The plan was to simply make him comfortable. The doctor ordered light physical therapy in the hope that Dad would be strong enough to come home for his last Christmas.
Death has a way of rendering people powerless. Dad was dying and there was nothing the doctors or I could do about it. But even though I was helpless I wasn’t hopeless. Dad would soon be in heaven.
Christ had done an amazing work in Dad’s life. Not only did Jesus restore Dad to right standing with God, He restored Dad to right standing with His family. Years-worth of family prayers—including Dad’s—had been answered. He had been delivered from the grip of alcoholism.
I was deeply blessed in the final, alcohol-free years of Dad’s life to get to know him for who he really was—a kind, giving, compassionate man. I was fortunate to have experienced what far too many people with addicted loved ones never receive—reconciliation.
And now, as I was faced with the inevitable, I wanted to honor him however I could.
With the goal of Dad being strong enough to come home for Christmas, I set out to give him incentive. So one day, before we went to visit him at the hospital, my wife and kids and I went to Dad’s house and put up all his Christmas decorations.
A family friend whose life Dad had touched graciously gave us a Christmas tree. Live trees were a Kuiper Christmas tradition. I couldn't imagine Christmas without the smell of pine. We spent the morning adorning the tree with a vast array of ornaments Mom had collected through the years, some of which still bore remnants of the spray-on snow from the sixties.
Every time we visited Dad in the hospital we would tell him how beautiful the house looked and smelled and that we couldn’t wait for him to come home.
My wife and I were fortunate to have had a number of friends who walked with us on this difficult journey. They had been praying for my dad and the family ever since dad entered the hospital. When the reality of the situation set in, pleas for healing gave way to prayers that the family could have one last Christmas with Dad in our childhood home.
But God had a different plan. Dad didn’t get to spend Christmas with his family that year, surrounded by the beautiful decorations. Instead, he got to spend Christmas with His Savior, surrounded by the angels of heaven.
I was happy for him. But incredibly sad for me. Sad that the wonderful man I was just getting to know was now gone. Sad that my kids would grow up without Grandpa. And, all these years later, that sadness still gets triggered by the scent of a live Christmas tree.
Losing someone we love is hard enough to deal with. But when it happens around the holidays the pain is intensified. Seeing those around us surrounded by their loved ones singing Joy to the World can be alienating. Death can be a test of friendship. I am forever grateful that our friends passed the test.
As my family grieved the loss of my dad we were the recipients of overwhelmingly loving words and gestures from our friends. But there is one particular act of compassion that will forever be etched in my memory.
A friend who had been praying that my dad would be able to come home for Christmas phoned me the day after he died. She said, “My sister and I would like to pick up a key to your dad’s house. We couldn’t imagine what it would be like for you to have to take down all the Christmas decorations. So we’d like to do it for you.”
I still tear up when I think about it. What a meaningful act of Christ-like love.
When we grieve the loss of those we love, Jesus doesn't simply say, I'll pray for you. He doesn't tell us to call Him if we need anything. He doesn't stand idly by, quoting Scripture to us. I picture Him tearfully re-packing Christmas decorations and hauling a tree to the curb.