We had a rather unexpectedly sad end to 2013, as my father-in-law passed away. He was not a well man and had been in and out of hospital many times over the past year. He was readmitted on Boxing Day morning (we got a phonecall at 3am) but they initially said he had a cold and would soon be out again. Sadly, on 30th December we received another phone call saying he was struggling to breathe. Frank and his sister were with him at the end, and we are thankful that he was in no pain.
Now we are in the middle of funeral arrangements and surreal conversations with my mother-in-law, who has dementia. One is not quite sure how much she remembers. The undertaker visited yesterday – a very pleasant man. I had the curious experience of perusing a catalogue of funeral flowers. Some of the photographs of wreaths and bouquets looked so bright and cheerful, as if celebrating a birth or a wedding. I can’t imagine my father-in-law ever wanting anything like that. He was a very straightforward man – rather like my beloved Frank.
The strangest thing is that there has been no element of shock, because Frank and his sister had been confronted with the idea of their father’s imminent death quite a number of times over the past few years. The idea of loss has already been confronted, so (I think) while they are both sad, it is not overwhelming.
In the 90s, when my grandmother died, she and my grandfather had been visiting us for Christmas (I was a teenager) and as soon as they arrived my Nana complained of feeling unwell. She had been in very good health up to that point, and was an active, mentally healthy lady. She died about three weeks later. Grief visited our house sudden and huge, shattering everything in its path for months. I didn’t dare to laugh or smile, in case I inadvertently intruded on the grief of others.
One thing that probably has made a difference is that my father-in-law was a believer, so we know without doubt where he is now. He was a regular preacher for many years, the last time being in 2012. It is comforting to know he is safe in the arms of Jesus – and this brings with it a sense that he is not so far away, after all. Lots of friends have been praying, and I think this has brought comfort.
The children of course have had lots of questions, especially the eldest, because of his autism. I have said to them that life is a journey and we are not home until we reach heaven, where Jesus is waiting for us. On the evening after he died, little Chip led us in prayer: “Thank you, God, that Grandpa is with you. We ask that you keep him safe and look after him. Amen”
“O Lord, our Lord,
your greatness is seen in all the world!
Your praise reaches up to the heavens;
it is sung by children and babies.”