Dad is gone: What We Need to Let Go of the People We Love

My Dad died last night. Mom was on her way over to see him in his memory care facility, but Jesus, who holds “the keys to death and Hades,” slipped the key in the lock and opened the door.

Dad young and old

Today Dad is in heaven. And we are getting washed around by alternate waves of grief and urgency–to make plans and respond to family and praying friends. I’m a words girl and your words of sympathy and tenderness are washing over my soul. Comforting me. Encouraging me. Thank you.

Yesterday evening I was on the front row of a political forum, listening to Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal tell his story of how he found Christ (or Christ found him, and wow! he was impressive, more later) when I got the call.

Media vita in morte sumus. In the midst of life we are in death. The ultimate disruption.

Dad’s life has been severely disrupted by the deepening onset of Lewey-Body Dementia and Parkinsons. He fell and broke his hip in the summer of 2011. He has spent the last four years in that place where none of us want to be–losing his brilliant mind and his independence, living in a wheelchair. He did not go quietly into that good night. He hated the limitations of both.

At one point he was able to convince the nice people walking into his care facility that he was just on his way out. They held the door open for him and he was free! What do you do when you’re an escapee in a wheelchair? You roll down the up-hill street to the Wal-Mart  parking lot where another nice lady sees you wheeling around, looking confused and gives you and your wheelchair a lift back home–all before anyone discovers you’re missing, thank heaven.

But while he hated the journey into loss, he loved Jesus. Loved my Mom. Loved me. Knew both of us till the end.

I’m still processing our loss. So I’ll close by re-posting this blog from last April when he first went into hospice.

What we need to let go of the people we love

Mom and Dad in wheelchairsOne phone call and life changes: “Lael, this is Mom. They’ve called in hospice for Dad.”

I fly to Texas immediately where I’m learning about hospice. It’s no longer just for critical care at the very end of life. With advanced Lewy-body dementia and Parkinson’s disease my Dad continually cycles between somewhat relaxed and hyper-agitated. Psalm 31:7describes it well: “…you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul.” Clearly Dad’s soul is in distress. Like the unforgettable quote from George Washington, “I die hard.”

Whoever tries to sell death as simply the turn of the wheel in the circle of life is so deceived. Death is horrific. The ultimate brokenness of our world. Death may have lost its final sting but dying stings hard every day. Hospice can provide the meds to mitigate the sting. So I’m glad for that. Dad’s face is not as anguished.

But as hospice begins their palliative care Dad is not as present as he was. The big-gun meds bring on the smoke and fog. He no longer remembers that he is a brilliant petroleum engineer, retired oil company executive, corner office in downtown Houston. But he remembers Jesus.

“Dad, are you ready to see Jesus?”

“You betcha.”

A few days later Jack and I roll him out of the Memory Care day room and into his private room. We need God’s word in the middle of this mess of death so we read Psalm 31 to him. “Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing…I have become like a broken vessel…But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’ (Psalm 31:9-10)”

“Is that what you say, Dad?”

“Yes, I say that.”

Psalm 31:15 reads, “My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies.” This disease is such an enemy. I’ve struggled with how to pray for Dad. And here it is: “Lord, please rescue Dad from the enemy of this disease.”

We need God’s presence too so when we finish reading Psalm 31 I ask, “Dad, do you want us to pray for you?”


We stand on either side of him. From his reclining “Jerry” chair he reaches out his hands to take Jack’s and mine. But before we can begin, he begins. He is speaking, but we can’t understand him. We wait for a pause so we can pray for him. But there is no pause. He goes on and on…what is he saying?

His voice gets stronger. “And bless (unintelligible)….and bless (unintelligible)…” He is praying for us! And if there was any doubt, in his strongest voice yet he concludes, “And now thank you for this food we are about to eat. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

No food in sight and hours before dinner, but the oft-prayed prayer enfolds us in his heart-felt benediction. We walk out of his room with big grins and a sense of…This holy moment is brought to you by…Jesus. “Thank you,” I whisper.

On Easter Sunday my Mom and I announce our visit singing “Up from the grave he arose…” And Dad chimes right in, “with a mighty triumph o’re his foes…” The man who cannot always remember our names remembers some of the words and when he can’t sing the words he vocalizes every note. Then, on Christ the Lord is Risen today, he sings along on the aaaaaleluuia, just like Mr. Bean.

We need a fresh vision of where all this is going. So we talk about heaven. Again, fromPsalm 31:19  “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you…” We wonder what Jesus might have “stored up” for Dad. The ultimate engineer’s “fix-it” shop? A studio loaded with blank canvas and vibrant oils where he can paint to his heart’s content?

“Maybe you’ll be able to play the organ,” Mom says. “You’ve always wanted to play the organ.”

We talk of life overcoming death. Of resurrection. We consider Dad’s failing mind, my hands bent by RA, my mom’s haywire heart beat and can see ourselves walking together in eternity with easy, confident steps. No pain or shortness of breath. It is real and solid. It is Jesus rising from the grave and cooking fish on the shore and eating with his friends.

It’s the ending that all the best stories want to borrow…Titanic…Gladiator…but it is not wishful thinking or Hollywood putting a bow on the ending for better ratings. It’s not something we’ve borrowed in from somewhere else.

Resurrection is our story. As followers of Jesus we own it.

And when it comes to letting the ones you love go, there is nothing to compare. We’re not getting older. We’re getting closer.

“Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD! (Psalm 31:24)

The Visitation/Memorial for my Dad, Don Fitzgerald, was at Carriage Inn in Conroe, TX,  Friday, June 19th. Pastor C.F. Hazlewood of Fellowship of Huntsville Church offered brief remarks and prayer. My husband, Jack, pastor of Fellowship Bible Church, Columbia,  presided over the graveside service at Woodlawn Cemetery in Houston. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Camp Peniel Christian youth camp, Marble Falls, TX or Fellowship Bible Church, Columbia, SC.

Read more on the graveside service.

Read more on the funeral and obituary.




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36 thoughts on “Dad is gone: What We Need to Let Go of the People We Love

    • Thank you, Karen. You have cared for your Mom so well. I hope I can help care for my Mom like that in the years to come. (If she’ll let me 🙂 )

    • Lael,
      Both of these pieces you wrote are magnificent. I still haven’t gone back and read any of the Caring Bridge posts I wrote while Johnny was on Hospice but I do know that writing them was therapeutic for me. I love you and I’m praying for your Mom and all the family in the days ahead.

      • Very therapeutic for me too, Carole. It helps me understand more deeply what I think and feel about all this as I write it down. I loved your Caring Bridge posts. Hope things are going well and the Lord is holding you close in this new season.

  1. My heart goes out to you with love and a desire to comfort you, Lael, at this time of loss. How well I recall losing my sweet Dad (by the way, also a retired oil company executive and petroleum engineer — aren’t those guys a special breed?), who had memory loss problems too. Your ability to articulate the depth of your emotions at this time shows the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart; you are ministering to your friends with wisdom while we should be ministering to you! God bless you, Lael, your Mom, Jack and others. I will be in prayer.

  2. Lael,
    We share your grief on the loss of your beloved father. Praising God for his life and that he is now free of pain and rejoicing with our Savior. You are in our prayers.

    • Thank you Eileen, to both of you. You and Carlos have been special, faithful friends. Your words are a comfort.

  3. Lael, I’m so incredibly sorry for this unspeakable loss. Re-reading the post you’d written when they admitted him to hospice I’m reminded what a beautiful writer you are, to able able to put such a fine point on the pain and ache of dying, with beauty. And hope. It was gorgeous.

    You are greatly loved. As you greatly love. And in that love comes the ache of loss. I’m so sorry. We are praying for you and your family.

    • Thank you, Lindsey. This really qualifies for one of my “best of” blogs over at So I was glad to share it here because I want to post my “Best of” blogs here and I was able to put something out to honor Dad when I haven’t had the time to fully process my loss of him yet. I too hope it encourages others.

      You are such a kindred spirit and deep encourager in my life. Love you.

  4. I know how happy you and your mom are knowing he woke up to Jesus. That is enough to know when you are missing him. God promises to fill the empty spot in your hearts with himself when you ask. It was 2yrs before I quit thinking…”Oh, I have to call mom or dad and tell them” such and such

  5. Dear Friend, Lael, I am so sorry for the earthly loss of your Dad. How like our Lord to use your eloquently truth-filled words to encourage your friends in the middle of your own stinging grief. Praying for our Lord’s comfort, strength and rest to be extravagantly poured out on you and your Mom for the days ahead.

    • Euphanel, thank you so much. You are the soul of comfort, encouragement and refreshment. Maybe we’ll make it to Round Top now that she can travel. Blessings on you as you pour out to so many at the Inn.

  6. Lael and Jack – what a long hard road for all of you in the loss of your dad. Tears for that and prayers for peace in the days ahead. And joy, too, as you all reunite in the Lord’s Light – someday sooner than we think! We think of you all with love!

    Sue & Mark

  7. Tonight I learned of the passing of your beloved dad and admirable friend of Wayne’s and mine. My heart is torn between profound sadness and great rejoicing, knowing that he is in the very presence of the Lord in perfect joy.

    Thank you for sharing your heart about death (our last enemy) and the blessed assurance we have in Jesus. May the Lord keep sustaining you and your family.

  8. I am so sad for your loss. It never gets easy to say those goodbyes. Thankful that your sweet Dad is in Heaven with Jesus!

    • Thank you, Krystal. I’m thankful too. Appreciate your touch from across the miles. Blessings on your ministry in R.

  9. Thank you, Lael, for sharing the sad, but triumphant story of your Dad’s journey to his final home. I so appreciate the end, where you remind us all, that whatever our challenges, we will walk together again someday… and maybe play the organ!
    Love to you from Stan and me!
    Hope to see you at Camp Allen this year!

    • Thank you, Jean. Yes, my Mom is pretty confident that he’ll be starting organ lessons soon from Isabelle Bloomdahl, an organist friend of ours, also in heaven. Makes you wonder about the possibilities. Greetings to Stan.

  10. Dear Lael and Jack,

    With tears in my eyes, I am blessed abundantly reading the testimony of your dad and his relationship with Jesus. I ache and rejoice with you … as I empathize from my own personal experiences and understand the sting and victory over death. God’s comfort and grace be multiplied to you.

    Love in Christ,

    • Thank you, Lee. We have felt the long, slow sting. But we also feel the victory. I think how radically different he will be, I will be, our relationship will be when we see each other again. Can’t help but smile thinking about it.

  11. Dearest Lael…both of your posts touched me deeply. I am so sorry for your great loss. My own father left his earth shackles almost three years ago, and he, too, died slowly, progressively losing the ability to hear and participate in conversation, or to hold his own weight on two feet. In his younger years he was always so strong and in control, and I found myself identifying with the sadness of a slow death in your tribute to your precious father. And yet, with the final breath comes an immeasurable loss. I am covering you with prayer and asking that the God of all comfort will be everything you need over the next few days and beyond. Thank you for using your exquisite gift of words to honor your father and to remind each of us that losing a Christian parent is a sacred, holy experience. Love, Carol (Gene, too!)

    • Thank you, Carol. Your words are touching my heart tonight. I’m exhausted from a long day of delayed and cancelled flights, but I am finally in the Houston area. Really saw God’s hand in the midst of trying to fly into a tropical storm. Will drive to be with my Mom tomorrow. Jack and Zach come in Thursday. The funeral is Friday and Father’s Day is Sunday. It will never be the same. For you either, I’m sure. Thank God he is the Father that is always near. Loving you tonight.

  12. Lael, I’m so sorry for your loss. As in the past I will take your words with me and use them as they apply to my life. Miss you and treasure the time we shared!

  13. “And when it comes to letting the ones you love go, there is nothing to compare. We’re not getting older. We’re getting closer.” Thanks Lael for sharing even in your grieving. Your Dad sounds like he was a fun character and a great Dad. Walmart in his wheelchair! That has to make you smile everytime you think of it;)

  14. Oh my! I have read this twice, once recognizing the gift of a gifted writer, and the next, getting a glimpse of one who knows–truly KNOWS–what lies ahead. You bless me with this precious remembrance of what is important, Lael. What a sweet message you bring to remind us of what is truly important.

    • Thank you, Patty. It’s sad that Dad died right before Father’s Day. I bought him a card anyway–the feet of a little girl standing in her Dadd’ys big black shoes. It reads, “Nobody Else Can Fill Your Shoes.” Put it out on the memorabilia table at the Visitation/Memorial. The last Father’s Day card I’ll buy for him. Next time we celebrate it will be face to face. So thankful for God’s grace and love through all this. And dear friends like you.