In the early morning hours of November 25th, 2013 my father, Larry Woodbury, passed on from his life on this earth to a life of worshipping our Savior for ten thousand years and forever more. That moment was preceded by a grueling and painful 5-month battle with lung cancer, concluding with a 13-day hospice stay that I still cannot fully fathom. So I am writing this post as a pause from my normal exploration of finance, entertainment and theology. I am writing this because I HAVE to – not that I want to. I have to get these thoughts out and move on.
So I duly warn all who continue that I will only be relating my experience with pain, grief and death. Please do not draw any conclusions or comparisons with anyone else’s journey. Each journey is subjective, personal, non-linear and irrational. Each person’s battle with grief is as individual and unique as a snowflake or a fingerprint. So this is my personal journey of what I learned watching death come:
- I learned that my mother is even stronger and more courageous than I realized.
- My father battled his cancer mostly in private and that was his wish. My mother was the courageous one that had to deal with that on a daily, hourly and minute-by-minute basis. Showing God’s love, grace and strength during such circumstances is exactly what crowns in heaven are for.
- I learned that there was no person more generous in this world than my father.
- I could relate dozens of examples, but let me relate the last one. The week before he was officially diagnosed with cancer, with his body already being ravaged with the cancer in at least three areas and while in extreme pain, he stopped by my house to see if I was free. Why? Because he wanted to add to my driveway a slab of cement so we could turn better into the driveway without destroying the grass by cutting the corner. And why would he do this? Because as he told me, he didn’t know when he would be able to do a project like this again.
- I learned there is no manual or guidebook about this.
- The Word of God provides me hope, don’t misunderstand me. But at points you get overwhelmed. How do I watch my father die? How do I continue on when my 8-year son old sings his Christmas program song to his grandfather over the speakerphone and it ends in “sleep in heavenly peace”? How do I watch my 6-year old daughter look through a window at her hero with chin folded on her arms? How do I process her going up to her papa’s bed, blow him a kiss and say goodbye? What do you say next when she prays, “We pray for papa; he has cancer. Heal him. We love him and don’t want him to leave but you in control. Help meeting with doctor to go well so we can say goodbye.” She showed more faith and Christian devotion in that little prayer than I ever have. So in the end you have no choice – you run into your Savior’s arms and weep.
- I learned that you have weird feelings that you truly don’t know how to process.
- How do you process literally watching someone pass away? Or watching my mother watch her husband of almost 50 years leave this earth? Or watching my siblings watch their father grapple with death? Or explaining this whole process to my three children? It is simply brutal.
- I learned that death is disgusting.
- There is NOTHING good about it. There is nothing to glamorize or romanticize. It is gross and painful. Emotionally and physically. Watching a body waste away and shut down. Learning how to grieve. Watching others grieve. Guiding young children through the sights, sounds, smells and situations. The only thing that redeems it is because we have a Redeemer who loved us so much he sacrificed his Son. The only thing that makes it hopeful is because he have been given a Hope and that hope is Christ.
- I learned that I had forgotten that I was free.
- Free to not care about the petty and the worthless and the meaningless. The pop singer scandals, sport teams records, pseudo Christian controversies, political bickering, and work controversies. If I live as long as my father did, I am over halfway complete with my journey as a sojourner on this earth. Time to regain focus on treasures in heaven. Time to focus on the weak, the helpless, the defenseless, the confused. Time to get to work. Time to fight for, defend, and proclaim what true freedom looks like. I am free because of Christ. I am free in Christ.
And I close with what the last thing I told my father. Not because it is anything profound or special but because when I leave this earth, I would like to hear this from my children, just before I hear from my Savior “Well done good and faithful servant”. And when I leave, I want my children to tell me “You’ve done good dad. We got this for a while. Just rest.”