The Incredible Blessing of My Father’s Difficult Final Months

Note from Randy: Ruth Wood, reader of our magazine Eternal Perspectives, shared this wonderful follow-up to an article we included in the latest issue, and later on my blog: God’s Heart for the Elderly and Infirm Reminds Us of the Sanctity of Senior Life. What she wrote is remarkable and powerful, demonstrating a miracle of grace that took place in her dad’s life. While he couldn’t control his physical and mental decline in his final months, the decisions he made throughout his life played a role in how he responded to his suffering, and I think there will be eternal reward for it.

Likewise, often we too are unable to control certain things in life, but instead of surrendering to the bad parts, may we determine, with God’s help, to turn them into good. “For Yahweh takes pleasure in His people; He adorns the afflicted with salvation” (Psalm 149:4). “I sought Yahweh, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4).

Dear Randy, 

I can’t help but respond to your article, “God’s Heart for the Elderly and Infirm.” I have been distressed by the way even Christians sometimes talk about euthanasia as a possible way out at the end. As you’ve often shared about Nanci, this last stretch home can bring some of the most important and meaningful days of our lives. 

For those who may be struggling with end-of-life decisions, my father’s story may give some food for thought. When he suffered a stroke at age ninety-five, it slurred his speech, affected his ability to swallow, and paralyzed his entire left side. Worst of all, however, was that it knocked out the part of his brain that regulated fear. Every few minutes, his panic escalated so far out of control that he began screaming in terror. Day and night he screamed, finding relief only in short segments of sleep. In the beginning, in order to monitor his condition, his doctor was cautious about medicating too much because this would cause other problems. 

The agony of watching Dad suffer like that was unbearable. I begged God to give him a quick end. But Dad was otherwise robust and exhibited a fierce will to live. The doctor said that death did not look imminent. I absolutely did not want to hear that. How could someone live in such a state? But God had an important lesson in store for me. Dad lived for nine more months, and we would have missed an incredible blessing had he died when I wanted.

My dad’s close walk with the Lord became externalized in an unusual way after his stroke. I’ve mentioned how his panic attacks led to screaming. But soon what he began doing to help himself in those out-of-control moments was switch from screaming to shouting prayers, or scriptures, or he sang songs with fervor, his good right arm raised in worship, gesticulating with emphasis. We were all astounded. 

During these episodes, Dad shouted his praise to God, he shouted his thanks, he shouted as he interceded for each one in the whole family clan, he shouted for mercy for himself. Eventually an attack would subside, and he’d have a few minutes rest. Then off he’d go again, singing at the top of his lungs—hymns, children’s Sunday School songs, folk songs, his entire repertoire of music. Day and night, with each attack he sang and sang, and I, being a trained musician, could have cared less that he was terribly off key now. To me, his songs, his prayers, and his unbelievable faith under these circumstances were beyond beautiful.  

After his hospitalization, he was transferred to a nursing home, and over the next nine months, he sang so much, his speech actually rehabilitated to the point that we could understand him better. At the nursing home they began medicating him more so that the frequency of his episodes were much lessened, but they still broke through and continued to cause great torment. Dad kept praising and worshiping through it all. I have memories of walking down the hall, and long before arriving at his room, I’d hear him belting out yet another tune. How a stroke victim still had the force of such a full-throated voice was beyond me.

Despite the losses and indignities Dad faced as a result of his stroke, he was not a complainer. Instead, he continually expressed his appreciation to those around him. He prayed for and spoke blessings over people as they came to his room. It was not uncommon for him, in the middle of a conversation, to grasp your hand and say, “Let’s give thanks” or to tell a staff member, “I’m praying for you.”

Mom spent a lot of time with him, and in the evenings, they kept to their habit of having devotions together. She’d read a Bible passage and devotional, they’d pray, and then as always, they’d sing together. Dad’s favorite song in those grueling nine months had become, “Oh That Will Be, Glory For Me.” As the end neared, it was the only song that he still sang. All the others in his repertoire seemed forgotten.  

The day came when his voice gave out, but still, his lips kept moving as over and over he mouthed the words: When all my labors and trials are o’er, and I am safe on that beautiful shore, just to be near the dear Lord I adore, will through the ages be glory for me . . . 

We shed many tears as we witnessed Dad’s suffering. However, he astounded us with his single-minded focus on what mattered most—his love for people and for God. Unable to read or watch much TV, he would trace lines in the air for hours. When asked what he was doing, he said that he was imagining the throne room of God. Truly, he ran with his eyes fixed on the prize. What a difficult, final stretch home, and yet, what a finish! 

Dad had worked in a lumber mill until his retirement, so he had not accrued great wealth. Nor did he have a single Christian ministry accomplishment to his name. However, he was a man of integrity, a great husband, father, and grandfather. And in the end, he taught his family how to die well. We would never trade this priceless legacy for anything. 

End-of-life decisions can be so challenging and will be increasingly difficult as our generation is handed options our parents never had. People can find themselves in complex situations that are unimaginably painful, and we surely need to have compassion and do all that we can to alleviate suffering. But suffering is a great mystery. And sometimes, the Lord calls us to walk a very hard path. Will we release control and trust Him to orchestrate our end according to His good purposes? He will give strength. He will give courage. And regardless of how messy and impossible and even horrific the journey may be, take heart. Remember that great blessings ride alongside great suffering! 

Be still my soul, thy best, thy heavenly friend

Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end 

P.S. The photo captures my parents during devotions at the nursing home.

Ruth's Father and Mother

Ruth Wood and her husband, Woody, have two grown sons, two lovely daughters-in-law, and one spoiled grandcat. She works as a Licensed Professional Counselor and enjoys writing at