In July 2020, I lost my dad to Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS). He was 59 years old and I was 21.
In October 2018, my dad visited our family doctor after a fever he developed had persisted for over a month.
Initially, the doctor dismissed his stubborn fever as stress-induced. My dad was sent home with Panadol and instructions to get more rest.
However, further blood tests led to a diagnosis of MDS – a form of incurable cancer.
The doctor’s prognosis was that my dad had 2.5 years left to live, and urged us to begin treatment fast.
My dad’s cancer did not go to waste
In the wake of my dad’s diagnosis, we were plagued with questions. Why him? Where was God in all of this?
His intensive chemotherapy treatments and exhaustion compelled him to stop work to rest.
Though my dad was angry, one upside he found was that he had more time to spend with God.
During his daily devotions, the Holy Spirit convicted my dad to let go of deep-seated grudges he had been holding onto for decades.
So, he began forgiving people who had wronged him, one by one. Dad contacted these individuals and met with them to make amends.
He told each of them that he forgave them and also asked them for their forgiveness.
This season proved to be one of deep emotional healing for my dad.
It was evident to me that something in him had changed – he lived life more freely, unfettered from unforgiveness and bitterness.
My dad also repented of how, in the previous few decades of his life, he had failed to serve the Lord wholeheartedly.
With passion and boldness, he began sharing the Gospel with friends, nurses and fellow patients in his ward.
Through my dad’s diagnosis, our family rallied together and became united.
During this season, we held family worship and prayer sessions several times a week.
A favourite song of ours in that time was In Christ Alone, which has a refrain that goes:
“On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand”
We spent hours on our knees singing and praying for each other.
Because of these sessions, my sister, who had been far from the faith, decided to return to Christ.
I believe God worked through my dad’s cancer to win her back to Him.
Christ our solid Rock
In the throes of cancer, Christ was indeed my dad’s Rock.
On several occasions, God revealed Himself to my dad through visions. One night, he awoke to find angelic figures standing by his bed – an encounter that brought him much-needed comfort.
Still, those were difficult months for him: Blast cells (abnormal white blood cells) had begun to fill my dad’s bones, preventing normal blood production.
This caused him much pain, and hearing his low moans wrung my heart.
Even so, this physical suffering did not rob my dad of his hope in the Lord.
On his hospital bed, my dad praised God daily.
Indeed, in the hospital, my dad would often lift up his hands in worship to God.
Despite my dad’s faith, however, my family did struggle with the possibility that God might take my dad home.
Which is why it was timely that around that season, in December 2018, a church supervisor posed a challenging question to me.
“Do you trust God?” she asked.
I replied, “Even if it’s impossible by human standards, I believe He’ll heal my dad.”
Do you trust God 100%, even if He takes your dad home?
But she pressed further: “Do you trust God 100%, even if He takes your dad home?”
I knew then that I would not be able to trust God if that were to be the outcome.
For until that moment, the thought that He could take my dad had never crossed my mind.
During those months, family friends and pastors visited us and prophesied over my dad.
They promised us things would be fine and that God would heal my dad, because He was good.
Encouraged by their words, we continued to cling onto the hope that God would grant us a healing miracle.
The miracle was what we were waiting for, and we would get upset whenever dad mentioned anything related to death.
But as the months passed, however, my dad’s condition got progressively worse.
Soon, the only possible cure was a bone marrow transplant.
When we found a donor for the bone marrow transplant, our hopes soared!
Even though my dad fractured his spine and cracked his skull a month before the surgery, God enabled him to be able to take the transplant.
A mere fortnight after the bone marrow transplant, my dad was discharged from the hospital.
The doctors were stunned – they rarely ever saw patients recover so quickly.
Dad’s results were overwhelmingly positive; by all appearances it seemed the new engrafted bone marrow was growing well.
We praised God for what seemed like a miraculous eradication of dad’s cancer.
However, three months after the transplant, his cancer returned.
This time, the form of cancer he had – acute myeloid leukaemia – was ultra-aggressive.
In May 2020, the doctor told us to expect the worst. We had only weeks left with my dad.
I raged at God. This wasn’t the fairytale ending we expected. What we were experiencing was nothing like the healing testimonies I had heard about in church.
Adamant that God would grant my dad miraculous physical healing, we refused to stop treatment.
We were angered that the doctors had advised us to put my dad on palliative care.
Later, I informed my church mentor, a doctor, about my dad’s condition.
My mentor didn’t mince his words: “Daniel, without a miracle from God, your dad will die. But you’re now believing in a miracle more than you’re believing in God.
“If you continue like this, you won’t be a Christian anymore if he were to die.”
His words stung, but they were a sobering wake-up call.
You’re now believing in a miracle more than you’re believing in God.
The next day, my dad and I had a precious conversation which I will always remember.
He was surprisingly energetic when I spoke to him. I told him that I could not understand how a loving God could possibly permit his physical suffering.
I also shared with him about the nights I had spent awake, grappling with doubts about God’s existence.
My dad’s reply was quiet, but his voice rang with conviction.
“When I see the sun rise every morning, I think to myself: How can there not be a God?” he said.
“When I see God’s creation, the flora and fauna, and how He created everyone with unique personalities: How can there not be a God?”
Dad’s steady faith encouraged me, and his words helped me put things in perspective. Even if God did not grant my dad physical healing, He was still sovereign and infinitely good.
Just then, a doctor (who was also a Christian) entered the room and told us gently that things didn’t look good.
She asked my dad: “Ernie, what are you praying for?”
He replied, “I pray that no matter what happens to me, no matter how painful it may get, that God will give me the strength to cling onto Him as He will never let go of me.”
At that moment, we felt God’s tangible presence in the room and we all started weeping, including the doctor.
I knew then that dad was ready to meet his maker. That was also when I told God: “Even if You take my dad home, I want to trust You.”
Because He lives
On June 25, while listening to the song Because He Lives, my heart was enveloped with a peace that could only have come from God.
I dropped to my knees and my tears fell. In that moment, I could feel God cradling me in His hands ever so gently.
That was the first instance during my dad’s 18-month-long cancer journey in which I was able to declare with certainty: “God, I trust you 100%. You hold my world in Your hands.
“Even if you take my dad home, I will trust and love You.”
My dad was called home to the Lord on July 1.
I had asked God to take my dad home painlessly, and He did.
At 2 am, dad passed away in his sleep surrounded by my mum, sister and me.
The three of us had fallen asleep around his hospital bed, and the doctor woke us up to tell us the news.
As we all looked at dad, my sister began singing the chorus from a song called Goodness of God.
Crying together as a family, I experienced tangibly the goodness of God.
Today, I can testify that He is always good and always faithful, even if circumstances seem to suggest otherwise.
Later, my family selected joyful songs of praise to be sung at his funeral.
Before my dad passed on, he specifically requested for his wake to be an evangelistic one. He wanted the event to glorify God.
In accordance with his wishes, we shared with non-believing guests about the Jesus my dad dearly loved.
We told all our friends that the event was a celebration, because he is with the Lord.
It has been close to two years now since his passing and there are still moments where I struggle with the fact my father has passed away.
However in each of those moments, my tears of sorrow turn into tears filled with joy.
Why? Because I know that I can rejoice.
Because I now have two fathers in heaven.
- What about Ernie’s example stood out to you?
- What is your go-to response when things don’t work out the way you expect them to?
- What does responding to suffering and disappointment look like biblically?
- How can you be a blessing to your dad (or a father figure) on this special day?