Most 10-year-olds don’t ask questions when they wake up late on a school morning. In fact, waking up to the kiss of mid-morning sun on your face as opposed to the cold dark punch that hits your feet when you get out of bed before the sun rises should be a welcome feeling to almost anyone. But the moment my eyes opened and adjusted to the light coming in from the window next to our bunk beds, I knew something was wrong. I looked around and saw my brothers standing next to me and realized I had not woken on my own. David’s hand was still resting gently on the arm he was shaking, and the expression in his eyes made my stomach turn.
“Are we not going to school today?”
I asked halfheartedly, because of course I knew we weren’t.
“Is dad okay?”
I asked halfheartedly, because of course I knew he wasn’t.
With my questions left unanswered, Susan and I were escorted by our big brothers into the living room where our eyes were met by friends and family all sitting solemnly in anticipation of our arrival.
No, we weren’t going to school today.
I only remember bits and pieces of the moments that followed. I remember sitting on the couch and noticing how red and puffy and lifeless my mom’s eyes looked as she sat in dad’s recliner. I remember fighting the urge to turn and run instead of facing the suffocating reality before me. I remember someone telling me that he had died during the night. I remember Susan chuckling because she thought it was a joke, and the look on her face when she realized it wasn’t.
The next few days are also a blur in my memory. Our home was constantly full of people, some I knew and most I didn’t. A lady came by to clean the house, meals poured in left and right, mom’s friends from out of town came to see us, gifts of memory books and flowers and stuffed animals were lavished upon my sister and me. I would sit in my room and try with all of my being to remember the last interaction I had with him. It had been bedtime the night before he died. I was in the living room with him…watching TV? reading? doing homework? I couldn’t remember. But I had hugged him goodnight. I had told him I loved him. Of that I was sure.
The day of the funeral arrived. It was a beautiful, sunny October day. I was wearing a long blue dress. Of all the things I remember about that day, there is one that sticks out most clearly in my mind. Once I had been satisfactorily bathed, dressed, and pampered, I was instructed to wait outside for everyone else to get ready. So I sat on the front porch swing with my headphones and CD player and listened to Lee Ann Womack. My dad loved Lee Ann Womack. He had played the song “I Hope You Dance” for me before. That’s what he wanted for me. He wanted me to choose to dance.
The funeral came and went, the reception after came and went, the people with condolences came and went. Life kept moving forward. I went back to school. I kept taking piano lessons. I missed my dad every day. I wish I could remember more about him, that I had made more memories with him, that we had gone on more adventures together. But therein lies the hideousness of ALS. It takes the life of its patients long before they die.
My dad suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease for four years before it took his life. But he suffered well. When I was in college I found a copy of his testimony that I had never heard before. In it he elaborates on 1 Corinthians 13:12, saying, “We see through a glass darkly. It is not for us to understand each of these [trials of life], to understand His hand. We know that He is in charge, and when you release that to Him there is an incredible freedom in it. There’s incredible freedom when you know that you are not in control of it, and that you don’t have to worry about it.”
My dad was not afraid of his illness. He was not unsure of his salvation. He knew he had a Sovereign God. ALS might have taken his dignity in life, but it brought him glory in death. He did not lose heart. Though his outer self was wasting away, his inner self was being renewed day by day. His light momentary affliction was preparing for him an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. My dad fought the good fight. He finished the race. He kept the faith.