Tomorrow it will be three years ago that Dad went to heaven. It was one week short of his 86th birthday. I miss him.
The end came pretty quickly. He fell in the fall of 2008, and suddenly our world was turned upside down. Mom has Alzheimer’s and Dad was her caregiver. Suddenly the “junior Knowltons” were her caregivers, and those 19 days living with Mom (until we got her to assisted living) while Dad had moved to the hospital/nursing home were tough. I stayed with her in their apartment, and got so low that I took to having the kids stay overnight with me while we managed her medications and life. Dad had been doing that for years. What an amazing man. I wish I had helped him more.
As a little boy, I remember thinking that my dad was the most handsome man around. Maybe that seems to you like a strange thing to think, let alone to admit to thinking, but I don’t think so. He was a good-looking guy, but I’m sure my thoughts had more to do with my admiration of him than his chiseled features.
“DAD, AM I GOING TO HEAVEN?”
Around age 5, I asked Dad if I was going to heaven. He said I was the best candidate he knew. His theology stunk…but his love was over the top. After I became a Christian at age 18, I was burdened that Dad would know the grace of God that had transformed me. I’ll never forget the Thanksgiving weekend where he and I sat down to talk about the gospel. I had asked him if he would mind me telling him about what I had learned at West Point. He was wonderfully gracious. In a bedroom at my aunt’s house in Decatur, Illinois, I drew out the bridge diagram on a piece of paper, showing two cliffs facing one another, man on one side, God on the other, a chasm of sin between them…and a bridge made of a cross. I so wanted him to trust in Christ, but he wasn’t ready. However, I’ll never forget what he said and did. He took the paper, folded it up, and said he would carry it in his wallet and think about it. Ever after that he would occasionally mention to me: “Son, I’ve still got that diagram you showed me in my wallet. I’m still thinking.”
DAD TRUSTS IN CHRIST
Mom had come to Christ also, and was putting in a few good words for the Savior herself. One Sunday evening as a junior at the University of Illinois, I called them for our weekly chat. Dad started, “Son, I told you if I ever did this, you would be the first to know, and today…I asked Jesus to be the Lord of my life.” The biggest prayer I had ever prayed had just been answered.
Dad was the real deal too. He used to slip me 20 bucks and say, “Don’t tell your mother.” But one day after his conversion, he said, “Son, if you’re wondering why I haven’t been passing along the cash like before, it’s because the Lord convicted me that your mother and I are one, and I shouldn’t be doing that behind her back.” Never was I so happy not to get money.
Dad took off in his faith. We all attended Willow Creek Church for a time, and I would be in one section of the large auditorium with the single adult group, and my folks would be in their same seating section across the way every week. I would watch from afar with joy as Dad served as an usher and communion server. He and Mom got in a small group, served in Willow’s tape ministry and helped with various Willow conferences.
They moved to Waupun 7 or 8 years ago as we thought it might be wise to have them close in case of health emergencies. That was prescient.
Though still alive, Mom is in some ways gone too, though not nearly as happy as Dad is right now. I dropped by to visit her at the Christian Homestead at the start of the day yesterday. “Who are you?” she asked, without apology, not trying to fake recognition as she has before. “I’m your son,” I said, and she hugged me like she believed it. Alzheimer’s turns out to be bittersweet. On the one hand, she doesn’t remember her only child. On the other hand, she doesn’t have to mourn that she was once married to the handsomest man in town, gone now, but in a far, far better place.