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HomeSpiritual GrowthThe Death of my Parents

The Death of my Parents

The Story

This is the story of the death of my parents. I have told it only once since my mom died, but think about it often. It represents the most impactful event in my spiritual walk, short of my acceptance of Jesus Christ, which finally occurred on August 15, 1989. 

Ultimately, this story is a picture of why I write and speak on Biblical Christian topics. When I talk about Christ as both our Savior (His love) and our Lord (His righteousness), the Bible is my theological framework.

However, the passing of my parents is the personal illustration that motivates me to speak out, even though I am a strong introvert.

My Parents

I lived a very fortunate (likely self-centered) life growing up as an only child. I enjoyed the benefits of a mom and a dad who both loved and respected each other. My parents were very tight with their money so my dad’s relatively small salary still kept us comfortably inside lower middle class. The only ongoing scar in my childhood experience was that my grandmother, from my mother’s side, lived with us. That did not create much conflict between my parents as my dad stayed out of the fray. However, for me, she was like a sibling who got constant attention from my mom, much to my frustration.

So, my dad went to work every weekday and my mom took care of the house and its inhabitants. In the early ’70s, I went off to college, graduated, got married to my college sweetheart, and moved away from my roots. Some years later, my parents moved to Florida which was where my dad began getting sick.

My Dad

My Dad was a wrestler in college. He was short but beefy (strong). A very quiet man, he did have a temper (which I inherited) that at times reached the surface when things were not going as they should. His quietness stemmed from a minor speech impediment which was aggravated when he got upset. As he aged, diabetes began to take over his and my mom’s lives with regular trips for dialysis, doctor’s appointments, etc.

In early March of 1994, my mom called me and said my dad had had a stroke and things looked bad. 

As I already said, I got saved in 1989 after a long battle with God. I grew quickly in my faith while my dad remained a hard atheist. I can remember going for one of our walks (he had to walk to keep his legs active as diabetes took over) and, as I always did back then, preached the “Good News” of the gospel AT him. He finally turned to me one day and said, with an edge, “How can you believe all that stuff about Jonah and the whale? It makes no sense.” As we walked on and going forward, we never spoke much about God or Salvation again. I became comfortable (read “complacent”) in my faith and stopped trying. There is a verse in the Bible (Matthew 7:6) where Jesus said that we should not “throw [our] pearls before pigs”, meaning, don’t waste your time preaching to those “who hate the truth” (John MacArthur). That was my excuse for giving up sharing with my dad what I consider to be the most important “truth” ever spoken. 

Back to 1994, when my mom called to say my dad had a stroke and was in the hospital, I jumped on a plane and headed to Florida, landed, rented a car, and drove straight to the hospital. My mom, as it turned out, had left his bed shortly before, to go home and get some sleep and a shower. 

As I went into my dad’s hospital room, it was a sunny, early afternoon. I had been bracing myself for what he would look like, wondering if he would even be conscious. As I walked into the room, his eyes opened and he just stared at me. I tried very hard not to show any shock at what I saw. My dad, the guy that plowed our little garden by hand back in the day, a strong, tough guy… his chin was shaking. He was covered in tubes. There were multiple IVs on both arms. There was a breathing tube down his throat. There were beeps and lights blinking all around him. And his eyes… his eyes showed that he recognized me, that he was conscious and mentally aware, but my presence in the room offered little or no comfort to him. He showed no sign of pain. Instead, what I saw, in my dad, in his eyes, was deep, deep, unending fear.  

This was not my dad’s first stroke. The others had been minor. Many years ago, he had had a bout with cancer and had licked it. This time, I immediately sensed, things were different. As I stood at the foot of his bed, afraid to get too close to all the stuff around him, I saw death in my dad’s eyes, and it was terrifying. 

Flying into Sarasota I had plenty of time to think about what I was going to say to Dad. It had been a long time since we had discussed God and eternity. I was going to broach the subject again, thinking that in his present state, he would be more receptive to the gospel message. Over the years, I had learned that people are more willing to listen to God’s calling during times of stress.

I stared at my dad on the bed. I wanted to tell him about Jesus. About how Christ loves us and wants us to be His child, to come to Him and let Him cover us with His grace and peace. My dad needed peace desperately. I did not do any of that. I was afraid. Afraid that if I talked about Jesus, my dad would think he was dying for sure. He would get upset and get worse. The bells and lights would get louder and brighter, the nurses would rush in and it would be all my fault.

So, instead of giving my dad one more speech on eternity, I stood there, held his hand, finally, and said “everything is going to be ok”. 

Leaving the hospital, I drove to my parents’ house a short distance away. I had called my mom so she was expecting me. She was tired and sad but encouraged that I was there. Late that afternoon she got a call from the doctor. Over the phone, he told her that she had a choice to make. My dad needed dialysis to stay alive. The hospital wanted to know what her wishes were. The doctor said that if my dad did not get his treatment, he would die quietly and peacefully. My mom hung up the phone and looked at me, “what do you think”, she asked. It shocked me that there was even a question that we should not do everything we could to bring dad back to health. 

My dad was a good man. But for the last few years of his life, the pain in his legs and the repercussions of weekly dialysis had taken its toll, on both him and my mom. She was the primary caregiver. I knew from past visits and conversations that my dad was becoming a burden on my mom, more mentally than physically. He was easily agitated and angry with his lot in the later stages of life. As much as my mom loved him, I realized much later the heavy burden he had been for her.

I looked at my mom as she asked her question. My response was, “let’s wait overnight before deciding”. Why did I say that? Because I was not ready to make that call. I had little experience making life and death decisions, particularly as a Christian. So, I went into the guestroom and called the guy who helped lead me to Christ back in 1989, and unloaded on him. Frankly, I don’t even remember what advice he gave but, when I came out of the bedroom, I asked my mom what she really wanted to happen. In the end, I made her vocalize that she was done, spent, and this was a good way for my dad to go. So, we called the doctor that evening. 

My mom and I never saw my dad alive again. My last memory of him is what I described above. In one word, fear.

I stayed around for the funeral and the small gathering that followed. 

My Mom

My mom passed away on August 30th, 2015, 21 years after my dad. By that time she had moved up from Florida, lived in her own home about 3 miles from us for a few years, and, by 2013, was living in a “granny pod” we had moved next to our home to keep her close. My precious wife was her primary caregiver right up until the end. 

When I got “saved” in 1989, my first agenda item was to tell my parents about Jesus. As mentioned above, my dad was less than enthusiastic. My mom, however, seemed interested in my (and later my wife’s) newfound faith. I conducted my evangelism from a distance, sending her cassette tapes reading through the New Testament. I would send some down to her, she would listen to my running commentary and then send them back for reuse. Early on, what motivated her to listen was that I would punctuate the readings and commentary with a running dialogue on our family’s activities.

Growing up we went to church. Well, my mom and I went to church. My dad and, of course my grandmother who lived with us, did not. My mom thought she was a Christian because she took us to church every Sunday. She took me to Sunday School and we were “good people” so we were, by definition, Christians. 

My mom was a nice lady. She had quit smoking back in the ’80s and was healthy right up to her death. Her mom, who lived with us growing up, was not a nice person and that put a heavy burden on my mom. After a few years of respite from my grandmother, my mom then took over as caregiver for my dad. So, when he died, I think she enjoyed her newfound freedom. She loved the grandkids. The day before she passed away, we had both our daughters and their husbands up for a great-grandchild’s birthday celebration. My mom was part of the festivities. Perhaps she got overtired because of all the excitement. 

Recording those tapes of the New Testament to my mom while she was in Florida was the start of her deeper understanding of what being a Christian really involved. Once she came to live near us, and then next to us, we talked about God and her eternal security in Heaven. She knew it concerned me greatly and would reassure me that she had a personal relationship with Christ, that she had asked Him to forgive her of her sins and followed Him as Lord. In the early days of her time with us, she went to church and even to my regular Bible studies. In one of those rare moments of honesty, when a mom drops her guard and becomes a peer to her son, she confided in me, with tears, that she just didn’t understand why God was waiting so long to take her home. 

About 4 pm the day my mom died, she buzzed us, (we had an emergency buzzer in our house tied to her granny pod), and I rushed over. She was on the floor and needed help getting up. By now she was only about 90 pounds and lifting her was not difficult. She seemed fine, had just lost her footing, and I quickly got her resettled into her lounge chair. After making sure all was well, I went back into our house. 

About 7 pm we got a second buzz. My mom was having trouble getting out of her chair to go to bed. The distance between her chair and bed was about 20 feet (small granny pod). Helping her up from the chair, I started guiding her down the short hallway to bed. As we started to walk, she told me how frustrated she was at having to bother me. Ten feet later, she said her last words, “I am such a mess”, to which I responded she was not that at all. The next ten feet of the trip we took in silence as I sat down next to her on her bed. 

I am not experienced in death like nurses and EMTs. So, for me the short time I spent with my mom before the ambulance showed up was surreal. We sat on the bed next to each other. Me trying to gently engage her, and her just staring straight ahead, not moving, not speaking, just breathing rhythmically.  I don’t know if she could hear me or not, but I soon realized she was mentally not with us anymore. I can’t explain it, but I sat there knowing that even though she was breathing, this was the end of her time on this earth. She was perfectly calm and peaceful, just unresponsive. So, we sat for perhaps five minutes, me talking quietly, her staring straight ahead. Finally, I called my wife on my cell and then called the EMTs.

Flashing lights and loud sirens disrupted the peaceful silence of our time together. They took her into the ambulance and kept coming back to my wife and me asking questions about medications, past medical history, etc. Finally, they packed up and left, as loud and disruptive as when they arrived. 

My wife and I got to the hospital to find my mom intubated, not something we would have wished given that the doctors told us that the EKG showed little or no brain activity. My mom was no longer here, her body was just continuing to function. We asked that they pull the tube out and let her pass in peace.

She lay on the emergency room bed for perhaps three hours, much longer than expected, totally at peace, before finally breathing her last breath. 

The Point

My dad was an atheist. He died with a fear in his eyes that I can still see today. My mom, I believe, knew Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. She died peacefully. The Lord first unplugged her from her body, and then we turned her body off. 

Not only did the differences between the death of my mom vs. my dad have a deep and permanent impact on me, but my actions leading up to my dad’s death have been burned into my spiritual walk. I chose, out of my fear of disrupting life on this earth, to hold back offering the plan of eternal life to my dad one last time at his bedside. Further, I aided my mom in making the easier decision to actively end my dad’s life, knowing his crossing over from death into eternity was filled with fear and the likely consequences of his unwillingness to accept Christ as a substitute for his sins. 

I know God has forgiven me for my fear of man.

But He allows our life experiences to help form who we are, and for me, the passing of my mom and my dad are part of that process. I write about the Bible, God, Salvation, Eternal Life, Heaven, and Hell, not just because Scripture calls us to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20), but because of my unwillingness to do so at my dad’s bedside.

On BCWorldview and especially on Medium, I get many comments that are strongly anti-Biblical Christian and harsh. I am fine with that because I believe, at this point in the waning years of my life, it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. However, I would ask, out of respect for my views on eternity, Heaven, and the importance of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, that for this one story, just this one story, those readers who wish to respond, would be gentle and allow me my theology without derogatory comments. This is my truth, my belief, and my very personal perspective. Thank you.

 Jeff HillesBCWorldview.org 

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