Saying Goodbye to My Father, Part 3 – Letting Go

My Dad was a cancer survivor.  29 years ago he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in the parotid (saliva) gland.  At the time, only three other people had ever been diagnosed with this and all of them had died.  His prognosis was grim with a life expectancy of less than a year.  My father recognized his survival as a miracle, but never understood why his life was spared.

As family went through his belongings, personal affects and files the week he died, I came across a letter from that time in his life.  It was so profound for me in connecting the dots of his life that I used this as a key part of his eulogy.

My father accepted Christ as his Savior during this time and he was preparing to die.  His letter logically explained to family and friends what was happening medically, but it also showed a side of my father that I didn’t see in later years.  In the letter, he shared his faith in God and asked for prayer on his behalf.  Clearly those prayers were answered.  As I read that letter, the reason(s) why God spared his life 29 years ago became clear to me.

One of the hardest lessons to learn as a Christian is that we are not in control and that we need to trust God.  Proverbs 3:5-6 speaks to that: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”  It is easy to trust God as long as things go the way we want them too—and we think we are in control.  But God has a way of reminding us that we are not God and to not rely on our own self-sufficiency.

What I observed about my father during his final years was how hard it was for him to let go of the control of his life.  No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t be self-sufficient any longer.  He had to accept the frailty and aging of his body.  He had to accept his periods of mental incapacity.  He had to accept help—and learn to ask for it.  He had to let go of the timing of his death.  It frustrated him.  And I think one reason my father’s life was spared 29 years ago was that he had to learn to let go and give God control.  He was a stubborn man and so it took him a long time to finally surrender to God’s plan for his life.

More importantly, I think the main reason my father survived that rare cancer was because of the healing and forgiveness that needed to happen in our family.  Dad may not have directly realized it, but he said things to family members in the months, weeks, days and hours before he died that provided much healing and closure.  I know that if he passed away all those years ago, this healing wouldn’t have happened.

For me, learning to let go and turn over my will and desires to Christ is a daily battle.  Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a “Van Boxtel” or because I’m human.

Me & Dad circa 1962.

As my father neared the end of his life, I had to learn to let go of him too.  I let go of expecting the words of affirmation that the “little Ardis” never got from him.  As an adult, I was learning to love him for who he was.  When I did that, I ended up getting what I longed for, but it had to be in God’s timing and ways, not my own.

Two weeks after his passing, I am learning to let go of not getting any more answers from him.  No more questions about my mother and no more questions about what happened when my parents divorced.  It’s pretty final.  I’m getting to be ok with that.  And I’m resting in the knowledge that he is at peace and my letting go is only temporary.  I’ll see both of my parents in the blink of an eye, and ALL of my questions will be answered then.

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  • WELCOME to my site!

    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

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