Today is the one year anniversary of my father’s death. I’ve been pondering, for a month, what I wanted to say. What is worthy of saying?
I shared already about his suffering, my stress, and our struggling through the last season of his life, which became our life together. I’ve mentioned that I was a Ward of the State, and that I hadn’t been intimately involved in my father’s life for many years. I’ve written about forgiving him. And asking God to help me honor him, if the time came that I needed to care for him. The time came. With God’s help, I did care for him and I did honor him.
And, I learned what it was like to love in a deeper way. You don’t get to see miracles, if you aren’t close enough to the mess. I lived the mess. I witnessed the miracles.
Back in the day, people said that you can’t change your stripes—you are who you are. And, they say you can’t change your stripes when a person keeps doing wrong, or they revert back to a bad habit. They say a person cannot change. I say they are wrong. I’ve seen people change, and I saw my dad change.
My dad changed his stripes.
When I gave his eulogy, I shared a bit of dad’s final months in the nursing home.
People kept telling me that they loved Dad’s stories. Between his past and hallucinations, I was afraid of what stories he might tell. I got brave and waited for the next opportunity.
The woman who managed food services came in one day and said, “I love your Dad’s stories!” I thought...here is my chance…so I asked, “What is a favorite story?” She said, “Well we are both single, and he was telling me that he dated a stripper once.”
Speechless, I am sure I looked like one of those wide-eyed emojis! After I regained my composure, I smiled and said, “True. But it didn’t end well for him!”
After that, I wondered what else I would hear…but it didn’t stop me from asking. I can’t stand up here and paint my dad in angel wings. This was Dad but so was the man who loved his family and loved Jesus.
Probably my favorite story was the young CNA intern who chased me down and asked if “Mr. Ambrose” was my dad. I said, “Yes.” He said that Dad was his favorite. I asked him why? Being in a crowded hallway, I was a little hesitant to hear what he was going to say. He shared that Dad was the first resident he helped. They started talking about fishing, then noodle fishing and they talked for 45 minutes! Dad invite him back to visit whenever he wanted. What he said next, touched me the most. He said that each time he had a bad day, he would go talk to Dad. He is going to miss him greatly.excerpt from Robert Ambrose’s Eulogy by Angel Ambrose
While I was preoccupied with managing Dad’s health, and honestly, sometimes his behavior, he was making friends. He was enjoying relationships and blessing others!
I’m not sure my dad ever wore stripes on any of his short-term jail stints, but he suffered in a prison of his own making. He grieved with tremendous guilt over the pain he caused people. Before he died, he knew he was forgiven. Our families devotion, and day-to-day involvement, helped Dad know and experience God’s love and forgiveness!
The day of Dad’s funeral, his neighbor delivered two small boxes of personal articles that he had set aside after purchasing my dad’s modest country property. Contained within the two boxes—all that was left of Dad’s belongings—was one of the greatest gifts I ever received: the gift of his words.
For a short period of time, he wrote down everyday thoughts, like about the weather or when his dog was a “good boy.” He wrote descriptively, sharing many colorful details of the sunrises and sunsets, and the beauty he saw all around him on his “little corner of green earth.” He shared his worries, his joys, his wishes, and his supper. Supper! He wrote often about his supper, what he ate, and how he shared it with his faithful four-legged, Nujak. Nujak was often the only friend Dad had. And he wrote about trusting God to help him with his loneliness, pain, and finances. And he prayed! Sometimes, he would spontaneously break out in prayer and praise!
Dad lived like a recluse, secluded in the country. I didn’t realize how lonely he had been, until he relocated close to us. Reading the words he had written about his loneliness, made me more grateful that he spent the last of his days with us.
During a family get-together, I read some of Dad’s words to family. They were surprised at Dad’s writings about his faith. They didn’t know about that part of Dad: I did. Dad wore a brave-face when he talked with my brother. With me, he shared about his depression, anxiety, and fears. And, then we would pray. Dad would always thank me and said he felt better. I got to read, in his own handwriting his gratefulness for a time I called and prayed! This was the side of my dad that I saw grow as he aged. I saw, with my own eyes, a man whose stripes had changed.
Jesus’s stripes changed Dad. Jesus’s stripes changed me too.
He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his stripes (wounds) we are healed.Isaiah 53:5
Over the years, I saw my dad change from a violent man, a man who lived with drug and alcohol bondage, a man who had legal problems, a man who ignored his children, to a man who wouldn’t hurt the least of creatures. He had a kind heart, especially toward animals. He was a man who overcame addictions, a man who admitted he messed up with his kids, and a father who enjoyed having us back in his life.
Dad had a sense of humor. You can see it in some of the pictures. Transporting him places, with oxygen and in a wheelchair was challenging. But within those many, many medical visits, we had some humorous experiences—like when the dentist used dye to check his dentures, and it dyed his tongue purple. He couldn’t see, so he stuck his tongue out and because he still couldn’t see it, I took a picture to show him. Then he was just being silly. He’d say, “Stay cool, and catch ya on the flip side.”
His body failed him, but his life ended well. Although it didn’t seem like it at the time, it happened fast.
I called 911 on 9-11-18 for an ambulance, because he couldn’t breath well.
Less than a week later, he was fast-tracked to my hometown for good. Something we thought would take months, took days. That is God!
By 9-17-18 he was in rehab, then to assisted living, then a nursing home. Then hospice. Then…
He died 4-30-19.
That was one year ago today.
I’m so grateful that I’m not judged by my life years ago. I’ve changed too. Jesus will do that, if we let Him.
I try to see Dad through a different lens, one that isn’t darkened by disappointments of what could have or should have been. Now I see him, and his life with eyes of joy for a man who gave me life and was so grateful for the time he had with his family in the last stretch of his life. Caring for him, and walking him to his heavenly home, forever changed how I look at my dad.
A person can change their stripes. Jesus will see to that. Jesus changed my heart toward Dad. He remains a living testimony of Jesus’s love for us. And, Dad can be a living testimony to others. On the back of his monument, we inscribed his words.
People that say, “There is no God,” should live in the woods and get up before daybreak and watch the animals and look at the trees and watch the sunrise and smell the fresh air and feel the freedom. I’m sure they will change their minds or at least wonder about it.Bob Ambrose
But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.Job 12:7-10
Happy heavenly birthday Dad. Stay cool and catch you on the flip side.