I don’t remember when Dad began to talk about it, but he said many times in the years before he died: “I hope the Lord comes like a thief in the night.” I expect he thought about it more after his diagnosis of colon cancer at 65. At the time, he had a colonoscopy, and he was always grateful for the next ten years of his life, before he died at 75.
He’d learned to live with the colonoscopy, he and Mom able to enjoy many years of retirement together, years that were the gift at the end of all those years in the steel mill. Dad had a union job and a retirement income as a result of that union job. I expect he thought he was living on borrowed time. In the years after he retired, there were trips to Hawaii to see his grandson, Colin. In those years, there were trips to North Carolina to see the older grandchildren. And there were trips to California to see Uncle Johnny and Uncle Pete, my mother’s brothers, and to see my husband and me. Using maps charted out via AAA, they traveled together, Dad the driver and Mom reading from the guide books, pointing out the sites.
Now, I’m grateful that they had those years together, to be able to travel together, to enjoy. They had fun. When Dad had symptoms of cancer again, the traveling stopped abruptly. He suffered again under another regime of chemotherapy, his illness made worse by the effects of the drugs. He spent his last days in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Milwaukee, never leaving the bed, the room often filled with friends he’d known from his days at A.O. Smith, union friends, and family from various parts of the country. My sister, pregnant with her youngest, and Colin were there every day. A few days before he passed, his sister Edna traveled from Gills Rock on the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin to see him once again, and for the last time.
On my last visit, as I sat in a chair next to the bed, I asked Dad to talk. He said he was tired; I should talk, instead. I sat silent, not sure what I wanted to say. Dad had always been in the talker in our house, my sister, and I quiet, “like their mother,” Dad had told their pastor. I was sitting in that chair when Dad looked at me and told me – the night before, when he’d had an episode and the hospital staff rushed to bring him back – he had seen Christ, and he was not afraid.
Thankfully, the Lord came like a thief in the night, not many nights after.