My father is spending his last days in a hospice. I traveled to British Columbia to accompany him for a period. While staying at his home, I discovered a book of prayers by William Barclay that I had once given to him. We found the following prayer to be meaningful during the time together. We read it one last time when we said our final farewell. (There has been some editing to reflect modern language).
“O God, our Father, we know that you are afflicted by all our afflictions. In our sorrow we come to you today asking that you give us the comfort which you alone can give.
Make us sure that you are working ever for the best in perfect wisdom, perfect love, and perfect power.
Make us sure that a Father’s hand will never cause his child a needless tear.
Make us so sure of your love that we will be able to accept even that which we cannot understand.
Help us today to be thinking not of the darkness of death, but of the splendour of the life everlasting, forever in your presence.
Help us to face life with grace and gallantry; and help us to find courage to go on in the memory that the best tribute we can pay to our loved one is not the tribute of tears, but the constant memory that another has been added to the unseen cloud of witnesses that surround us.
Comfort and uphold us, strengthen and support us until we also come to the green pastures which are beside the still waters, and until we meet again those whom we have loved and lost for a time. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
William Barclay. Plain Man’s Book of Prayers.
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Yesterday my father was moved into a hospice. He left his home for the last time. On the same day, I received news that a colleague had lost her mother and that the father of another had terminal cancer. We are united by the loss of loved ones, our mourning, and our faith in the resurrection and the communion of saints.
Facing the death of a family member or friend involves a process of releasing and retaining. We have to let go of the image of someone who was vital and energetic. At home, my father was confined to a bed with only occasional visits to his favorite chair. He weighs less than ninety pounds. We are also challenged to release resentments, failures, and wounds that inevitably affect every relationship. My father played favorites. He never really understood my calling to international work. He was socially conservative and struggled with the values of his children and grandchildren. His customary generosity of character could be betrayed by stereotypes and prejudices. As death approaches, I choose to remember him at his best. I hope that others will give me the same grace.
The imminent loss of a loved one requires us to make deliberate choices about the memories that we will retain. I am reflecting these days on an orchardist that took pride in his crops, a member of parliament that spoke out for farmers, and a community leader concerned about safe water for families. I retain images of evening meals before the fire watching the Toronto Maple Leafs play hockey. I recall working with him on building projects at our local Christian camp. Above all, I remember my father tenderly holding the hand of my mother as she died.
St. Paul wrote that neither events of life nor the finality of death could separate us from the love of God. I release my father into God’s loving arms.
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