn’t a stroke, and I am still not sure what caused the weakness in his leg. What I am sure about is that Dad went into the hospital on December 6, he underwent surgery to remove an abdominal aortic aneurysm on December 16, and he died on December 27. Two days after Christmas.
December 2013 was a very dark month—both figuratively and literally.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die…”
I was living a sort of suspended reality—going to work as usual, bookending my days with pre-dawn phone calls from Dad and evening visits with him at the hospital a couple miles away, often at the same time as my brother John. Dad never wanted us to stay long; he didn’t want to have to make small talk, to “entertain” his visitors. He was reluctant to let too many people know he was in the hospital for this very reason.
Then there was the long day spent in the surgical waiting room with my brother and sister-in-law and Uncle Paul, Dad’s younger brother. It was a risky surgery because of the location of the aneurysm. Before he was wheeled away to the operating room, Dad reminded me again that I held his power of attorney—that if things didn’t go well, he did not want extraordinary measures to be taken.
I nodded my understanding. And I assumed that all would be fine. But it wouldn’t be, and my father, at age 72, would only be with us for 11 more days.
“…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…”
Even in the midst of those dark days, God kept showing up.
God showed up through Rose Marie, my dad’s companion, who took several buses a day to sit with him for hours, keeping him company and making sure he had what he needed.
God showed up through Dad’s ICU nurse, a man named Tom who used to work for the CCO and was now keeping vigil at my dad’s bedside. Tom was the only nurse Dad really trusted during those difficult and disorienting days between his surgery and his passing.
God showed up through my dear friends, Hank and Buffy and Myrna, who took me out for a leisurely dinner on the Winter Solstice, and who let me cry and laugh and feel whatever I was feeling.
God showed up through Uncle Paul and Aunt Barb and my cousins Meredith and Nathan, who responded to my tear-filled phone call two days after Christmas by driving an hour north to the hospital to join us at Dad’s bedside. To say goodbye. To hold vigil until the end.
“He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
But that wasn’t the end.
God continued to show up in the days and weeks and months after that sad night at Dad’s last bedside.
God showed up through Bob Long and Dave Brewton and Peggar Dixon—three dear friends who stepped in to officiate Dad’s funeral and provide the music and prepare the food.
God showed up through the many friends and family members who traveled through frigid weather, between snowstorms, to celebrate Dad’s life with us in early 2014.
And God continues to show up.
This Advent, as we approach the eighth anniversary of the day we said goodbye to our father, I am beyond grateful for my brothers and their families. The camaraderie between us—from those early days of working together to settle Dad’s estate all the way to this current strange pandemic season, when we visit together via Zoom for a couple hours every Saturday night—is as concrete a sign of God’s faithfulness as anything I can think of.
The seasons continue. And God is faithful to show up in each one.