Raymond Elmore Eicher - Dad to us - died at around 7.35 PM on the 13th of August in the year of our Lord 2016. Dad peacefully breathed his last in 'Bethel Villa' and went to be with the Lord Jesus Christ from our home on the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital campus in Lalitpur, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Within minutes of Dad passing away, our house filled up with God's saints. The palliative care team came in and washed the body and dressed Dad in his favourite clothes. The coffin, which we had arranged to be made before-hand was brought to the doorstep. A large block of ice - pre-ordered - was wheeled on a trolley and willing hands got to work chopping it in small pieces and filling plastic bags. The air-conditioned ambulance which was on stand-by was called from Jhansi. A quick meal was cooked in our kitchen by some of the saints. People filtered in to pray and give comfort.
Sheba and Enoch were already on the train to Delhi and Dehra Dun when we discovered that Dad was sleeping with Jesus. As we had pre-planned, in the even of Daddy passing away, we told Sheba that we would leave as soon as possible and meet them in Mussoorie the next day.
A quick email to Stefan, Premila and Rudy brought back calls from them within a few minutes. We were able to tell them that Daddy was free from pain and was with the Lord.
Mum went in a room to be quiet and pray and write down her thoughts. I started packing up for the journey. It was going to be the last one with Dad.
A quick post on FB to tell our dear ones that Dad was free from suffering. The post precipitated an avalanche of prayers and notes of condolence and encouragement for all of us in the Eicher pariwar - near and far.
Just before 11 PM almost all was ready. Dad's body had been placed in the casket and ice put all around him (we had specifically had a larger coffin made for the ice). We gathered in the living room for some words of encouragement by Rev. Emmanuel Masih. Mum shared about just how much peace she had that Daddy was free from his suffering and with his beloved Lord. Rev. Kishore Mathews prayed for us all.
Once the coffin was secure in the ambulance, and our things were stowed away in the HBM Hospital vehicle, it was time to thank our dear ones and pray again. We were taking Dad away from a place where he had been blessed deeply by the care given. Before we stepped into the vehicles, we broke up our circle in the darkness with the rousing shouts of Dad's favourite "Bollo Prabhu Yeshu Masih ki Jai! Wo phir se anewala hai! Wo jeevan ka jal hai! Wo jeevan ka roti hai! Boooollllo Prabhu Yeshu Masih ki jai!"
At 11.30 PM we were on our way, driving out into the darkness, headed for Delhi. The small group of us in the main hospital vehicle - Biju Mathew (the hospital head), Sharafat (the driver), Arbind Singh (our dear friend from Mumbai days who is posted with the Air Force in Agra), Mum and myself - began our thanksgiving service in the vehicle as we sped along the highway past Jhansi and Gwalior and on to Agra and Delhi. We reviewed the last days with great thankfulness and shared the last moments of Dad. We sang and prayed as the dark countryside slipped past us, and the ambulance (with Narender and Rahul Singh - a male nurse from HBM in it) drove ahead of us, its small blue light blinking in the night.
A grey Sunday morning saw us pull into New Delhi. Mum, Sharafat and Narendra went with the HBM vehicle to rest at Victor and Sarah's home, while Biju, Rahul and myself waited for the undertaker's ambulance to meet us. We then transferred the coffin to the new vehicle and clambered in to where Dad's body was to be embalmed in North Delhi.
A small blessing was that the undertaker's office was not too far away from Neeru's parents - and so they and her sister Tanuja and her husband and son were able to meet me and pay respects to Dad. We are glad that Stefan was able to coordinate all of this. The miracle of mobile phones which allow us to talk while driving through the night and set up a meeting like this.
Victor and Sarah had already arranged for Mum to fly to Dehra Dun with Sarah. Mum was able to have some deep sleep and then she and Sarah left for the airport at 2 PM, while Victor joined the HBM vehicle to meet us up in north Delhi. We were blessed to be able to pick up my childhood friend Indi and his wife Lydia and their daughter Hannah as well.
Our small convoy of 2 vehicles crawled out of Delhi in the mid-afternoon sun. It seemed most of Delhi was also driving in the same direction. Slooowly. As we moved along the text messages kept coming in. People near and far telling about how sad they were Dad had passed away, and assuring us of their prayers. The vehicle hosted various planning sessions for the next day's funeral, and Indi got down to work (using his daughter's computer) to make a programme and song sheet.
Meanwhile, Mum and Sarah were in Dehra Dun after a short 30 minute flight - arriving at the quaintly named 'Jolly Grant' airport at just after 5 PM. And where then greeted by a 4 hour traffic jam - only arriving in Mussoorie well after 10 PM.
For our part, we kept going with the body. Knowing that the funeral was to take place the next day. Not having slept much the previous night I dozed off more often the closer we came to Dehra Dun in the darkness. A big Punjabi dinner was wolfed down at a dhaba near Roorkee, and the final kilometers disappeared into a haze of sleep for me.
We finally pulled into the Landour Community Hospital at 12.30 AM on the 15th, 25 hours after we left Lalitpur. Dad's coffin was put in one of the rooms and we drove up the winding roads to Sister Bazaar and a dozy family reunion with Sheba and Enoch and Asha (who had been given permission for a week out of boarding from Wynberg) as well as Mum and Sarah.
The next day was going to be a big one so we slept at 1.30 AM. We were so thankful to have made it up safely over all the kilometers and have Dad's body ready for the burial the next day. The prayers of God's people sped us over the land, and enveloped us with an amazing peace.