Years ago my Dad, known as Darvis or "Bill" to friends, joined me on an afternoon hike along the White River in Indiana. Colorful autumn leaves lined the trail making the walk pleasant. Smells and sounds of everything around us had a golden feel in the rich Indiana sunlight. We quietly moved along the trail like a couple of long forgotten Native Americans talking only a little and mostly just soaking up the wonderful atmosphere of the forest, the sparkling river and the time together.
As we rounded a bend Daddy was up just ahead of me on the trail and for a few seconds or so I couldn't see him. In those moments I remember thinking to myself, "Someday Daddy is going to be gone, he's going to go on around the bend, we won't always have time together like this hiking along the riverside, enjoying nature and nature's God and the intimate fellowship of father and son. So I'm going to etch this memory in my mind and hold onto it for the rest of my life, I'm going to cherish this memory of time with my Dad on this riverside and when he is gone, I'm going to think about this particularly precious moment together. It's going to give me joy about the past and hope for the future." Right then I etched the memory in my mind and have kept it there ever since.
In a way similar to hiking with him on that trail so many years ago down the wild tree-lined banks of the White River and then watching him go on ahead, last month I sat by his bed in West Monroe, Louisiana during the final hours when he could no longer speak, move a hand or even raise an eyebrow to let us know he could hear our words. His 94-year-old body lay in the bed Sunday night, his eyes were closed and he had an oxygen tube in his nose, helping him breathe while his lungs slowly filled up. The time for visits from dearest friends and loving family members had finally passed. His loved ones and visitors had said their final goodbyes and told him how much they loved him and would miss him. We sang the last verses of Amazing Grace and poured out our hearts in prayer at his bedside, thanking God for Daddy's life and for Jesus' salvation.
Late Sunday night and into the wee hours of Monday morning I rested in a reclining chair at his side, giving my sister and mother a break to go home and get much needed sleep. I'm not sure he knew I was there with him in those final hours...I'm not sure he didn't. From time to time I checked his breathing and noticed it weakening. Time was getting short. Eternity was closing in. I rested a little while longer and then had a strange impression that I should tell him goodbye. But I didn't want to get up and disturb him in case he could hear. And anyway, I reasoned, if this was a normal night and we were just together camping out like we used to, I wouldn't want to bother him, I would just see him in the morning. I decided to stay in my chair and wait for the morning.
Not long afterwards I got up and checked him again. He had stopped breathing. I knew then that I had said my final goodbye in my heart as he left this world and that when I see him again, it will indeed be in the morning. We are waiting for the morning. Goodbye Daddy, I love you and will miss you very much.