By Beth Demme
This week’s post is straight from my heart, but it is definitely not light-hearted. If you would rather not read about grief, I understand — I would rather not write about it. But maybe you’re struggling, too. Maybe you’ve taken on the guilt of an answered prayer and you need to read this. If so, I hope this helps you get one step closer to healing and living loved.
We are supposed to be happy when we get what we pray for, aren’t we? I’ve heard people grumble about unanswered prayers.
But no one complains when God answers their prayer, do they?
It makes sense — why would we ask God for something we don’t really want? And yet, for the last several months I’ve struggled with the grief of an answered prayer. I prayed for a peaceful death for my father and that’s exactly what he was granted.
My father passed away at the end of February. [You can read his obituary here.] He was a wonderful man who I still love deeply. He was easy-going and loved to laugh. He taught me the value of personal relationships and community and so much more.
He was sick on and off for several years. He dealt with cardiac and circulatory issues for the last decade of his life.
My prayer for him through that decade had been something like this: Please God, don’t let him suffer. Please keep his mind intact and let him enjoy his life. When he reaches the end of his mortality and it’s time for him to join you, please let it be peaceful and quick.
I had good reasons for this prayer.
When I practiced law full-time, a big part of my practice involved defending nursing homes. In the wake of TV commercials about “bed sores, broken hips, and broken promises” there was a surge of these cases in Florida.
Some of the families I met chose to sue purely for financial gain. Some of the families had legitimate complaints and deserved compensation. Some of the families sued because they simply couldn’t accept mortality. They loved their parent or grandparent so much they couldn’t accept a world without them. They needed to blame someone and the last caregivers were often the easiest targets.
Years later, I’m still troubled by the cases where mortality was such an impossible notion for people that they—unintentionally—put their loved ones through unimaginable torment in their final weeks or months. Patients were resuscitated repeatedly, given feeding tubes, and more just so they could live a demented existence with no concept of who, where, or when they were. For the family members making health decisions in those cases, death was to be avoided at all costs, even when the cost was their beloved’s dignity and quality of life.
Meeting these families definitely informed my prayer for my own father. And you know what?
Every part of my prayer for him was answered.
Just days before he died, Pop personally communicated his end of life choices to his physicians. The doctors, in the kindest way possible, explained the end was coming quickly.
In the hospital, my Dad and I laughed and cried together. We reminisced over the 38 years we had shared. I thanked him for being an amazing father who cherished me.
Our last words to each other were “I love you.”
A short time later, surrounded by people who loved him dearly, he moved peacefully from sleeping to eternal sleep. And my pain began.
In the worst moments, I worry I was too willing to let him go.
I find myself wondering, what kind of person doesn’t fight for her father’s life? What kind of person prays for the easy end, instead of insisting on one more day or one more hour?
I understand now why some families exchange a person’s dignity and quality of life for a little more time. Sometimes I wish I had prayed something different, or even that God had ignored my prayer.
But in the best moments, I see that no amount of additional time with my dad would have been enough.
I see how God not only answered my prayer, but also protected Pop from my selfishness. No amount of denial or fighting or sacrifice could have changed the outcome, but I still might have tried.
God gave us (my mom, my siblings and me) the strength to love Pop as he quickly slipped away.
So maybe it’s okay I prayed for the easy end.
Maybe it was even brave. Instead of sacrificing my father’s dignity, God gave me the strength to move head-first into the pain of a life without my dad.
If so, then I guess I’ll keep praying.
Please God, hear my tears and give me strength so I can endure the hardest times. (Psalm 28:1,6)
What are you praying for today? Have you ever regretted an important prayer? Have you endured grief? More than ever I would love to hear your story. Send me an e-mail.