The three last words I ever said to my dad (and the incredible reason I got to say them)

Last summer, my dad was in crisis.

He was in the hospital after another near miss with death, and based on his track record, it would kill him if he went back to his old apartment and tried to live independently. And while I couldn’t imagine sending him to a nursing facility, we didn't have a lot of options.

I bought a plane ticket to Fort Smith, Arkansas, determined to help dad find senior housing in three days. Thankfully, one place was promising, but there was a catch: the manager said Dad couldn’t get in immediately unless he used a wheelchair. His walker wouldn’t cut it.

We had already spent quite a lot of money getting dad’s affairs in order, so the only obstacle to getting a wheelchair was finding an inexpensive one on such short notice. We prayed for a good deal and then drove to a pawnshop where God came through.

One of the hard things about dad’s death for me was that I wasn’t there when he passed away. I just wanted to look him in the eyes one last time and tell him how much I loved him. Thanks to Jerry, I got my chance.

At the pawnshop, we found a wheelchair parked out front with a $40 price tag. We cheered, dad sat down in the chair and I handed over my credit card. There was a problem though.

Something was wrong with the back right wheel, explaining the low price. Fortunately, Walrod’s Hardware was next door.

Jerry, the owner, stood behind the counter of the decades-old store with a warm smile on his face and asked how he could help. I told him what the problem was, and in no time, one of Jerry’s employees had the chair in perfect shape, free of charge. It was blessing, but the repairs weren’t the thing I remember most from our visit. It was Jerry’s kindness to dad.

Dad could talk your ear off, but Jerry didn’t seem to mind. He listened to Dad’s stories, laughed at his corny jokes and seemed to enjoy the conversation. There was a tenderness about him that provided a reprieve in the midst of a stressful weekend. We needed that reprieve.

Joshua Rogers' father with Jerry.

Joshua Rogers' father with Jerry. (Courtesy of the author)

Dad was losing his battle with heart failure and it would end with his death five months later – far too soon for me.

One of the hard things about dad’s death for me was that I wasn’t there when he passed away. I just wanted to look him in the eyes one last time and tell him how much I loved him. Thanks to Jerry, I got my chance.

That day at the hardware store, I just watched someone show kindness and it got way down deep into my subconscious, comforting me during my time of grief, months later. What a gift.

A couple of weeks after dad died, I had an extremely vivid dream. I walked into Walrod’s Hardware and there was Jerry, standing behind the counter with dad. It was late in the afternoon and the sun was setting, leaving the store with a yellow glow. Dad had a warm, contended look on his face.

“Hey Dad,” I said.

“Hey there, boy,” he said with a smile.

My heart sank a little. Dad didn’t know he would die soon. This was my chance to say what needed to be said.

“Dad,” I said, “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” he said, smiling at me.

I looked into dad’s beautiful blue eyes one more time.

“Goodbye, Dad,” I said. I turned around, walked out the door, buried my face in my hands and wept. Then I woke up, feeling as though it had all really happened. In a way, it had.

God had used Jerry’s Christ-like kindness to plant a seed in my subconscious. Jerry thought he was just offering good customer service the day we came by, but he was actually reflecting God’s love to us. He was the face of Jesus in the store that day and he was the face of Jesus in my dream, standing next to dad, giving me a reprieve in the midst of heartache.

I pray that Jesus will take on my face today as I interact with others. I have hundreds of opportunities each week to be encouraging, to smile, to spend time letting a conversation go on a little too long. It may feel like I’m just being polite or friendly, but it could mean so much more. I might be showing kindness that will stay with someone far longer than I realize.

That day at the hardware store, I just watched someone show kindness and it got way down deep into my subconscious, comforting me during my time of grief, months later. What a gift.

I want to bring that kind of life to others with a simple healing touch. I want to open up spaces in other people’s hearts that make it easier for them to receive God’s love. I want to be more like Jerry – and by that, I mean I want to be more like Jesus.