I found out yesterday that my only remaining grandparent, my maternal grandmother, was just diagnosed with brain cancer. She has been having health problems for a year or so and her health has been getting worse, but her doctors couldn’t figure out why. So, after six months and many tests, my mom and her sisters decided to try a different set of doctors and the new doctors did a new test and found the cancer within a matter of hours.
Now, I’m waiting to hear how the latest meeting with the doctor has gone. I’m waiting to know how much longer I will have a grandmother.
The waiting. That’s the worst part.
Or maybe it isn’t.
In whatever time she has left, we all have the ability to tie up any loose ends. You know, say anything that has gone unsaid. Do anything that has gone undone.
But that’s the thing. There are no words left unspoken. There are no deeds left undone. It’s much better that way.
I haven’t always had relationships that are so neatly tied up, but several years ago when I was losing my father to cancer, I realized there were some things that I really needed to tell him. These were deep-down-in-my-bones things that I needed him to know, and I knew that if he died before I had the chance to tell him, I would regret it for the rest of my life. And I wasn’t sure I could look at myself in the mirror for the rest of my life with that kind of regret.
So, I realized I had two, or really three, choices to make. I could:
- Stop shaving with a mirror
- Grow a Grizzly Adams-style beard
- Say the things I needed to say
Well, not using a mirror to shave sounds painful, and my beard doesn’t grow in as majestic as Grizzly Adams’, so, I really only had one real choice. I had some things to say. It was time I said them.
Dad and I always had a good relationship. He was always quick to say, “I love you.” He always had a hug and a smile for me. He was always supportive of me in athletics and school. We never had one of those stereotypical father-son alpha male rivalries. I lived at home with Dad and Mom through most of my time in college (except for that one semester in the fraternity house, but we don’t need to talk about that).
The long and short of it is that Dad and I could, and did, talk about all kinds of things. But, there were certain things I knew we couldn’t talk about – at least not face-to-face.
My Dad was a good man, as far as that goes. Born in the early 50’s, he came of age in the age of the new age, the Age of Aquarius, as the song stated. He believed in situational ethics and not necessarily absolutes. He believed what he believed. And anyone else was entitled to the same – as long as they didn’t tell him about it, or disagree with his beliefs. To him, beliefs were neither right nor wrong.
That was all fine with me – up until the summer after I turned 24 and became a Christian.
I could tell Dad thought it was weird to be invited to his 24-year old son’s baptism. But he showed up to support me.
As time went on, I learned more about what it means to be a Christian (discipleship, we call it) and part of what I learned was the importance Christ placed on telling other people about what it means to be a Christian. And, key to that, is telling others what you believe – even if it is counter to what they believe.
I knew I needed to tell Dad that Jesus was the only way to eternal salvation…. Especially since he was ultimately facing down eternity.
Then I got “The Call”.
One Sunday afternoon, I got a call from Mom. It started as many calls had – how-are-yous, etc… Then she asked “The Question”. I was not prepared for The Question. I’m not sure anyone really could be.
After the standard, “How are you?” “Oh, I’m fine. How are you and Dad doing?” Mom said, “Um, well, your Dad has a question and you’re the only one he can think to ask.” (That is, I was the only Christian my dad knew.)
“OK. What’s the question.” I said.
“Well, you might want to sit down,” said Mom.
“What is it?” I said, already sitting.
“Well, Your Dad wants to know if suicide is an unforgivable sin.”
*BOOM!* My world came crashing down. What was I supposed to say? So, I said the only thing I knew to say:
“Well, before any sin is forgivable, you and Dad need to know that Jesus is the only way sin is forgiven. In the Bible, Jesus says, ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father but through Me.’ no sin is forgivable if you don’t accept Jesus as your savior.”
… Long silence…
Mom: “Um, but is suicide forgivable or not.”
Me: “I believe that no sin is unforgivable after you have accepted Jesus as your savior. But, the key point is that you MUST accept Jesus as your savior before ANY sin is forgiven.”
Truth be told, I don’t really remember how it went from there. I just remember that the foundations of my world had been shaken and I wasn’t really sure how to react. I knew Dad was in pain and I knew that I was a couple hundred miles away and wasn’t able to be much help.
I really didn’t know what to do. The strongest person I knew [physically] was at his wits end. This is a man I admired my whole life. He was larger than life – he was a bodybuilder who could lift enormous amounts of weight. He intimidated all of my friends growing up. And now, he was so overwhelmed by the pain of cancer that he was willing to take his own life.
I could not bear going through eternity without my Dad. I also knew that I could not talk to him about my faith. After all, this was Mr. “I believe that I can believe whatever I want to believe.” So, I did the only thing I could think to do – I wrote him a letter. I sent it to his email, and mailed it to him.
In this email/letter I thanked and praised him for the example he set for me. I would not be the man I am today without him – and I told him that. I told him everything that I felt I needed to tell him. My thought was: If he dies today, what will I regret not telling him? So, I laid it all out. Whether or not I thought he would want to hear it. After all, I knew he could choose to stop reading. I wasn’t forcing anything upon him.
A few months later, I got the call I had been dreading. Dad was dying. These were his last days. I needed to come up and pay my last respects. When I got there, Dad was in-and-out of consciousness. He was only lucid for a very few short minutes. There was one point that he thanked me for my email; he said it gave him a lot to think about. This was about 24 hours before he died.
Then, just minutes before he died, he could not verbally communicate with us – but he could make hand signals. As he appeared to be breathing his last breaths, my wife jumped upon his chest and yelled, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Do you believe that only He can forgive your sins?” According to the previously-established code, he squeezed her hand once for “yes”. A hundred seconds or so later, he passed into eternity.
A few days later, at his funeral, Alan, my friend’s dad, who became a pastor in his retirement – a man who had spent a lot of time with Dad in his final days – told me that he had no doubt that Dad had accepted Jesus as his savior before he died. Alan knew Dad is waiting for me – all because of the letter I sent him. And, no one knew of the letter I sent to Dad – except him and me. While he was lucid, Dad thanked me for the letter. Dad also had the opportunity to talk with Alan about Jesus.
I did what I knew I was supposed to do. I know Dad is now in heaven.
I only felt comfortable doing it in a letter/email. I would not have felt comfortable sharing my faith face-to-face. I had to use all of the resources available to me. Now, I have no regrets.
The only way to live with no regrets is to live on the edge.
You must live beyond the far edge of your comfort zone.
When I learned that Grandma may not be around for another six months, I knew that I’d already lived at the edge. I’ve already shared with her all of the things that matter most to me. After all, she was the one that shared her faith with me when she bought me a personalized Bible for my high school graduation. I’ve frequently referred back to that Bible, and I know where my salvation lies.
I. Have. No. Regrets.