“And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
I leaned over and kissed Mom on the cheek. Her eyes found mine, but then, nothing. Some days were like that. So I was certain that the significance of this day was lost on her, and felt grateful that she’d be spared the pain of this milestone anniversary; ten years without my father.
The day weighed heavily on me though. I remembered visiting Dad in the hospital during his final illness. My sister and I flew to Florida after the phone call from Mom that said it was “time to come”.
I couldn’t look at the Christmas tree in the hospital lobby and cringed hearing the carols piped into the elevator. It didn’t seem fair that this could possibly happen so close to Christmas.
But it was.
My sister and I stayed for five days, until Dad was stable. We flew home knowing we’d return the day after Christmas.
But Dad passed the next day.
My daughter and I turned around and returned to Florida for the wake and funeral. I gave the eulogy but everything felt surreal, and it was hard to accept the loss.
I also worried for his soul. We discussed his faith while he was in the hospital and I knew he had doubts. I was a new Christian and no match for my Dad’s sharp mind and logic. I regretted my inexperience and inability to secure his salvation.
So without the reassurance about his final journey, I began to pray for signs of his wellbeing.
Since Dad was a pilot in World War II, I was somewhat comforted by a bumper sticker I saw immediately after the funeral proclaiming “God is my pilot”. As I was thinking about Dad and driving to work one day I also spotted a license plate that announced, “Bliss”. But for some reason, I needed more.
I needed to hear him whistle.
Whistling was my Dad’s signature. It’s how he signed his name to feelings of joy and contentment, and sometimes anger and disappointment. He was part of what’s often referred to as the Silent Generation, but he was only silent with his words.
Dad whistled periodically throughout his day but always when he spent hours in the basement and garage as he built, repaired and tinkered. Mostly it was a sign of contentment to be where he was and doing what he loved.
The notes floated upstairs to join the sounds of the kitchen, TV and conversations of everyday life. Sometimes he whistled recognizable tunes, but mostly it was just notes that he needed to smooth over his frustrations, celebrate his creations and keep him company as he whiled away the hours.
I prayed fervently to hear him whistling. A tall order, I know. Nevertheless, I was a hopeful and vigilant listener as we stood on lines in the airport and throughout the plane ride home from Florida.
I listened as I grocery shopped, stood on line to renew my driver’s license, and whenever I walked down the street or through the mall.
My heart grieved. I craved reassurance that he was all right, and perhaps selfishly, absolution for my shortcomings.
My faith was strong, and I read my bible regularly, asking God to forgive me if my request tested his sovereignty by asking for such a specific sign. Maybe I was asking too much, and should have accepted the bumper sticker and license plate.
Maybe I was no better than the man in the joke who asks God to save him from a flood but turns down the rowboat and helicopter, each time professing his faith that God would rescue him.
In short, maybe God already answered my prayers and I just needed to be content.
Then I stopped listening altogether after reading Matthew 4:7:
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
So I made my peace with what was.
Years passed. The anniversary of his death came and went many times after I learned to accept the loss and my regrets.
December 10, 2011 was a Saturday. My day to visit Mom. We sat together, holding hands, watching the comings and goings of the other residents, and occasionally the TV in front of us. Mom had long lost the ability to speak, or to understand what was said to her, so mostly we just sat together. It was enough.
Above the noise of the TV, and the clanging of pots and dishes as the staff prepared lunch, I heard it. The sound of whistling came from the kitchen, loud and clear.
For three years I had visited Mom three times a week, and I had never heard a caregiver or resident whistle. Never. I couldn’t make out any particular tune. Walking closer to the kitchen, my heart beat faster and my eyes welled with tears.
I saw the whistling staff member but couldn’t summon any words so I returned to Mom. Several minutes later, she came over to help bring Mom to the table for lunch. I managed to utter, “You were whistling”.
She paused, shrugged and said, “I know but I don’t know why! I never whistle but I just felt like it. I don’t even know what I was whistling”.
I knew God was comforting me on a sad and difficult day when I was missing my Dad so much. More importantly, I knew Dad was safely in His arms. This time, I didn’t doubt.
His messenger’s name was Angela.
Do you have a story about answered prayer or signs? Feel free to share in the comment section or email me.
Scripture for Reflection
Are not all angels spirits in the divine service, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.