In the spring of 2013, Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. This diagnosis was layered on top of a host of other challenging ailments and conditions. Probably the most debilitating was my dad’s loss of hearing. When hearing aids were no longer effective, he underwent cochlear implant surgery, which proved to be unsuccessful. After that we resorted to using dry erase markers and portable whiteboards to communicate with him.
One sunny day in late August, I was at my parents’ condo with a niece and her family. Dad had indicated that he wanted to treat the children to ice cream cones. His wallet had been filled with money, and when it was time to go, we wrote on his board and performed with great drama, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” Off we trooped to the ice cream store, great-grandchildren pushing Opa’s wheelchair and then enjoying our cones together.
Fast forward a month and a half. Having received the phone call that dad’s health was failing, I flew from Ontario to Alberta. A hospital bed had been prepared in the living room in front of the picture window in my parent’s home. Dad was brought home from the hospital to die.
After school, my niece and her children came to visit. To their delight, I offered to get ice cream for everyone, Dairy Queen being conveniently nearby. We wrote on Dad’s whiteboard, asking if he wanted some as well. He reached for the board—the tumor by now having taken away his ability to speak. In a shaky hand, he laboriously wrote, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” A little later we gathered around his bed, licking our ice cream cones, as mom fed dad his.
Those turned out to be the last words Dad ever wrote.
His death, on the Thursday of the Thanksgiving weekend, was an event marked by grace. It was peaceful and quiet. Dad was surrounded by loved ones, and we knew he was secure in the conviction that he was being released from a life that had become increasingly difficult, and he would be welcomed into the arms of a loving God.
On Monday, Thanksgiving Day, despite our grief and weariness, my large and far-flung family gathered for an impromptu potluck Thanksgiving meal. After dinner we planned Dad’s eulogy and the final touches of his funeral service. That evening, we greeted friends at the visitation. The next day he was buried; our goodbyes marked by a service full of song and the hope of the resurrection.
After the message we celebrated the feast of communion. As a church family, we met at the table, celebrating the gifts of God for the people of God. And at the table, it all came together. At the table I was reminded that we are called to delight in the small pleasures and good gifts of God. We are given grace and strength for our journey on earth because God covenants to never leave us or forsake us. And we anticipate the best banquet—ice cream and all—we will ever have, welcomed by God and a great heavenly host already celebrating at the party.