Goodbye For Now Dad

By | September 20, 2019

“What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

-James 4:14 NIV

Leah and Dad, Summer 2015, Boise, ID

My Dad passed away this morning.

He was a good man.

He was a great provider for his family, much of his life working two jobs.

He was honest.

He wasn’t afraid to tell you what he thought.

He loved aviation.

Dad, c.1950.

He was a pilot at a very early age. He flew into his seventies. I have fond memories of flying with him in my youth. He flew part-time at nights and on weekends to supplement his income; flying dead people on a stretcher in the back of a Cessna 206 to their hometown for burial. He would often repeat his tired joke that dead people made the best passengers because they never complained!

Initially, it was a bit creepy having a corpse on a stretcher behind me in the aircraft, covered with only a sheet, but I got used to it. Dad taught me a lot about all phases of aviation, explaining how the navigational instruments worked, how to work the radios and as I grew older he even let me fly.

Dad was an air traffic controller at Minneapolis ARTCC from around 1960-1965, quitting to go into business for himself. His interest in aviation rubbed off on me. I enrolled at Moody Bible Institute originally planning on becoming a missionary pilot. Later, after the Air Traffic Controller strike in 1981, I talked with dad, informing him that I was considering applying to become an air traffic controller and asking him for his opinion. He encouraged me to pursue the job, telling me it was a great career with a great retirement. He said he often regretted resigning from the FAA as he saw the guys he used to work with retiring. I took his advice to heart and started my career in air traffic control in April 1983.

Dad and I in Wilmington, NC in 1988. Dad had moved there to fly Cessna Caravans for Mountain Air Cargo. (A contractor for Federal Express.)

 

Dad, Mom, and Dale. 1956. Dad often flew a Piper Super Cub up to Milaca, MN to visit his sister, Charlotte and her husband, Oscar Nelson on their dairy farm.

Dad and his sister, Charlotte at “the farm.”

Dad and his sister Charlotte in 2012.

This past Saturday and Sunday I was able to visit Dad. I was thankful I was able to see him for what I knew would be the last time in this world. I had last seen him in May 2018. Seeing him Saturday was shocking. Cancer had taken its toll and he had aged ten years since I saw him sixteen months ago.

Most of the day Saturday dad slept. When he did awake it was only for short periods. When he talked it was clear he was not cognizant of where he was or what was happening – a product of dementia which had been steadily getting worse over the past few years, and the morphine and methadone that was administered to him to ease his pain.

Around 7:00 P.M. dad was given his drugs. I was then alone with him and he said, “Finish it, I think I am done.”

I told him he was dying and would soon see Mom. He replied, “Help me.”

I choked back tears and told him I loved him. He replied, “Thanks, Todd.”

He then drifted off to sleep. I was left pondering what he meant by what he had said. It seemed he was cognizant, he had recognized me, there was no doubt about that. Was he in such great pain that he was imploring me to end his life? I don’t know, but he may have been.  Earlier in the day he had trouble precisely verbalizing what he wanted to say, so perhaps he was attempting to tell me something completely different from what I interpreted his words to mean. At any rate, his words to me were distressing. I prayed that God would be merciful and take him home quickly.

Seeing a loved one suffer as death slowly wreaks its inevitable outcome has a way of focusing an observers mind on the deep questions of life; eternity, the purpose of life, the question of suffering and the reality of God. I know I am not alone in my thoughts. I would imagine that all who have been through this experience have pondered similar questions.

Death is only a grim porter to let us into a stately palace.

-Richard Sibbes

Sunday morning I was back with my Dad along with two of my brothers, Paul and Joel. Paul lives in Boise and has done much for my Dad over the past nine years since Mom had died. My sister Laura also lives in Boise and deserves much praise and thanks for being my Dad’s primary caretaker. What she has done I know I could never have done. So Paul insisted Laura take a well-deserved break on Sunday.

Dad awoke around 10:00 and Paul asked him if he would like some chocolate ice cream, knowing that to be one of his favorite treats. Dad said yes and Paul went and got some which I then spoon-fed to Dad. He really seemed to enjoy it and ate almost all of the small portion. He then drifted off to sleep. Later, lunch was brought in and Dad was roused from sleep and I again spoon-fed him. He ate a small piece of fish, some mashed potatoes and some peach and pear slices. He also drank his small bottle of milk and a lot of water.

Paul and Joel then left to get some lunch and I was left alone with Dad. He was alert and cognizant of what was going on, so I was fortunate to be able to hold a fairly normal conversation with him. I showed him photos of the homes in Minneapolis I had grown up in – I had been back there in July and took the photos – and he recognized them and told me the addresses.  We spoke of different people and I showed him more photos. Suddenly he lost all cognizance and said, “You do great work, leave your number with me and if I need you I will give you a call.” Then he said he better be leaving. I asked him where he was going and he said he had to go home. I told him he was home. He chuckled slightly and repeated that he needed to go home now, struggling to stand up from his chair. I told him again that he was in his home. He looked confused, sat back in his chair and instantly fell asleep.

That was to be the last conversation I had with Dad. He slept most of the remainder of the day, waking up a few times, but seemingly confused as to where he was and who we were. When the nurses put him to bed for the night I put my hand on his shoulder, told him I loved him and said I would be praying for him. I looked at him, knowing this was the last time I would see him on this side of eternity.

Death is a stranger to no man, yet it is strange.  I have, I think we all have, an innate feeling that this is not normal, this is not how it should end. We can thank God that due to what Jesus Christ has accomplished on the cross, it is not the end. We shall meet again!

“But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
-Hebrews 9:26 NIV

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
-John 3:16-18

How sweet is rest, after fatigue! How sweet will Heaven be, when our toilsome journey is ended.

-George Whitefield

Mom and Dad c. 1953

Mom and Dad at Gooseberry Falls. October, 1954 on their honeymoon.

Paul and Dad 9-15-2019

Lyrics
Come out of sadness
From wherever you’ve been
Come broken hearted
Let rescue begin
Come find your mercy
Oh sinner come kneel
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal
So lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home
You’re not too far
So lay down your hurt
Lay down your heart
Come as you are
There’s hope for the hopeless
And all those who’ve strayed
Come sit at the table
Come taste the grace
There’s rest for the weary
Rest that endures
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t cure
So lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home
You’re not too far
Lay down your hurt lay down your heart
Come as you are
Come as you are
Fall in his arms
Come as you are
There’s joy for the morning
Oh sinner be still
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal
So lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home
You’re not too far
So lay down your hurt
Lay down your heart
Come as you are
Come as you are
Come as you are
Come as you are

Robert LeRoy Wilhelm May 3, 1930 – September 19, 2019

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