A Daughter Forever
God reveals Himself in the midst of darkness.
by Constance B. Fink
The phone startled me as I put the final touches on my weekly leadership training presentation.
“Hi, sweetheart.” It was Mom. I could almost see her smile.
“I have bad news,” she told me. My heart pounded, and I put down my pen. “I found a lump in my breast this morning.”
The color drained from my face, and everything in the room faded to a blur, except the phone in front of me. I stared at it; my fingers touched the display. What do I say?
Finding her voice, Mom said, “I’m sorry.” Even though I was twenty-eight years old, married, and had lived for the past seven years one thousand miles from home, I needed my mother more than ever at that moment. But what would happen now?
We talked about the doctors, the procedures, the diagnosis, as if to get the sketchy details out of the way. Before hanging up, Mom told me of her New Year’s prayer a few weeks before — that our church would become a praying church, never expecting God to answer this way this soon.
That day, January 18, 1983, marked my first personal tragedy. It was an unexpected turn, and I sensed it would be significant. How will the story end? Will Mom be one of the few to rise above the statistics? Or . . . no, I can’t jump there yet; it’s too painful. I could feel my own life begin to slip through my fingers.
As much as I wanted to be with my mother, I was afraid to go home, afraid to take the first steps into an uncertain future, afraid I would not be strong, afraid I did not know what “strong” looked like in such a situation. Nevertheless, I traveled to be with my mother the day of her surgery.
I was glad I did. On my last day there many fears dissipated when Mom took my hand and said, “I will pray for you through the unknown journey ahead.”
For me? With renewed strength, I said goodbye. Until later.
So began the one-year roller coaster of chemotherapy, weakness, pain, doubts, anxiety, and even some temporary relief. Then in October 1985 there was new pain. More tests. Conflicting opinions. Overwhelming advice. Unanswered questions. But cutting through the confusion, God kept His promise to take care of His children by providing an encouraging word, a supportive hug, or a practical provision.
Passing the baton
One year later, October 1986, knowing she would not be with us for Christmas, Mom requested we gather around her nursing home bed to sing “Silent Night.” Just two weeks after that, she spoke her last words: “The Lord is my keeper. Nothing will happen to me that is not His perfect will.”
The words, to me, were like a baton that she passed on. I took hold, vowing to keep a firm grasp.
Three days later, we stood around Mom’s bed, and my father held her hand. As he prayed, Mom took her last breath, and the color instantly left her face. Dad stopped, kissed her, and then finished his prayer.
Without releasing his grasp on our hands, he turned to my brother and me and smiled. “We still have each other.” These words enveloped me with security, stability, and purpose, as though Dad knew that the bottom had just fallen out of my life and that I needed a reminder that things were still in place.
After years as a praying woman, a supportive pastor’s wife, a giving mother, a suffering patient, my sixty-seven-year-old mother left Earth to one day live in eternity as a welcomed daughter. Goodbye, Mom. Until later.
When a few weeks had passed, my second personal tragedy struck — this time through Dad. Alzheimer’s had pointed its ugly finger at him and, by Christmas, its grip had begun to choke the life out of him. Both parents gone in a matter of weeks — one physically, the other mentally. The one who represented security and stability to me was slipping through my fingers just when I needed parental reassurance.
Alzheimer’s claimed much of my father’s function, memory, and relationships. However, his character and spirit remained untainted. Underneath the confusion and deterioration remained a strong gentleman and servant, full of humility and kindness. His reverence for God was the strength of his life to the end.
Dad’s conversations became muddled; but when he prayed, he was clear and focused. Each day he walked the nursing home hallways, stopping to sit and read his Bible to lonely fellow residents. Watching this unassuming, humble man, a person could not conceive that for sixty-one years, he pastored a large New York metropolitan church and expanded its outreach. Despite thousands of people in ministry around the world because of his influence, my father’s new ministry was to quietly read the Bible and pray with needy individuals.
The weeks prior to his 91st birthday marked quick, significant physical deterioration, beginning Dad’s final stage of life in October 1995. One day, though unable to speak, Dad experienced a resurgence of alertness when my brother, Tim, stopped for a visit. It was as if Alzheimer’s loosed its grip for a time.
After a private, heartfelt talk, Dad responded with a look and touch on his son’s arm, head, and face that said, “I love you” as clearly as if he had spoken the words. After Tim, a young father of eight children, thanked his father for being a perfect example, he assured Dad that he was on his way to eternity. Dad responded with a big smile, well aware of the approaching day for which he lived his entire life.
Upon hearing this report by telephone, my husband and I knew it was time for us to visit Dad. Uncertain how long his alertness would linger, I requested Tim take my picture to Dad the next morning. While Dave and I boarded a plane hundreds of miles away, Dad held my picture in his hands. With his finger, he traced my face. Although apart, we connected for that moment.
As I entered his room late that night, I was told my father had slipped into a coma a few hours earlier. Reality struck a forceful blow as I caught my first glimpse of a thin man, with agitated and shallow breathing, hooked to a loud, rhythmic oxygen machine. I struggled to find his familiar features and sensed panic bubbling inside me. Dad, where are you? I couldn’t move or speak; I just stared, my hand over my mouth.
The nurse bent down to his ear. “Pastor, Constance is here.” No response.
Where were the familiar outstretched arms and enthusiastic smile? I waited. Dad, where are you? I was too late.
Wait! What was that? A tear? Yes! It slid down his cheek; his breathing relaxed. He knew me! He knew I was there. He had waited for me. Though he was unable to speak, his heart reached through the coma for this moment. His last words to me were unspoken with a single tear that said, “I love you” as clearly as if he had uttered the words.
I lay next to him with my arm around him, gently stroking his face, while my husband quietly read favorite Bible passages and Tim inserted timely humor. Our father breathed his last three hours later. Goodbye, Dad. Until later.
God in the pit
Turning, I put my arms around Tim and said the now-familiar words of comfort: “We still have each other.” But this time, the words sounded hollow. As soon as they left my lips, they seemed to fall into a deep, dark hole, grabbing me with them. Tumbling into the pit, I tried to find something to grasp, but there was nothing. Where am I? What is happening to me? I am terrified. Alone. Lost. Cold. I’m not going to survive.
Sometime later, from somewhere in the deep, dark abyss, God’s warm arms wrapped around me. He was there in the pit and embraced me as I had never been embraced before. Drawing me close, He tenderly said, “I love you with an everlasting love.”
And God still holds me close — close enough to feel His heartbeat. A place I will never leave. A relationship I will never lose. And someday I, too, will enter eternal life as a welcomed daughter.