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Roxane Salonen, Published January 25 2013

Living faith: Dad’s passing stirs memories, deeper faith

When our mother called urging my sister and me to come as soon as possible to the hospital where my dad had been for more than a month, we both paused in our respective places.

Though neither of us was prepared for it to happen so soon, we both knew his best years had passed, that the things that had kept him living had begun to fade, and if Mom said it was time, it was.

And so, with our husbands’ blessings, we crossed out a week’s worth of obligations and made haste.

I will be forever grateful for the insistent nudges that brought us to the bedside of our dying father.

That first night, I camped out in his room so Mom could rest and Camille could prepare for a substitute to take over her music teacher duties for a few days. There was nothing holding me back from staying put, and I cherished every moment.

“Dear God, I’m here, fully present. How can I be a vessel for you?” I prayed. I was open, totally open to however God wanted things to go down. “I trust you,” I said, knowing it was all in his hands.

I pulled my chair as close to my father as possible, delighted in the sound of him breathing, thanked God for the chance to pray with him.

In the morning, after a truly peaceful sleep, I opened the shades so he could feel the beautiful sunrise, and then, recalling a song he’d sung to me as a little girl, I pulled up the lyrics on my phone and sang “Sparrow in the Treetop” to him.

The next night, Camille joined in the campout. His breathing had turned more labored by then, and as the nurse chatted with us, her voice became serious as she asked whether we’d given him permission yet to go.

Soon thereafter, I left the room, giving my sister a chance to say what needed saying.

It seemed right that I’d start the campout and she’d sit by the fire with him. After all, I was the younger daughter who loved adventures with Dad – fishing, walking, riding in the country – while she preferred sitting with him inside quietly working out the latest perplexing crossword puzzle.

Around 11:30 p.m., we pulled in an extra recliner and closed the night with a song we’d sung to each other before bed so many years ago.

It was just before midnight when I noticed another change in Dad. Feeling the air shift, too, I leapt up, pushed the nurse button and called Mom. Camille joined me at our father’s side, and within minutes, while touching him one last time and holding each other’s hand, we helped usher him into the next world.

The moment my father’s spirit left his body was both profound and achingly sad. In death, our memories of a person become finely tuned, and it is the hardest thing in the world to let go of those who have given us life.

And yet Dad left a final gift: tears. Because he had winced but not cried earlier when suffering, I can only deduce they were tears of joy.

For the believer, the veil that separates this life from the next is thin. Why else would tears come just then, save for the bearer of them being awash with unconditional love?

At that moment, I feel certain he was absorbing the love contained in our whispers, words and caresses, and the pure love of those awaiting him, including his parents, six siblings and a grandchild.

We weep for what we’ve lost in our father’s earthly presence – his hearty laugh, his hugs – but our grief is speckled with joy for his gain, and the vision that someday soon, he’ll be among the first to welcome us again into his arms and our true home.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Roxane Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children..