My father, Thomas V. "Pepper" Garrett, went home to be with the Lord on Wednesday, July 28th, 2004.
Many of you know that my dad has been dying of cirrhosis of the liver/liver cancer for the past few years. In fact, not too long ago I blogged about my memories of wonderful times spent conversing with my dad.
He was a Baptist pastor and missionary whose entire live was dedicated to ministry. He was a wonderful man--wise, funny, kind, generous, musically talented. He adored his family and was happiest when we were all gathered around him.
I had planned for quite some time to visit my folks July 26th through August 4th. I knew my dad's condition and quality of life had deteriorated greatly, and although I didn't really expect him to die that soon, I wanted to spend some time with them, particularly to give my mom moral support and help in any way I could.
As it happened, the Thurday before the Monday I was to fly to Texas, my parents moved into the Christopher House, a hospice in Austin. An appalling feature of my dad's disease was that he suffered from nocturnal agitation. Although he was extremely weak, he could not stop walking around the house at night, to the point where his feet actually swelled. Besides depriving him of sleep, it did the same thing to my mom, who was his major caregiver.
My dad's hospice nurse had suggested taking him to the Christopher House for a few days so stronger medication could be administered that would give him and my mom some rest.
As it happened, my dad went to sleep on Thursday night and woke up only once--briefly on Friday night--until the following Wednesday.
Beverly, Dad and me July 2003
After ascertaining that my dad would probably be dying at the Christopher House, I was extremely concerned about whether I would be able to see my dad alive one more time. The airline tickets for my daughter and me had been purchased on Hotwire, and couldn't be changed.
Fortunately, I had said everything I wanted to say to my dad in previous visits. I had no regrets on that point. I just wanted to see him alive one more time.
As soon as Elizabeth and I arrived in Austin, my sister took us directly to the Christopher House. My dad was in a deep sleep, but when I told him I was there, he physically responded and even tried to open his eyes.
The next many hours in the Christopher House were extraordinary. My sisters, my mom and I kept watch over my dad, frequently joined by other loved ones. The nurses and doctors had told us that my dad could hear us, so they encouraged us to talk to him and sing to him. Although we often broke down in tears, there were also times of laughter and reminiscing.
When we sang to him, it was amazing to see him respond even while asleep. He would move his mouth and raise his eyebrows as if trying to join in with us. My dad could never hear anyone singing without wanting to join in! He was a beautiful singer and musician, and loved singing for the Lord more than anything.
My dad, mom and sisters before my dad's illness
On Monday night, my mom and my siblings all spent the night in the small room at the Christopher House. My mom and Beverly slept on a small couch that folded out into a small bed. I slept on a recliner. Lisa slept on a mat on the floor; David slept on the bare floor. We had grieved and said what we thought would be our final good-byes to our dad, but he didn't pass away that night. The vigil continued on Tuesday. It was extremely difficult to see my father's labored and ragged breathing, and it continued to worsen.
At 12:30 AM Wednesday morning, Lisa and her husband David and I decided to go to her house and try to get some sleep. My dad's heartbeat was still relatively strong, and it didn't appear he would die in the next several hours. We knew the next day would probably be a rough one, and decided it would be better to face it after having had some rest.
However, shortly before 7 AM on Wednesday morning, my mom called to tell us my dad only had a few minutes. Shortly afterwards she called to tell us that he had indeed passed away, at 7:05 AM.
You often hear stories about Christians seeing a glimpse of heaven as they died. D. L. Moody reportedly said: "Is this dying? Why this is bliss...There is no valley....I have been within the gates...Earth is receding; Heaven is opening; God is calling; I must go. "
My dad never spoke, but my sister and my mom tell me he woke with a start; his eyes came open, clear, bright and aware, and he looked up with an expression of incredible awe and joy on his face. As they talked to him, telling him they loved him, he continued to look upward with that rapturous expression before taking two peaceful breaths (his earlier breathing had been labored and difficult), then he went home to glory.
I wish I had been there. But just hearing my mom and sister describing it...my mom called it a "beautiful" death...renews my faith. Heaven is not just a lovely myth; it is REAL. And I believe my dad caught a glimpse of it before his soul actually departed his body.
The funeral, on Saturday, was more a celebration than anything else. There were tears, but there was laughter as well. There was joy! Beverly, Lisa and I had pre-recorded "Home Where I Belong" and Lisa had pre-recorded "Beulah Land," (we would never have been able to make it through the songs live) and a tape of the song "At The Crossing" was played.
The way the service ended was extremely fitting. My dad loved nothing more than when his close and extended family members would gather around the piano and sing. With my cousin Elaine playing the piano, several of my cousins sang "I'll Fly Away." It was wonderful! My dad would have loved it.
How do people who don't know the Lord make it through the deaths of their loved ones? I'm so glad we don't "sorrow as those who have no hope." We'll miss our dad terribly, but we'll see him again. And he is happier and better off now than he ever was in these "Shadowlands."
I'll close with the poem my mom chose to put in the programme of my father's funeral:
"SERVANT of God! well done,
Rest from thy loved employ;
The battle is fought, the vict'ry won,
Enter thy Master's joy.
The voice at midnight came
He started up to hear
A mortal arrow pierced his frame,
He fell--but felt no fear.
The pains of death are past,
Labor and sorrow cease;
And life's long warfare closed at last,
His soul is found in peace.
Soldier of Christ, well done!-
Begin thy new employ;
And while eternal ages run,
Rest in they Savior's joy."--James Montgomery
P.S.--My heartfelt thanks to the many people--many of whom had never even met my dad--who prayed for him and my mom during the course of his illness. You know who you are. You'll never know how much it means to me and my family.--Cindy