We were just wrapping up the Bible Study at our house when Dan’s phone rang. It was one of his sisters, and he intended to tell her he’d call her right back when our guests had left– but as he stepped out of the room, he was taking much longer than I’d expected he would.
Dan and his sisters had been calling, texting, and e-mailing each other a lot in the past few weeks as their Dad– “Papa Eby”– had run into health issues that were concerning. Each of them had taken turns traveling to his Florida home to spend time with him, and everything was stabilized for now, thankfully. Dan’s sister Ann was with him this week, taking good care of him. Yet they couldn’t avoid the obvious, and just the day before, together Dan and his siblings had conducted a conference call with their Dad to give him all of his medical treatment options (he decided he wanted none of them), and to gently break the news to him that it’s time we have to move him to an assisted living facility. Did he want to move closer to family, or did he want to choose a place where he could stay in Florida? (He chose to remain in his beloved Florida.)
As difficult as it is, this is the unavoidable chapter of life that we must inevitably face when we find ourselves in the “autumn” of our lives. Simultaneously, even as we are still enthusiastically celebrating the amazing, breathtaking births of beautiful grandchildren as they begin life, we are also at the same time preparing our aging parents for the end of theirs. What a stunning paradox…
And that’s exactly how our last month was constructed. Dan got on a plane and spent a week with his ailing father, caring for him, getting some urgent medical help to stabilize him, getting his bills and paperwork caught up, and with his sisters, arranging in-home assistance when family members were not able to be there with him.
Then Dan breathlessly flew home just in time to welcome the happy arrival of our ninth beautiful grandchild, baby Colette Evangeline Grayce as she began living in this great big world. And she was truly beautiful. I held this tiny newborn, looking deep into those incredible eyes– and it was as though all the years melted away and I was holding her mother as my own newborn babe, amazed that this perfect little porcelain doll was so “real,” so full of “life” when I gazed into the light of those beautiful, beautiful eyes…
As little baby Colette was just beginning life’s journey, Papa Eby was at the end of his. They shared the road for only one week. When Dan came back into the living room to our Bible Study group, his face looked stunned and tears welled up as he said simply, “My Dad just died.”
Ever since Dan’s mother had passed away six years ago, his Dad had chosen to remain at their retirement home in Florida, but he spent every summer dividing his time between the homes of all his children. We were truly, truly blessed to have him stay with us every summer for the last six years, spending six weeks to almost four months at a time. Papa was a very quiet man, and Dan’s mother had been such a dominant force in their marriage that after she was gone, all of us were amazed to discover Papa’s personality surfacing in a way that we had never known before! For six years, we were able to build wonderful memories, experience fun adventures, and truly enjoy the privilege of having a “Papa” in our lives for our grandchildren to embrace and love– and my oh my, he sure loved his great-grandchildren!
As Papa Eby weakened, Dan and his sisters arranged to have a wheelchair take him right on to the plane, and another one waiting for him when he landed. But he still persisted in flying across the country to spend summers with us. As time went on, he was not strong enough to get up early each morning and go to the office with Dan as he loved to do. Instead, after breakfast he sat on the front porch reading and nodding off most mornings… but he still came.
When he was 91, we helped him climb into an inner tube and took him with us to “float the river.” When his love for baseball became evident, we took him to numerous games with us at Safeco Field in Seattle– eventually in a wheelchair. Last summer, I contacted a local assisted living facility and they were so cooperative in lending me a wheelchair. With it, Dan and I were able to take Papa Eby to the stunning outdoor theater site where our granddaughter Raeme (Papa’s great-granddaughter) was performing as Gretl von Trapp in The Sound of Music, live and under the stars. We sure made some great memories…
He was 94 years old, yet after 29 great-grandchildren, none of them was an “Eby” great-grandson to carry on his name… until last summer. After 3 little girls, our son Joel and daughter-in-law Rachel finally had an “Eby boy.” We were so thrilled that Papa Eby lived long enough to see and hold the little boy who would take the Eby name into the next generation. I have one– just one– photo of four generations of Eby men.
And so there we were, on the very day after telling Papa he had to go into assisted living…mourning his passing. Had our good intentions to provide proper care for him become the catalyst that caused him to give up on life? If we had not tried so hard to do what we believed was the right thing, would he still be alive? Did he stubbornly decide that he was not going to cooperate with our plans for moving out of his beloved home and just decide to “let go of life?” We’d been warned that the elderly often succumb to dying soon after being moved into assisted living– were we one of those statistics…?
The answer is “No!” The Bible tells us that God Himself holds life and death in His hands. Only God Himself gives breath and takes it away. Only God Himself determines– ordains– the day of our birth and the day of our death. Papa Eby’s days on earth were already set in place before they had even begun– just as our little baby Colette already has her times written in God’s plan before she has even begun to live them, and just like every one of us has.
Instead of struggling with guilt (as we did briefly), Dan and I are now totally and completely peaceful, amazed that we just witnessed such a testimony of the providence of God as He directed Dan and his sisters in every single detail that led to this moment– HIS moment. It was all God’s perfect plan. Every detail, every plan was divinely orchestrated in God’s symphony, and it all culminated with an amazing climax– after 94 years on this earth, Papa simply dozed off peacefully in his own armchair, in his own living room, in his own house, in his beloved Florida… and ran right into the arms of Jesus. We could not have written a more perfect script! But God did.
En route to the airport for our flight to Florida, we stopped at Joel and Rachel’s for dinner. I glanced up to see Dan talking with our son Joel, as Joel held his little son Brooks– and an overwhelming surge rushed over me to see that we were back to three generations of Eby men again. Papa Eby’s gone now and we will miss him dreadfully… but the baton’s been passed to the next generation.
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