(Update: Papa passed away the day after I wrote this and we had his funeral this past Thursday.)
Some things are always supposed to be. Open invitations to stop by, play cards, and eat supper. Fishing trips on the Little River in Papa’s john boat. Homemade ice cream churning on the freezer under the carport. Front porch swinging while the kids run around chasing Granny’s feral cats. Spreads of food and hoards of family at every holiday. Christmas Eve with Papa’s favorite, I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas, leading into our gift exchange. Poking, picking, and teasing as only a Bass can do. Vacation Bible School and spending the week with cousins at Camp Granny. Getting up early, making beds, eating a hearty breakfast, and following Granny and Papa through the garden or grapevines. Papa’s baggy work overalls that should have been retired years ago.
But now Papa’s gotten very ill. Cancer has eaten up his body and for the past two weeks, we have been slowly watching him die. He hasn’t eaten or had anything to drink for at least 10 days, and yet, his body continues holding on. I sat Sunday afternoon and watched him sleep. His breathing slowed down, and I wondered, is this it? Then it quickened and leveled out. Sometimes throughout the week, he tried to speak to whoever was with him, other times he pointed up to someone or something unseen.
It’s hard to see him like this; hard to see him so frail. Papa has always been strong. He’s a man’s man, the kind that we don’t have much of anymore. A gentleman. A farmer. A hard worker. The kind of man that can build or fix anything and flinches at wounds that would send most people to the hospital. He’s got hard hands, but a soft heart.
As Papa nears the end, I wonder what he is experiencing. As he points to the sky, does he see family members who have gone before him? Does he see a light that so often accompanies death? Can he hear Jesus calling, beckoning? My granny has told him it’s okay to go home. So have all of his children. As I have watched everyone mourn and grieve, each so differently, I’ve also found great comfort in knowing where Papa is headed. He gave his life to the Lord many years ago, so I know when he finally lets go of this earthly shell, he will open in eyes where there are no tears. He will have a new body, as the bible promises, and live in the protective presence of Jesus, in heaven, for all eternity.
As I am watching Papa die, I find myself filled with so many questions about heaven, earth, life, death, God, and Jesus. But even more than that, I realize that not everyone who dies will be welcomed into glory like my papa. Some people have not surrendered their lives to God. A good life is wonderful. Loving other people is great. But if we don’t surrender our will to Jesus, accept Him as our Savior, and pledge our lives for His glory, we’re going to wake up on the other side in a place without hope. Death under those circumstances would be a lot harder to accept.
Sometime this week my papa will breathe his last. My granny will be without her partner for the first time since she was seventeen years old. My family will have to learn how to live without a father, grandfather, great-grandfather, uncle, brother, and cousin. There will be a giant hole that he leaves behind and we will grieve. We will cry. And we will mourn. But we must still live. We must make the most of our moments. The best of our days. We must share our faith. Tell others of our hope. Because we only get one chance. Then it’s over, and there will be someone else watching us pass from this life into heaven.
When we are in that hospital bed-frail and dying-may it be said of us, as I can say of my papa, that we lived this life well. Let’s make it count while we still have a chance.