I’ve had a good life. If God chooses to heal me, great.  If not, then I’m ready to go.

When my dad missed Christmas dinner with the family, we were very concerned.  Even though he was 81-year-old, my dad never got sick.

The next day, he had an emergency appendectomy.  Within 10-days he was recovering nicely (we thought), so we went on a 3 mile walk together. During the walk, Cindy noticed that my dad’s skin looked yellow.

The next day, he was diagnosed with jaundice, which was caused by a blocked bile duct and scheduled a surgery to have a stent placed in the bile duct.

Turns out the blockage was cancer.  My dad was diagnosed with Stage IV cholangiocarcenoma or bile duct cancer.  He was given “months” to live.

My dad died 4 weeks later.

During the last 30 days of my dad’s life, I got to spend part of every day with my dad.

And while my dad went through the transition from this life to the next, there were seven things I learned while watching my dad die.

My dad was prepared to zap any bug that got near.

1.   Be Prepared

Less than a year before my dad died, I started the conversation with my then, 80-year old parents, asking them 20 questions about what they wanted to happen when they die.  As a result, they updated their trust and I went with my parents to most of their financial institutions to get added on as a co-trustee.

So, when my dad was going into surgery, he said, “my passwords are on my laptop.” My dad was giving me the proverbial needle in the haystack.

You see my parents’ house is the haystack. It’s a mess. Finding all the necessary documents would have been near impossible without the necessary preparation.

I also knew that giving me the “needle” meant he was asking me to step up and help lead the next phase of my mom and dad’s life.

2.   Be Contemplative

The word contemplative has two meanings:

1.    Expressing or involving prolonged thought and reflection.
2.    A person whose life is devoted to prayer

My dad was contemplative on both levels.

My dad never approached a subject half-hearted. He wanted to know everything he could about a subject. Don’t even think about trying to B.S. my dad on a subject he was familiar with—and he was familiar with most subjects.

And when you asked a question, you typically got a 20-minute reply.  Perhaps way more detail than you wanted.

So, when my dad found out he had cancer, he wanted to understand all the options. I went to all the doctor appointments with him so we could discuss all the options, weigh them carefully, and come to a reasoned decision.

So, after a few days he said, “I’ve had a good life. If God chooses to heal me, great.  If not, then I’m ready to go”.

This was NOT a flippant statement, but one made with a lifetime of contemplation.

The family on my dad’s 80th birthday.

3.   Your Legacy Matters

What does Legacy mean?

For my dad, it means his fruit grows on other people’s trees.

Here’s one example…

During the 2008-2012 recession, there were hundreds of men out of work in Northern Colorado.

During one of my visits with my dad, I noticed a stack of resumes over a foot high on his desk. He spent 8-hours a day going through those resumes, keyword optimizing them, then setting up phone calls to coach men on how to get their LinkedIn Profile updated, how to interview, ideas on what jobs/companies to approach and more.

He helped get jobs for dozens of men.

I asked him, “Why are you doing this?  You’re retired.”

He replied, “So, guys won’t blow their heads off.”

He said a man’s job has a lot to do with his self-worth, so, when a man loses his job after 10+ years:

  • In the first 30-days, he’s still hopeful.  The severance hasn’t run out.
  • At 30-90 days, men are beginning to lose confidence in themselves.
  • Between 90-180 days, their wives are starting to panic and lose faith.
  • After 6-months, men are depressed, desperate, losing faith and sometimes worse.

My dad could not stand to see that happen. So, he became “the resume guy” and showed up at every job fair and networking event in Colorado. Probably the only volunteer who consistently showed up.  It was my dad’s practical ministry.  It was his fruit growing on other people’s trees.

Many times, men would get jobs and never bothered to thank my dad for his part in making that happen.

Sure, my dad really appreciated when he would get the phone call, email or offer for a coffee, but ultimately, it didn’t matter. My dad worked for God.  God was keeping score.  It didn’t matter if he got any reward for it on earth, it’s all about eternal rewards.

About five days before my dad died, he met with the hospice doctor and they got talking about the doctor’s hospice driver—they both new him. Turns out, my dad helped the driver get his job with the hospice service.

The doctor said, “You helped our driver get his job?  He’s the best! He’s great with people.  He’s perfect for that job.  Thank you.”

So, that driver, and the joy he brings to people in their final days, is part of my dad’s legacy, which will continue long after his death.

About 3-days before my dad died, he had a sudden “rally” of energy and asked the family to gather around his bed.  He went around and spoke to each of his kids and grandkids a special blessing.  It was his way of saying goodbye and letting us know that our accomplishments, our families, and our faith were part of his legacy.

He was entrusting his legacy to us and we, in turn, told him that his legacy was in good hands. Our life and achievements would be credited to his legacy.

After he was done with the blessings, my dad smiled and his face reflected peace, contentment, and fulfillment. It was the last long conversation most of us had with him.

The Viking 1 Mars Lander (model).

4.   Be Humble

When I was 16, I remember my dad was yelling at the TV, “Those guys from JPL can’t get the arm extended!” He was seriously frustrated.

My dad and his team of engineers had spent the last five years working on the scoop of the Viking 1, the first spacecraft to land on Mars. If the arm didn’t extend, then the scoop would not be deployed, and none of his work would get used.

The Viking arm finally extended, my dad’s Viking instrumentation worked and they were able to measure the composition of Mars to determine if it could sustain life.

So, the next time you read an article or see a movie about potential life on Mars, you can thank my dad for his work on the Viking 1 and 2 projects.

When my dad arrived at hospice and the nurse asked, “What was your career?”

He said, “I had a desk job!”

My dad never bragged about earning a U.S. patent (#4,956,573) for display technology or about being involved in Viking 1 and 2 projects that went to Mars and were successful.

He was a humble man. He believed God kept score.

Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park on my dad’s 80th birthday.

5.   Faith = Confidence

My dad read the Bible every day. When he could no longer read clearly, he asked me to read to him.  We kept up on the daily bible reading.

As soon as we were done reading, my dad would immediately apply the scripture to his life. It was personal.

During the last two weeks, I read him mostly scripture about Heaven.  My dad would say, “We don’t talk about heaven enough, not even at church.”

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

So, while he couldn’t see Heaven, he absolutely believed that he was going there.

He knew exactly where he was going.  He had confidence. He knew, that he knew he was going to heaven.  That as soon as he left this earthly “tent”, the would be with the Lord in a new body.

His faith and confidence led to a “peace that passes all understanding.”

My mom and dad in their backyard.

6.    Peace.

When you find out you have a terminal illness, you soon meet with the palliative care nurse.  The word palliative means, “Relieving pain without dealing with the cause of the condition.”

The palliative nurse helps you weigh out your treatment options, especially about hospice care.  The palliative care nurse asked me, “What do you want to do if your dad loses consciousness, which could happen for any number of reasons??

I answered, “My dad said DNR (do not resuscitate).”

My dad was asked this question many times during the last 30 days of his life.  He had time to contemplate his answer and with total peace, would answer DNR.

I asked the palliative care nurse what most people say and her answer surprised me.  She said, “People like your dad, who have settled their spiritual life, always say DNR. They have total peace and confidence about it.

People who have not settled their spiritual life want us to do any and all measures to live—including artificial breathing in a coma. They’ve put off their spirituality until now and are literally trying to buy more time to get their spiritual lives figured out. It’s heart wrenching to watch and they and their families are generally in anguish and disharmony.”

Getting your spiritual life settled will have a dramatic impact on you and your family’s peace of mind and quite frankly, will have a dramatic impact on our nation’s healthcare costs.

My dad & I (1960).

7.   Surrender

About 10-days before he died, my dad was throwing up bile about every 20 minutes. He was physically uncomfortable.  The hospital nurses, who went above and beyond to cure him, said there was nothing more they could do without making things even worse and painful.

They encouraged my dad and to make the decision to move to hospice.

As usual, my dad didn’t want to make any quick decision.  He was a fighter. But, now it was time to let go.

One of the nurses (Hannah Scott) got down on her knees, held my dad’s hands, looked him in the eyes and said, “If you were my dad, I would move you to hospice.”

My dad smiled at Hannah and said, “OK” and the nurses acted quickly to get him transitioned to in-patient hospice care.

The nurses told me they would clean him up before the ambulance arrived to take him to hospice and I could meet him in 90 minutes over at hospice.

When I met my dad at hospice, my dad smiled and said, “They washed me from head to toe.  They anointed my head with oil.  I felt like a king!”

He also told my brother & I that he had a dream (that felt real) of flying through the cosmos.  My brother asked, into the Milky Way?  My dad replied, “Way beyond that.  About 3.6 million light years.”  For my dad, it was a glimpse of what his eternal life would be like in Heaven.

My dad died 10 days later.  Peacefully. Surrounded by his family.

You’re Only Guaranteed Two Things in This Life

You’re only guaranteed two things in this life: You are born and you die.

The first is “luck.”  You don’t get to choose how you’re born.  The second, you choose who you will love, the relationships you have with your family, the relationship you have with God.

My dad said, “You come into this world naked.  You leave this world naked. And in the middle, is just a bunch of stuff. But some stuff matters a whole lot more.”

At the end, my dad had peace because he had total confidence & faith that when he was out of his mortal body, he would be home with the Lord (in a new body that was free from cancer).

Bye dad. Enjoy your flying lessons.  Say Hi to Malori for me.

We’ll continue your legacy here until we meet again someday.

The Videos We Played At My Dad’s Memorial Service


Helping publishers, entrepreneurs, authors, and non-profits build their Platforms using the right technology.

    15 replies to "7 Things I Learned While Watching My Dad Die"

    • JB

      This made me sad, happy, slightly tearful and hopeful. All at the same time. Thx Mark.

    • bill


    • Cheryl Wynn

      God bless you all- the whole family. I went to Poland with you, Cathy. I love all that you are. I was in a small group with you Mark. You never know day by day what you give to others. God is amazing and created each of us for such a time. God bless you all for this time and always. Someday together in heaven we will rejoice. With much love and respect. Cheryl Wynn

    • James E Dykes

      Excellent and helpful article! Thank you very much for this portrait of your wonderful Father who I expect to meet in heaven! Jim Dykes N Carolina

    • Barb Lutjen

      Thank you so much for sharing this tribute to Paul. Such a wonderful, faith-filled life he lived. Special guy he was!! Barb Lutjen

    • Liz Ross

      Loved this Mark!
      Thanks for sharing your family with me.
      Many Blessings to all of you.

      Liz Ross

    • Judy Kertes

      Loved this article. We all need to have an eternal perspective; some of us don’t think about it until we’ve had to come face to face with this issue with parents or children. Thank you for sharing.

    • Sue Golke

      What a beautiful and fitting tribute to a Godly and wise man. So sorry for how much you will miss him. So happy he is home. Len and Sue

    • Dan Stentz

      Thank you for this tender view inside a spiritual man of God.

    • Tony Lodico

      Your dad was a great man and you are a great son.

    • Valerie Stark

      Thanks, Mark. So well said. And a lovely tribute to your dad.

    • KIARA Montalbano

      Awesome job Mark!

    • Vince

      Thank you for sharing. My father passed in a similar manner. There last days were spent by his side. I’m grateful for every moment.

    • Verlene LeBlanc

      Thank you for sharing. It was beautiful and also very helpful beings we are also getting up there in age. Your father raised a beautiful family. I never got to meet your family . But I can tell by the pictures your mom shares that you all love the Lord and are great people. Very proud to be your cousin. May God bless all of you with great memories and peace as you all continue without a very special part of the family. May the Lord comfort you all in those times of missing him.

    • Amy N.

      I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your dad. Your blog post blessed my heart so much! Reminds me of the importance of faith and trust that God has all things, even our time here on earth, in His loving hands. My mom passed away two weeks after finding out she had cancer, so I can relate to the short time frame. Her faith was strong and the last words we heard her say were a prayer for the people that were coming in the room to see her that they might know the Savior. Thanks for sharing the story of your dad and the lessons learned! It will bless many!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.