“Dear God, not today. Please, God, don’t let him die on Christmas.”
Abby wept as she sat beside her father’s hospital bed.
She was exhausted from the long, hard struggle that had been her Daddy’s slow passage from an amazingly spry eighty-two-year-old to an Alzheimer’s-afflicted eighty-five-year-old to an eighty-seven-year-old terminal cancer patient. But he was still, always, her Daddy.
She had renewed her vigil that morning. Only her prayer changed. Yesterday she had prayed, “Oh, God, please don’t let him die on Christmas Eve.”
She didn’t know why it mattered so much. But it did matter. “Please, God, not during the holidays.”
The vigil was brutal. Emotional exhaustion brought physical exhaustion. Daddy slept so much. And when he did, her thoughts were a torment. She wrestled with God in prayer. But more from desperation and pain and—if she admitted it—selfishness, than from faith.
And on and on it went, interrupted only very occasionally when Daddy would wake for a short time. Most of the time, he woke to an Alzheimer’s moment. Even when he didn’t, his labored breathing, his long pauses between words, his barely audible voice tore at her heart.
This morning he woke once. “Hi, Daddy,” she bravely smiled. Would he know her?
“Abby .... ”
“Thank you, God; he knows who I am.”
“Abby ... I ... I ... want ....” He stopped, worn out.
“Daddy, what is it?”
“to ... to give ... God ... a ... Christmas gift ….” He was asleep again, spent from forcing the sentence out.
Abbey wept at his weakness. “Please God, please! Don’t let him die today! Oh, God, please do a miracle. I’m not asking you to heal him—just give him a day or two more. Please, Lord. Give him that much strength.”
Eventually, Abby stopped sobbing and her thoughts turned to what Daddy had whispered: a Christmas gift for God. What did he mean? It wasn’t the Alzheimer’s since he had known who she was. But how could he give a gift to God?
Twice Daddy woke briefly and looked at her with eyes weaker than she had ever seen before and whispered “Christmas gift ... for God.”
She knew what was going on! Daddy was near—very near—the end now, and he wanted to accomplish this one thing before he went.
Abby’s prayer changed. “Oh God, please give him the strength to last one more day. Just one more. And please, Lord, somehow let him give you a gift. It matters to him so much.”
Daddy woke again. “Abby ... ”
“Yes, Daddy?!” She was by his side instantly.
“Christmas gift ... for ... God.”
“Daddy, I know. You want to give a Christmas gift to God, but how?”
Something ... special ... won—wonderful ... precious.”
The silent sobs choked Abby’s voice so that she couldn’t respond.
“Abby ... I ... I know!”
Abby didn’t notice right away, but within a few words it was unmistakable. Daddy’s voice was getting stronger!
“I figured out ... what I can ... give God for Christmas.
“Thank you, God! Thank you! You’re giving him strength!” The prayer flashed through Abby’s mind as she asked, “What Daddy? What can you give Him?”
“Oh, Abby, I know. I KNOW!”
There could be no mistake now! He was stronger. A look of elation had come upon his skeletal face.
Eyes, sparkling, Daddy said, “Abby, I—
NO! NO! NO!
The next ten minutes were a blur. Alarms sounding; equipment buzzing; nurses and doctors bursting into the room; someone shoving her out of the way; her own inner voice screaming at God, “What are you doing, God?! NO! NO! NO! Why did you take him? He was getting stronger. Why did you do this?” as the image of the flat-lined monitor burned into her mind forever.
Abby, zombie-like, lurched into the hospital chapel. She collapsed into a pew. Too numb to cry, she hung her head and stared at the floor. A chapel brochure lay there. It contained lists of scripture verses designed to comfort chapel visitors. The verses were all wonderful, eternal promises of God’s goodness and love. But they angered, rather than comforted, her. Why had God strengthened Daddy, just to take him ... on Christmas ... before he could give God his special, wonderful, precious gift?
Then Abby saw it. Under the heading “In Time of Loss,” she read: “Psalm 116:15—“PRECIOUS in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”*
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