It was a warm summer night and the sun had not yet set. My brother and I were hanging out with our friends at the close of our youth group meeting. Our youth pastor, Bryan, came up to us and said, “Your mom is in the office and wants to see you.”
That was very unusual. My mom didn’t attend our church and she never came on a Wednesday night. When we entered Bryan’s office, Mom told us that we had to call our grandfather, “Papa” as we called him. He lived in Wisconsin and we only saw him and our Grammy twice a year; at Christmas and during summer vacation. We loved them dearly, yet I didn’t understand why mom had driven all the way into the city to make sure that we called him on the church telephone.
“Your Papa is going into surgery early tomorrow morning, and I wanted you to talk to him before that,” Mom explained.
With the excitement of the approaching summer vacation and my graduation from High School, I had completely forgotten that Papa was scheduled to get a hip replacement. He was in his eighties but still seemed fairly young to me. He and Grammy loved to go hiking, yet in recent years his hip pain had made even walking very difficult for him. The past summer, Papa didn’t breathe a word about his pain, yet I saw him trembling and breathing with slow, shaky breaths whenever he sat down or got up again. Grammy was anxious to get back to their active lifestyle and urged him to get the hip replaced.
I wasn’t worried about his surgery. He had gotten his other hip done a few years back, and it seemed rather routine. I took the phone and told him that I loved him and hoped his surgery went well. I thought my mom had been silly to insist upon this call. After all, we would see him in person soon.
That was the last time I ever had the opportunity to talk to my Papa, and how thankful I am now for that phone conversation and my mom’s intuition. Days later we learned that something had gone wrong after the surgery, a nasty infection. Papa’s vital signs went haywire, and he was about to die. The doctors were doing everything they could to stabilize him. In the scary chaos, they asked Grammy if they should put Papa on life support. She looked at the love of her life, the man she adored, her partner for more than 63 years. She saw him dying and thought the doctors were asking her if they should save his life or let him die. Of course she chose to save his life.
She told me later that she didn’t understand what life support really meant. If she had known at the time that it meant hooking her beloved husband up to all sorts of tubes and equipment, keeping his body alive in a sort of artificial limbo state; she never would have agreed to it.
Yet there he was, in the hospital bed, being sustained by machines. Grammy’s heart was broken and so were ours. Everything had changed. No more hiking trips. No more happy summer vacations listening to Papa’s funny stories. No more Christmases with my grandfather and his white hair all mussed up from getting out of bed so early in the morning.
There could be a miracle. I believed in miracles and I prayed for a miracle for Papa. I thought about what a precious man he was. He had met Grammy when he was 21 and Grammy was only 16. He walked her home from the ice skating rink and never had eyes for another girl. They waited 10 years to get married so they could save money to build a house.
He was called into the army during WWII, but never left the United States thanks to his excellent typing skills. That was a very good thing, because during that time, my mother was conceived!
After the war, he began working at a bank as a teller and worked his way to becoming the bank president. He was known by many of the people in the small city of Wausau, and was affectionately called “Chick” even though his name was Harold. He was always easy with conversation and jokes and was great fun to be around.
He was a very honorable man and attended a Methodist church. He didn’t talk much about his faith. In fact, when I had a life-altering salvation experience at the age of 14 and started attending a Charismatic church, he didn’t seem that interesting in talking about it. I wondered if he really had a relationship with Jesus. Had he ever asked Jesus to forgive his sins and take him to heaven? I didn’t know. The thought of never seeing my Papa again terrified me.
That week I graduated from High School. The graduation ceremony was lovely. I had some of my closest friends back to my house afterwards to celebrate. We stayed up most of the night, talking. There is so much to talk about when you are on the verge of the rest of your life; with missions trips, college, and careers all on the horizon.
Then we got into a circle, grabbed hands, and began to pray. We prayed for each other, prayed for our futures. Then I began to pray for my Papa.
“God, I ask that you would do a miracle and heal Papa. If he doesn’t know you, Jesus, DON’T LET HIM DIE! Heal him and speak to him and let him know your love. If he does know you, if he is going to heaven, then let him die. I don’t want him to have to suffer indefinitely, unable to talk or really live. If he is saved, please take him to heaven,” I prayed.
I looked up at the clock and it said 2:30am. It was time to wrap up this party. My friends returned home and I fell asleep in my living room, curled up on the recliner.
In the morning my mom gently shook my shoulder. “Last night your Papa died,” she said.
I was so sleepy, that I didn’t respond except to let out a sad, “Ohhhhhh.” Then I rolled over and went back to sleep. I couldn’t explain the peace that I felt. My mom expected me to be quite distraught, and she hated to give me the news on the day after I graduated.
Later, when I was fully awake, I asked my mom, “What time did Papa die?”
“It was 1:30am,” she answered.
My heart sank. He died before I had prayed that prayer. I didn’t have any assurance that I would see my Papa again.
Then I remembered. Papa had passed away at 1:30am Wisconsin time. That was 2:30am our time here in Pennsylvania, the exact time that I had asked Jesus to carry him to heaven!