The heavy snow that has hit the Northeast this winter reminded me of the massive snowstorm in New York City and surrounding areas in 1996. More than two feet of snow fell in the second worst blizzard in New York history and everything in Manhattan and the surrounding area came to a halt.
Airports were closed; trains did not run; cars buried in snow stayed in their spots for days.
Unfortunately for me, the storm hit just days before I was to visit my father in a Veterans’ Administration hospital in New York City, where he lay dying a painful death alone and seemingly abandoned by everyone he knew.
The only thing more painful than my father’s life was my father’s death. He and my mom had divorced when I was a teenager; it took my mom about three times to finally make the break from a man who had provided little or no financial or any other kind of support for my mom, my brother or I during their 20 plus years of marriage.
Each time she tried to leave he would threaten suicide and since Jewish guilt is very real she would stay each time secretly hoping for a different outcome.
But my dad couldn’t hold a job, was involved in sexual exploits outside of their marriage, and sadly, couldn’t or wouldn’t, take responsibility for any of the trauma he caused in our family’s life.
But when he did not show up for his annual Thanksgiving (and my birthday) visit to Ohio and when there wasn’t a phone call or explanation, I knew something was terribly wrong.
I tried to call him and found no one at home. I had no other place to search as most all of our family had left New York long before. When I finally heard from him, it was from his bed in the VA hospital in New York. My dad remained active well into his 60s playing hard core streets basketball and pain in his back had caused him to conclude that he must have broken his ribs during a basketball game.
What the doctors came to find out what something much worse – my father had pancreatic cancer, for which there was no cure.
I made plane reservations for the last weekend of January – the first chance I could get away to be with him. I had a demanding job at the time and a five-year-old daughter and a short window to be with him.
I knew I needed to visit with him, as no one else would, and I knew I needed to make yet one more attempt to bring him to faith in his Messiah, but 26 plus inches of snow stood in my way.
Miraculously, by Friday (just when I was to fly to New York), the airports opened, as did Grand Central Station and other city transportation, making my trip possible.
When I finally made it to the hospital, he was far along with the disease and predominantly in a coma, however, would awaken from time to time to faintly talk or listen.
I tried, as I had for the previous 20 years, to tell my dad that God loved him and would welcome him into eternal joy if he would turn his life over to Him. I sang songs, prayed prayers, and loved him as best I could these final days of his life.
My dad, never a religious man, once told me he was asked on the streets of New York by religious Jews if he was Jewish, to which he replied, “not today.”
Such was the life of this man who underwent shock treatment and suffered from manic depression following his military service in Korea, a “conflict” never even recognized as a war except by those whose lives were forever damaged by the trauma and suffering they witnessed and experienced.
So he remained defiant even to the end of his life as he showed no need, no desire to receive the Lord God who made him and loved him.
On Sunday as I was leaving him for what would be the last time, I entered Grand Central Station where droves of young boys and girls wearing New York Rangers’ hockey gear were headed to the hockey game with dads in tow, as I had done so many times in my life with my father. I wanted to go up to each and every one of them and take them by the shoulders and look them straight in the eyes and tell them to hold their fathers’ hands tight and love every single moment they had with them because, one day, they would come to an end.
Instead, I changed my train ticket for a later train to Long Island, where I was staying with a relative, went to the Nathan’s restaurant in Grand Central, got a hot dog with stadium mustard, French fries, and a salted pretzel and cried until there were no more tears left to cry.
I left for Ohio on Sunday evening and we received a phone call two days later on January 31, 1996, at 6:40 a.m. My father had died. Alone. No one else from my family wanted to or chose to be there. My father’s lifestyle had alienated most all of my family and it was only due to the fact that the Lord gave me the ability to forgive my father for all of his many indiscretions that I had spent the last 20 years of my life in a loving relationship with him.
When the phone rang, my husband, not given to dreams, had just had a dream where my father, still proud and defiant, would not welcome God into his heart.
I did my best to be strong as my five-year-old daughter was witnessing how I handled my grief and I did not want to repeat the same mistake my mother had made when her father died when I was five-years-old. My mother grieved uncontrollably for months when her father, something that would impact my life forever.
Months later when I became aware that I was lying to myself about grieving my father’s death, I cried out to God in anger, “How could you have allowed this to happen to my father? I have shared Your love with so many whose lives have been radically changed and transformed and my own father died alone and without You. How could You let that happen?” I cried out in total despair.
God, as He often does, responded with a gentle, tender response that brought instant clarity and understanding.
“I opened airports, train stations, and highways. I allowed you to visit him one more time to share My love with him and it was his choice to not accept it. What more could I do?”
“Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me, I have found my lost sheep. I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent,” Luke 15: 3-7.
“For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost,” Luke 19:10.