Dad: Remembering Vernon U. Miller
My father died nine years ago March 26. I still remember how I got the call from my sister Pert in the middle of our Sunday morning church service with my phone set on vibrate, and I knew I had to go out to take the call. She ended up leaving me a message before I could answer her call. I saved that message on my phone until I had to give up that phone.
He was a wonderful dad and he left an indelible mark and witness on our family and his world through the work I’ve written about related to “feeding the hungry people of the world” and his passionate embrace of “there has to be another way to solve the world’s problems other than fighting.” He battled racism and invited many international guests to our home, while at the same time made sure our family enjoyed vacations together every year. He and Mom took the “trip of a lifetime” by traveling around the world in 1967, paid for by his habit of not smoking (according to him). His hogs were actually what helped them visit so many of the organizations and missionaries he had supported all of his life.
Another highlight of his life was meeting former President Jimmy Carter at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia and sitting in Jimmy’s famed Sunday school class. Jimmy posed with mom and dad as he does with many of those who stop by.
My much longer tribute to Dad can be found here on my blog; my Another Way newspaper column written soon after Daddy died is being reposted here because of changes being made to the website which will no longer store archives back to 2006. If you’ve read this before, my apologies, but I wanted a place to store it, the better to remember the details of those last few precious weeks with Dad. I know he rests in peace and will be forever dancing in the presence of the Almighty, forever free of the cane he so longed to toss away.
Another Way, 4/20/2006, reposted from Third Way Cafe.
The first week of March, I wrote about grief in this column, based on the experiences of a close friend. Then on March 11, we got word that my dad, Vernon Miller in Goshen, Indiana, had subtle changes in his diabetic condition. He was 89 and a kidney specialist said neither dialysis nor surgery would help. He had a blockage, and they gave him two to four weeks to live.
The information set my two sisters, brother, and I mentally spinning. Mom was stunned, too, but since she was his caretaker, she knew how much his health had deteriorated and had been preparing herself for many years. Seven years his junior, she was glad to be able to take care of him. Then one night she couldn’t get him very far into bed, his legs were so heavy with fluid. He fell out near morning and Mom called an ambulance.
We three siblings who live out-of-state made immediate plans to visit Dad and Mom. Then a sudden high temperature and unexplained vomiting (and presumed aspiration of food and pneumonia) caused us all to speed up our plans, driving late into the night to get to Dad’s bedside. My sister, a nurse in the same hospital and same section where Dad was, stayed with him as much as possible.
As often happens, Dad rallied. All of us kids had not been in the same room at the same time with him for about three years. My brother gave him a good shave, he downed hamburgers and fries, and declared on the morning he was checking out that he was feeling great.
However, we knew down deep that the prognosis was not good. We took the advice of the doctor and planned for hospice care in the health care center at Mom and Dad’s retirement complex. The siblings and Mom all agreed on the decision and spent a tender minute or two holding hands in his hospital room feeling the immensity of this step. Dad had signed a living will. He didn’t want to keep having tests, X-rays and shots. The doctor took him off insulin and said he could eat whatever he wanted.
As we checked him into his room in nursing care, Dad said, “I just wish I was on my way to glory.” At various times, we said our goodbyes, our “I love you’s” and “You were a great Dad.” My brother prayed with him and released him to God’s loving care, and told Dad that we would all be okay. I read him a Psalm. My sister sang songs. My other sister got out of him the proper Pennsylvania Dutch response to “Ich glicthe” (which kind of means “I love you a whole bunch.”) The proper response is a loving, “Ich glicthe ah” (which means, I love you right back.”) Our hearts were heavy, full and loaded with questions. How long would he hang on? Did Mom and Dad have enough money to last a year or more in nursing care, if it came to that? Should we go back home? All the questions that so many of my friends and relatives had faced over the years.
On Sunday, March 19, he enjoyed one of his best days in years: we took him to the church where we had all grown up. He enjoyed the drive and the service, staying awake the whole time, alert, commenting, asking questions, telling Mom he wanted hot dogs for lunch. We had planned a large family gathering at noon for all who could come; he prayed a wonderful blessing, ate lunch, stayed awake all day (something he never did anymore) read books, talked, enjoyed the great grandchildren. He tossed a ball to one of them and fed another some ham for supper.
It was wonderful, a gift. But of course we didn’t know if it was the beginning of a recovery, or one of those times the dying often have shortly before they bid us farewell.
It turned out to be the latter, and the following Sunday morning, March 26, when most of us were in church, our cell phones vibrated with the news: Dad was going to church in heaven that morning. He died about the time many of us were saying prayers for him. And all I could really say as my husband and I made plans to go to Indiana for the funeral was a grateful, heartfelt “Hallelujah!”
I feel very fortunate to have had him for a Dad, to have had a warning and to be able to say goodbye, to not feel a lot of guilt or anger or regret. He was not perfect: we all remember bad times with him. I do feel sad, lonely, and sorry that he won’t be able to experience a lot of the things I still hoped he’d experience with us. But most of all I’m glad he raised us in such a way that our goodbyes were really only fond farewells.