My father died of COVID on January 4th of last year. My mother died of COVID just 48 hours and 3 minutes later. At the time, losing both parents within two days of each other felt like far more than I could take.
The depth of the grief and shock that my brothers and I felt was compounded because we had to tell Mom of Dad’s death over FaceTime. It was the most difficult conversation I have ever had, and we are fairly certain that the devastating news of her husband’s death contributed significantly to her dying so soon after. Having been separated for a week by two hospital floors, she lost the man who loved her most without getting the opportunity to say goodbye.
I share the circumstances of my parents’ deaths because I believe they highlight the kind of man and husband my father was.
In Health and in Sickness
For nearly 56 years, my father loved my mother with a fierce, self-sacrificing love — in health and in sickness.
“For nearly 56 years, my father loved my mother with a fierce, self-sacrificing love — in health and in sickness.”
My mother was seriously ill for well over half of their marriage. When I was 15, she was days away from dying from ulcerated colitis, which she had battled for several years by that point. If not for God putting her in the hospital that had the only surgeon in the country who was capable of doing this particular life-saving surgery, she would have died.
In those many months of suffering, I witnessed my father lovingly care for her when the pain was so severe that the only relief she could fathom was to die and be with the Lord. He was a full-time music professor during the week and was our church’s music minister on Sundays. And he was always a very present father for his three sons. When I was 15, my father’s care for my mother was daily marked by a love I could observe but not fathom.
In 1999, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. Once again, her suffering was intense, and his care was remarkable. My wife and I were teachers at the time, and we were off for the summer, so we decided to take the nine-hour drive to live with them for a month. Oh, what a month it was. His loving care for my mother in her sickness remained indomitable. He loved; I marveled.
And in Humility
Lest my reflections above tempt you to think that my father didn’t struggle with temptation and sin, he did something that has impacted me even more than his love for my mother. I actually believe it holds the key to understanding how he loved the way he did.
Throughout the entirety of my growing-up years, from elementary through high school, if my father realized he had sinned against me (or my brothers), he would come to me and say something like, “Daniel, I was wrong to do/say that. Would you please forgive me for sinning against you?” My father never merely apologized. If he thought that he had sinned against me, he asked me for forgiveness.
Every time my father did that, my admiration and respect for him grew. Here is a man, I thought, who walks in humility before God and others. Even more than his fierce love for my mother, my father asking his sons for forgiveness has impacted and shaped me, mainly because of what it revealed to me about his God.
Skies of Parchment Made
My father was a consummate musician. I remember him telling us boys of the time when Stan Kenton, the king of big bands in the 1940s and 50s, recruited him to play trumpet for him. For all the love my father had for jazz, though, he loved sacred music all the more.
For decades, my father taught music in Christian colleges, and while he did that, he would also lead worship on Sundays at our church. My mother would play the piano while he would direct the choir and lead corporate worship.
This was back in the days when churches would have “special music” in the worship service. Over the many years I heard my father sing solos, the song that left the deepest impression upon me (and I probably heard him sing it over twenty times) was the song “The Love of God” by Frederick M. Lehman.
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell.
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave his Son to win;
His erring child he reconciled
And pardoned from his sin.
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
Every time he sang it, my heart would burn within me. This is the song that revealed what made my father’s heart tick. He was a man who saw the love of the Father written large, and he couldn’t get over it. Whenever he sung of the Father’s love, you knew he was singing “to the praise of [the Father’s] glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6).
Fuel of His Love
Often, when I think of my father, my mind goes to Luke 7, where we read of the sinful woman who shed tears on Jesus’s feet. She “wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment” she brought with her (Luke 7:38).
When confronted by a Pharisee for letting a sinful woman touch him, Jesus says to him, “I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven — for she loved much” (Luke 7:47). Jesus is not saying that the woman was forgiven because she loved much. No, he’s saying that the evidence she was forgiven was that she loved much.
If we say, “Summer has come, for the temperature has reached 100 degrees,” we do not mean that summer has come because of the high temperature. We mean that the evidence of the arrival of summer is the scorching heat. Or, to say it a different way, the effect of summer is 100-degree weather. My father’s love for my mother and the humility needed to ask me for forgiveness was the evidence and effect of the Father’s great love for him, by which he was forgiven of all his sins. He loved much because he had been forgiven much.
What More Could a Son Want?
Over the many decades that I watched my father care for my mother, God the Father had graciously given me a regular glimpse of something of what it meant for Christ to love the church and give himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25). My father loved my mother like he did because he couldn’t get over how Christ had loved him.
“My father loved my mother like he did because he couldn’t get over how Christ had loved him.”
But that kind of love wasn’t limited to my mother; it spilled over into how he loved his sons — into how he loved me. My father was kind to me, tenderhearted, forgiving me, and humbling himself to ask for my forgiveness, because God in Christ had forgiven him (Ephesians 4:32). He was unwaveringly humble because he knew just how much mercy he had received in Christ.
As I look back on my father’s life, it’s clear to me that he was carried by love — not by a love of his own making, but by the love of the Father in Christ Jesus, poured into his heart through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5).
Oh, how I miss him. In my eyes, his life was lived to the praise of the Father’s glorious grace. What more could a son want?