The night preceding the morning I got the phone call that the “end” might be approaching for my dad (we have had other false alarms), John and I just happened to go see the film, “After Death.” Within five minutes of walking through the door at home, returning from the theatre, I Facetimed with my dad for the final time. It was short. He was tired and ready to go. He had been for a while—but this seemed different. I saw his bottom lip tremble. It seemed that his passing could be imminent and selfishly, it broke my heart: happy for him, sad for me. The next morning, I got the call that the time indeed might be very close.
So, no time to wait. I was on The Five driving north—solo—within the hour. (John would meet me the next day in NorCal.) After my 20+-year-old MINI Cooper broke down on my way home from my mom’s funeral two years ago, I vowed I would never drive that still-super-cute-but-super-old-car great distances alone anymore. I broke that promise, but my MINI did come through in a clutch.
With his family by his bedside, our dad passed away three days later. We watched him take his final, sacred breaths.
A few days after that, I sleepily, soberly, and sadly—crawled out of my parents’ driveway well before sunrise and drove—again—solo, for hours through the dark Central Valley until I began to see—through tears—hints of orange light emerging from behind the distant Sierras, on my left. Moments later as I approached the Tehachapi Mountain range at the mouth of the Grapevine Canyon, the rolling hills looked like a bunched-up, soft flannel, beige blanket beginning to glow in that warm morning light, inviting me to curl up and take a nap in them. That would have been nice.
Instead, I headed into that grade toward Southern California.
A song on Sirius Coffee House radio station began playing Noah Kahan, whose lyrics began to compete for and compliment my attention: “Don’t let this darkness fool you… All lights turned off can be turned on…. Oh, dear don’t be discouraged… I’ve been exactly where you are. I’ll drive, I’ll drive all night…” And more.
I wasn’t alone.
And I got home okay—at least my MINI was okay.
A little over a week later, John and I drove back in his car for Dad’s funeral. As my cousin Tony preached a beautiful sermon, honoring his uncle, he mentioned NDE: near-death experiences. This has been something that’s fascinated me, especially lately. I’ve been reading books on the topic for months.
We’re back home now in SoCal. It should be noted that after I returned home from that solo 732-mile round trip, my car officially broke: the next day. The clutch is burnt, completely destroyed. It’s in the shop, possibly near death.
This was grace. My safe passage was practical, Godly grace. That vessel carried me home.
Today I went on a bike ride and listened to this past Sunday’s sermon, delivered by my friend and pastor, Jeff. He’s a way smarter dot connector than I am. Jeff spoke about NDE. I think God is a fan of Surround Sound—same message, different places.
When I have listened to or read various NDE accounts, it’s clear even the most talented writers struggle with befitting words describing what they experienced. There just aren’t any. Some of these descriptions have reminded me of a handful of ethereal experiences that I have had personally while dreaming. As far as I know, I haven’t been on a deathbed, but I truly cannot explain or give a reason for what I’ve seen and felt. I do know that every time it’s happened, upon awakening, I have deep disappointment for having to return from where I was. It was crazy beautiful. It felt like a peek into heaven. I’m just going to leave it at that and quit while I’m most likely not ahead.
The list is long of VIPs in my life God has taken away over the last fifteen years or so. The most brutal losses have been since 2021—my mom, my son, my dad. On the day of Dad’s funeral, I whispered into the ear of someone I also deeply adore and said, “You’d better stick around for a very long time because I’m not sure I can take much more of this.”
God, please, let up on the takeaways for a while.
Actually, here’s the type of takeaway I can get on board with: At the end of the “After Death” film we are told that we are here on Planet Earth to love. Sounds pretty simple. Why do we complicate it so much? In Jeff’s sermon from Sunday, he concurred, paraphrasing Mark 12:30-31:
“…the opportunity here and now to live in such a way—pouring yourself out—this is what we’re here to do…that our life comes down to these two simple things, that Jesus goes, ‘Here it is: Love God with everything you’ve got and love your neighbor as yourself.’”
At Dad’s funeral, after the congregants exited the building our family was alone standing before this Godly man’s casket—a man who poured himself out–a man who made the grade. We placed several treasures inside–apropos items and family photos—as we said goodbye to that vessel that helped carry his sweet soul home. One of the items placed inside reminded me of those gently illuminated, rolling foothills at the mouth of the canyon that led me safely home the week before: It was a soft flannel, partly beige blanket bearing the photo of his beloved dog Foxy—which was in the warmth of Dad’s Light.
(Be a teeny bit patient with the video. There are, I think, four spots that are a little glitchy but they only last a few seconds or a minute and it comes back on its own. It’s worth the momentary wait.)