I had a 24/7 front row seat to the last four months of the earthly life of Grant Donald Torgerson. He had many blessed last words. He was patient, content, and confident. Not perfectly so, but so well done. It was a privilege to participate in the gifts and grace that he received.
Someone who observed us asked if there was some book we had found that described how to do this. Oh, goodness, no! We were borne along from day to day by our loving Father who provided us with things that we never thought to ask for, Who gave us a harvest we did not anticipate.
Grant’s last words from those weeks are recorded in this post to give witness to his way and his thoughts. These words provide for his sons, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, siblings, and nieces and nephews a knowing of their Dad, their Grandpa, their Great-Grandpa, their Brother, their Uncle’s heart as he faced physical death in late 2013 and early 2014, leaving this life on March 1, 2014.Everything shared here is an accurate presentation of what was said: nothing is added or subtracted. I have provided context. There is no need to add to any of his expressions since each carries fine freight, truth, blessed testimony, sensible suggestion, and needs no adornment.
Grant was a quiet man, even in family conversation. It was unique that he frequently and clearly spoke his heart during those weeks. Wisdom and gentle response to hard things. Encouragement and insight. A few directives and general observations, and ~ in some cases ~ clear answers to specific questions.
What a privilege to walk with this man – right to the door.
On November 15,2013, almost a month after the October 18 hernia surgery we met with the oncologist. We learned when we received copies of the tests that post-surgical pathology had revealed the metastasized liver cancer. They knew the diagnosis within a matter of days while we didn’t receive information for a month although we tried and tried. And tried.
The following is based on my journal entry after we came home from the November 15 appointment:
The oncologist said there was one treatment that might extend Grant’s life by a matter of weeks. She also explained that on most of those days, due to the effect of the treatment, he would feel extremely ill with some very unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms. He would likely not have much enjoyment out of any additional days.
We looked at each other for a few seconds as we used thoughts that were familiar to us, adding in new and unfamiliar thoughts. And we made a decision that we would never have volunteered to have to make.
And then he said,
“It’s all good.”
That was his immediate response – his take on his situation. Read the last paragraphs of the linked post (just below) to see more context. He was sitting there in peace. And then we held each other in silence as we rode the elevator down from the office. And when we got to the car, we wept.
After his retirement from full time heavy diesel mechanics, Grant worked at Home Depot in the tool corral for about eight years – about six years at the Fergus Falls, MN store and fifteen months at the South Salem location in Oregon after our move. He gave his notice at the Salem location in mid-December, 2013, as the reality sank in that he would never be returning to work.
With the paperwork they already had, combined with the love that had been publicly, personally poured out on him at the Christmas Dinner on December 6, all of his work associates certainly knew his prognosis but he would have it no other way: when you are leaving a job you give proper notice. In person. And so he did.
Later in December, I could not bear the thought of this amazing working man driving in to say, “I won’t be back to work any more” and I did not go with him on that drive to Salem. But that day in December he did the right thing, as he always had, and gave notice in person.
He never spent a day in bed during those weeks because of feeling sick, and never even complained of not feeling good – until his last hour of earth life.
As the weeks slipped by, he continued to dress and work around the house and yard every day – the plaid flannel shirt, work boots, Levis, and suspenders which were still necessary in spite of our removing a dozen and more liters of fluid per week.
One day I was trying to imagine how (or whether) I would be able to think things through after he was gone when I would have to figure out a small tool or buy a part (large or small). We talked about that for a little while – and then he said,
“Don’t feel you have to keep going to Home Depot.
Use the hardware store here in town – they’ll take good care of you.”
[I didn’t. They have.]
Our days were quiet. Our hearts were almost always ‘all right’, even as we worked through surprise paperwork from disability insurance companies or assumptions on the part of Hospice. [The hardest time was from October 18 through November 7 when medical professionals who could have and should have been communicating clearly with us were not doing so, even when we made specific request. Oh, well. So it goes!]
One day quietly morphed in to another. On many mornings, one of us would say to other, “Well, not today.” We understood where this path was taking us. We certainly did. But in light of Grant’s continued strength and somewhat normal eating patterns, we felt confident in often saying to one another, “…… not today”. That line was usually delivered just before or from within a long embrace.
One day I started a different conversation.
Me: “Grant, there’s something I need to tell you.”
Grant: “Ok – just let me get my coffee – – – ok, what is it?”
Me: “I’ve changed my mind.”
Grant: “About what?”
Me: “About letting you leave and being ok with that. I’m not ok with it. I’ve changed my mind.” And then he said,
“I know you like to control things
but I don’t think you will get to have your way
He was right, of course, and put his arms around my heart. Again.
We worked together on songs for the upcoming funeral service and were flooded with past memories and present realities.
We knew there should be no solo/special singing because we wanted his family and our congregation at Good Shepherd Lutheran Brethren (in Fergus Falls, MN) to be blessedly singing their hearts out: they always did that and we had done so with them over the years.
As we were finalizing the list a few weeks before he died, he reviewed the words and music again. There was a slight shake of his head that sometimes preceded verbalization of thoughts…and then he said,
“It’s going to be so good! I wish I could be there!”
I pointed out to him that that was the second time in recent weeks that he had said that, and that he wouldn’t actually be able to be there. We smiled a bit with some sad joy and went back to our lunch. How he loved to sing these songs and five hundred others.
We had asked his lifelong friend, Lowell Quam, to speak at the funeral service. We specifically asked that the message at the service directly address the reality of, the cause of, the results of, and God’s provisions for physical death. Lowell did as we asked, speaking with great grace and good theology.
This great photo of Grant with his first Oregon Chinook (May, 2013)
was on the screen as we entered the church.
The singing was just as good as he anticipated it would be……….
Vang Cemetery is one mile north of where Grant was born and where most of his childhood years were spent. His Sunday School years were in the old church building, which burned down, I believe in the 1970s.
I will always remember a phrase that Pastor Mark included when he led us in prayer there that day, “Lord, in the presence of death, we fall silent.….” Yes. That we do.
Just before we left the cemetery, we sang the first verse and chorus of Blessed Assurance.
Grant’s sister, Sonia, died in 2004. During one of our precious visits in the weeks prior to her leaving, she made a point of asking for Grant’s forgiveness “for anything I may have done that I have not asked your forgiveness for….” That loving request was, of course, followed by his assurance of release from any such memory (although he had no memory of unforgiven sibling transgressions).
In the weeks prior to his own death, influenced by her example as well as his own heart, I heard him ask each of his siblings for such forgiveness.
He and I wanted to have such peace and assurance between us as well, since we could not know whether his departure would be sudden or with some knowing on our part.
Our language was simple, “I forgive you for anything that may have ever happened between us and for anything that may need forgiving between now and when we are parted…”
So we each made that request and mine was simple. “Grant, please forgive me for hurt I have caused you that I haven’t been aware of, and for anything that may happen that I need forgiveness for between now and when you have to leave.”
…and then he said,
“I forgive you.”
As it turned out, on March 1 we had just a couple of minutes when it was apparent that he was leaving. His ability to communicate was already lost in the early moment of that time.
In the months following his death when I had a sharp regret for an oversight, confusion, or not listening well to him on his last day, I was blessedly able to say to myself, with firm knowledge that it was so, “....he forgave me for that before he died.”
During the living of those weeks, we often returned to one of our favorite verses. John 5:24 says, “…he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”
We talked about the past tense in the last line – has passed from death into life – because during those weeks we kept experiencing the peace of assurance about the truth of the things we had believed for so long.
In that same context, we got to talking one day about the fact of amazing grace. Incomprehensible, but sure. Amazing, amazing grace.
We drifted into silence more than once as we talked that day, sort of holding each other as we sat on the couch. Then within one of those silences, he quietly said,
“Love is so big”
….and fell silent again.
During the weeks we had together after the diagnosis I was aware that he would find his way…and that I needed to stay out of the way as he did so. He was kind about acknowledging my concerns but I did my best to not be telling him what to think or how to feel. Not pressuring conversation if it wasn’t time for it.
I watched him walk deliberately through those days, and one day I did ask him directly how he was doing, partly to provide the opportunity to share, if in fact it was more difficult on the inside than was reflected by the apparent grace on the outside.
I asked, “On the inside where it is just your thoughts going on – how are you?” There was a long and thoughtful silence and then he said,
“When I think about the fact
that I am actually getting ready to leave,
it feels overwhelming.”
We were doing simple tidy-up tasks one evening as he was getting ready for bed, and then he said,
“Do you think you will ever sleep on my side?”
I answered quietly that I supposed I might but if I had known then what I know now, I would have said,
“Oh, yes. Yes. I will sleep there often so that I don’t have to look at your empty side.
I will sleep there in peace and sort of soaking up all the times you slept there.
I will sleep there in tears, holding your flannel shirts close and breathing deep,
taking in the scent of you.
I will sleep there in comfort after the tears have dried; sorrowing, but comforted.
Oh, yes. I will sleep on your side.”
But I did not know all of those things then. Some things are learned only as the journey unfolds.
We had our recliners in the living room at a bit of an angle to one another during those weeks and would spend a good portion of each day sitting and talking. I would often take a good solid resting time as well.
One day as we talked of the realities we were living through, I got started crying. Again. Then we ended up laughing as we extrapolated from that the possibility that someone (“Out there…..”) might at some point think I did not cry enough since we didn’t do much public grieving and I had never been much for crying anyway.
So I proposed that we might take video of all my crying during those days and have it available to show them…..then we laughed and I cried some more. To be honest about the thing (because he was SO patient with me in all things) I finally said, “Maybe when you go Home, you will be glad to finally get away from all my crying…..” and then he said,
“You cry all you need to.”
He was always up and about, doing small tasks, all of every day, but seemed to go to bed earlier. When he was tucked into the hospice bed and every adjusted just right, I would pull my good chair near and we would read together from a wonderful volume about the blessing about the shepherding care of our Father.
Then, most nights, I would pull up you tube music videos and we would have a Gaither concert with our choice selections.
A couple of weeks before he left, I found a favorite on you tube and set it to playing. As the song unfolded we sang together as well as we could, all choked up and such. I lay my head on his chest
….and we sang….
our very last duet, tears freely flowing.
He kept serving always, through final weeks and minutes
Putzing away at endless tasks, quietly getting things done that would help me. Cleaning drawers and throwing things that he knew I would have no use for and leaving sorted piles of chosen things that I would need sooner or later. Chagrined and chastising himself three days before his death because he had forgotten about the Deacons meeting that had been held on Monday evening. Shifting the garden hoses so that the longer one was in the front where I used it specifically for certain tasks. Buying The Kitchen Faucet That Must Be Bought. Manifesting the fruit of the Spirit day after day – and I made a point of telling him what I was seeing in him – increasing manifestations of peace and endurance, faithfulness and love. Supervising installation of the gate on the west edge of the garage earlier in the day, the last day he lived, as Eric and Logan finished the putting it in place. Graciously tolerating every medical procedure and engaging in conversations with technicians and professionals who commented to me about that fact that his favorite conversation was to talk about his wife, whom he obviously loved. These ARE the things to which he gave his final strength, last bits of time, and ebbing days.
These are his final words. His final acts.
He loved us and served us with his final strength.
We loved him and served him the best we could in those final weeks.
Blessed be the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ
who has caused us to be born again
to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!
This presentation of the song is sung some faster than we did, but that’s all right.
Grant and I sang it, by ourselves or in public, in both joy times and hard times.