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My father was a driven, high intensity trial attorney. He loved to drive cars, hard bargains, and outcomes. On occasion, he drove his adoring family up a wall.
Mom was his polar opposite: a gentle lamb of a mommy.
Dad liked being in the driver’s seat of life. He was “large and in charge” without being all that large (he was a trim 6’2). He valued control. He could be a “my way or the highway” sort of guy.
Very advanced age eventually made driving an issue. Mom got nervous. The six of us siblings followed suit. After Dad and his car had a run-in with some construction scaffolding, we knew we needed to ask Dad to give us his car keys… forever.
My brother spoke with Dad. The rest of our family waited for the outcome. Did Dad get angry? Did he refuse to give up the keys? We would understand these reactions.
But Dad surprised us. He said “Tell you what” he said. “I will take a driving test. If I pass it, I keep the keys, But if I don’t, I will relinquish them.” He took the test. and failed. With dignity and acceptance, he turned in his keys. I don’t know if you are supposed to be proud of your parents., but I was so proud of him that day.
Relinquishing his keys was the signal for a cascade of changes. It was a shifting over… from the driver’s seat of his life to the passenger side. But this new infusion of vulnerability and dependence yielded growth; for him, for us.
In Dad’s last days in hospice he was still feisty and funny. Dad had been blessed with hilarity. Even heart disease couldn’t take his razor sharp wit. But there were also bursts of anger. He didn’t want to be there. He knew darn well that hospice didn’t mean you were getting better. He didn’t want to leave the planet. He didn’t want to be driven to his heavenly home. Death was an unknown journey for Dad. He wasn’t going quietly into what he perceived as night.
We all rallied round him, except for my brother Brian. Brian was in California. He had a hard time believing Dad was really dying. There had, after all, been other close calls. The rest of us gathered around Dad’s bed, held hands and prayed. Even though Dad was in a deep sleep, we each took turns telling Dad what we loved about him, what we had always loved about him. There was a lot to tell. We shared memories. It was a tender, teary time. Heaven felt close.
The hospice people told us he Dad would be gone “any minute now” but Dad seemed to have other plans. Was he waiting for Brian? They loved each other deeply, but their relationship had been challenging. I understood. Dad had struggled in some relationships. Most of them had eventually healed. But still not this one, not yet.
Brian flew in at last and hurried to Dad’s side. When Dad passed it was late in the night. Brian was the only one there, holding Dad’s hand. It was Brian who got to say the last goodbye, and other things men say to their fathers when their fathers are exiting this life. There was kindness, peace and forgiveness.
Who knows? Maybe it was Dad that drove that outcome. Maybe he decided to wait to go until his Brian was there with him. Maybe—for that short track of mortal time—Dad was back in the driver’s seat of his life. I think so. I hope so.
What I know for sure is that the journey of death can be another start….the beginning of endless glory, and family is designed to be at the center of it all.
As President Nelson has said, “Our family is the focus of our greatest work and joy in this life; so will it be throughout all eternity.”
How comforting it is that the Gospel holds the ultimate keys and can drive our families safely home.