When you thought you heard from God, but probably didn’t

July 26, 2011 | My Jottings

“I’m so concerned about your dad, Julie. He’s just not himself. He’s losing some strength and his appetite is gone. He looks like he’s wasting away,” my step-mom Dorothy told me on the phone in late 2007. “If we could just get some tests done on him and find out what’s wrong, then maybe he could be treated and get well again.”

Unfortunately, my father’s HMO in California wasn’t as anxious as Dorothy was for him to have those tests. And, shockingly, neither was his doctor. “Doc,” the physician said in a slightly patronizing voice, “you’re 87 years old.” And in that simple statement of fact, by the intonations he used and the almost imperceptibly condescending yet sort of compassionate look he had on his face, this young doctor was telling my father that because of his age, expensive medical tests would not be ordered. Because of his age, they would not be getting to the bottom of his illness in order to try to treat it. Even, it turned out, if there was begging involved. And pleading. No. Apparently in this HMO, there were some physicians (who all must have taken the Hippocratic oath, promising: “I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone”) who believed that octogenarians did not deserve the health care that younger people did.

To say that this was a great frustration and a deep heartache for my step-mom Dorothy is an understatement. What eventually led to my father being properly diagnosed was a visit to the local hospital’s Emergency Room. There, they gave him the CT scan his doctor had refused to order. It was there that the mass on his kidney was seen. Suddenly all his symptoms fit together — the painful backaches that Dorothy had tried to relieve by hours of massage, the lack of appetite and the literal wasting of his tall and vigorous body, the bloody urine and the debilitating exhaustion….these were caused by kidney cancer. But even if there had once been a chance of surgery and treatment, it was too late now. My father was dying.

I called Northwest Airlines and scheduled a flight from Minnesota to Los Angeles for the next day. I arranged for a rental car at LAX so I could drive the four hours north to San Luis Obispo, where Dad and Dorothy lived. After I spoke to Dorothy to tell her when I’d be arriving the next day, she put my dad on the phone. His normally booming and confident voice had been reduced to a hoarse whisper. He could only manage a few words at a time. When I told him I would see him soon, he rasped, “Love you love you love you….”

In the midst of trying to get everything ready in our home for my absence, I prayed. I knew my time with my father would be short, and I asked God to speak to my heart about what I was to say to him. Of course I knew I wanted to express my love to him, my gratitude for many things he had ensured in my life. That was a given. But as I pictured myself sitting at his bedside with him possibly suffering and being in and out of consciousness, I wondered what I should do. As I packed my suitcase, I prayed. As I organized all the medications that our Foster residents would be requiring in my absence, I prayed. As I made a list of appointments and things that needed attending to while I was gone, I asked God to make it clear what He wanted me to say to my dad.

Some of you reading might wonder why I was concerned about this at all. Maybe some of you have already been through this and you just sat at your parent’s bedside and did whatever came naturally, with no forethought given. But I had the sense that I needed to do some specific thing when I saw my dad. And that night, with everything ready, I thought I heard this: “Sing to him.”

Er….uh….sing to him? That couldn’t be right. I am not a singer, and I had never sung to anyone before, except maybe my children and grandchildren. But why in the world would God want me to sing to my dying father? And if I was hearing correctly, what was I supposed to sing to him? The more I thought about it and prayed, the seemingly clearer it became. I took an old hymnbook down off a bookshelf and paged through. My dad loved the song “Precious Memories.” He cried every time he heard it because it reminded him of his preacher father and their family. My dad also loved “The Old Rugged Cross.” Well, okay, I thought, as God helps me, I will sit with my dad and tell him I love him, hold his big hand if it doesn’t hurt him too much, pray for him, and sing some hymns. I unzipped the outer pocket of my suitcase and slid the hymnal in.

All during the flight from Minneapolis to Los Angeles I sat very still, overcome with my thoughts. I prayed for my dad, for Dorothy, for my own family of origin. Our family story was not one of the happiest ever written. There was (and is) a lot of dysfunction, pride and anger, and those traits rarely lead to a warm and cohesive family unit. I also wondered how my brothers would take the news of my father’s illness and imminent death. Soon the flight landed in smoggy and very familiar Southern California, and I grabbed my bag from the overhead bin and headed for the bus that would take me to the rental car agency. After standing in line there for almost a half hour, I finally stowed my bag in the trunk, strapped myself into the rented Nissan, and plugged in my cell phone. I was so anxious to get on the road, get out of LA traffic, and head north to see my father. I wanted to see that contagious smile of his one last time, even if a feeble one.

Before I even put the car in drive, my phone rang and it was my oldest daughter Sharon.

“Have you spoken to Dorothy yet, Mom?” she asked. My heart sank as I sensed what the next words out of her mouth would be. Sharon broke the news gently.

“Mom, Grandpa died two hours ago.”

To read Part 2, click here.

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  1. Larry says:

    When I read your blog about hearing from God, or not.

    Reading it brought back a lot of things to mind, and now years later I relate his medical treatment to the coming National Health care.

    I down loaded it all on my computer which is located on the end of a land line, as I did not have any type of internet service with speed, what my wife and I had at the time was a top of 24.6 bits per second. We hated to even receive a photo from someone as it took for ever.

    I had decided to download the entire bill and with the thousands and thousands of pages, I knew it would take a lot of time.

    I tried three times to do it, but each time I started too late, and each time I could not go back to where I left off on the National Health care bill coming out of Washington and Obama.

    Finally I started one night when Christy went to bed real early, and it went all night, I stayed up to make sure there were not cut offs by the Web carrier we had at the time.

    Then it took me three weeks to read it all, realizing that the first 600 or so pages had to do with links to other bills, cutting some off while modifying others.

    It was about this time, that I begin to realize that we all have the same thing facing us as my father did, and that is unless you are wealthy, your benefits will not work for you once you have passed a certain age or mostly a certain condition, even if you have paid into the system for all your life.

    I was reminded of how I could hear the pain of Dorothy and I knew her frustrations.

    In the National Health care bill there is a section where it will be left up to the local Government and the committee selected to decide who gets further treatment or not.

    We have come a long way in our country and the direction is and has been wrong for a long time.

    During those closing months and days and hours of our father’s life, there was one thing that was very reassuring to me, and that was how Dorothy always helped him keep his eyes on Jesus.

    She became my super star, as she was his supporter, and she was his uplifter, a warrior in every sense of life, and her desire to serve and help my father be comfortable, get the medical service the rest of us some day may not have, her efforts never ended.

    When I heard that you Julie were flying out, I never told you this, but it gave me peace. I knew that you in turn would give Dorothy peace.

    This article mentions our family, and we are all or have carried the generational sin of our parents or grandparents for far too long.

    God is so merciful and awesome, we for the most part have all changed and recovered and look now back at those precious memories you spoke of.

    When I was younger I never heard nor did I see my father ever cry, and to learn that he had tears in his eyes.

    During praise being sung to our Lord, there is always a reward. Thank you sister, that too is a blessing.

    There is nothing greater except our faith in Him and His being our God, for me too the next thing is to sing His praises, whether it is directly to Him or for me to hear myself speaking His praises in song, reminding me of his tenderness and His love for us.

  2. Just Julie says:

    It’s amazing what we have all lived through, isn’t Larry? If you had asked me when I was 12 years old if our whole family would turn to Christ I would have doubted it. But our whole family has, and I will always thank God for that miracle. God bless your day!

  3. Patty says:

    Oh Julie, tears are clouding my vision as I type this….please sing to him now, he hears you, I know that with all of my heart. I hope that the coming days will bring you peace.

  4. Just Julie says:

    What a comforting thing to say, Patty. Thank you so much for your words….

  5. Ember says:

    You know, I hope this is not an unwelcome thing to say, but our times are in God’s hands, and I cannot think it was a bad thing that your dad did not have all the expensive clinical possibilities rolled out upon him at the age he was. Surgery… maybe chemo… maybe radiation?
    It has often struck me when looking after old people in residential homes that clinical intervention saved them from an earlier death, yes – but also from a simpler, easier death. Some of them then lived on to a slow lingering hell stuck in worn-out and disintegrating bodies that they needed to escape and go home.
    You know what was, but you will never know what might have been. Your dad was loved and cared for and faithfully prayed for – whatever the medical establishment did or did not do, it sounds to me as though he had the best. xxx

  6. Just Julie says:

    I could not agree with you more, Ember. He lived a long, full life and was so beautifully loved and cared for by my stepmom Dorothy. I think because he was so healthy and active right up until he fell ill, that made it harder for Dorothy. He did not look or act 87. I know we felt Dorothy’s frustration because she thought he had more years ahead of him and they were being ignored. But in my heart I was remembering that God numbers our days and as you said, we are in God’s hands. Nothing can separate us from His love, not even denied health care. 🙂 Bless you….

  7. lisa says:

    U don’t have to respond back or post this. I am sorry for your loss. You know I don’t think you missed it. I really don’t. I don’t think it is too late either. The next time you are in town to see your family or when you are ready stop by and visit your dad’s grave and sing to him. He is no longer there but I bet he is listening. Complete the assignment. It will bring healing to your soul. I am glad I ran in to this bc I feel same way but mine was about becoming rich….I thought I heard one thing…but was way off…..frustration no doubt…grrrr. And keep hearing that I am…but don’t see it. Debt piled up but not gonna stop looking for it and hoping.

  8. Just Julie says:

    Thank you for your very kind and encouraging comments. If I am in California again I think I will do what you’ve suggested. Praying for you right now….

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