Saturday, 12 August 2017

A year after Dad died

It's been a year.  It's been a life-time.

Dad died yesterday.  Dad died a year ago.  13th August 2016.  Home-going.

Dad and Stefan go for a walk in the monsoonal mists on the afternoon that Stefan left Mussoorie last year.
Stefan spent a blessed 10 days with Dad and Mum.   Dad's condition deteriorated the next day.
There is a Dad-shaped hole in my life.  And there should be.  He was a force of blessing.

This week I went to Jhansi and met some senior mission leaders.  Inevitably I was introduced as "Ray Eicher's son".  The main leader sat with me for lunch and told me how Dad had spoken to a group of young men many years ago - one of whom was him.

The story repeats itself over and over.  Dad did not have many degrees.  He wrote no books.  His bank account was always almost empty (mainly from his and Mum's quiet generosity to countless families).  But he was rich in friends.  He was rich in faith and in sharing his joy in Jesus.

A tear is slowly making its way down my face as I write this.

I am so grateful to have been born to such a man as this.  A man who did not fit many moulds, but chose to allow himself to be shaped by the loving potter's hands.

Dad was adopted by a missionary couple working in rural Maharasthra.  His father was a good man - but very much a man of his time.  My grandfather was not very affectionate, and his adopted son yearned for expressions of love.

Instead of being bitter, Dad become better.  With God's help he smothered us kids with love.  His hugs remain warm in my memory.  And in the memory of many others who experienced his embrace.

Dad and Mum and a less than 1 year old me at Nargaon - where my Grandparents were serving in 1969.

As a father, Dad was a learner.  He and Mum sought help from others about how to raise us.  They read.  The Bible was their base, but they also looked around for practical helps to guide their parenting.  And then they put what they learned into practice.  We were the products of their love.

I am glad Dad took the pains to discipline me.  I use the word pains because it pained him.  He would take me to a private place and then talk with me.  We went over where I had crossed the line.  I never remember a time when he accused me of doing something that I had not done.  The talk was usually more a trial for me than the short sharp sting that served as a reminder of the gravity of wrong-doing. And then Dad's hugs and prayers.

Dad with Stefan and me in on a Spaziergang in Germany - 1973
Ours was on open home.  Living in a what was a kind of commune with a common purse it was not easy to draw the lines about where our 'small family' was and where the 'big family' began.  But draw boundaries Dad did.  Most of our meals were with others - usually a guest or four - or a person going through a rough time (we kids did not know the back stories).  But Dad staked out a time for us that was sacred.  The evening book reading and Bible time.  Every evening he would read to us.  Reading opened us up to exciting worlds.  And we have the security of lying together on Mum and Dad's low bed, hidden away from others in their tiny bedroom in Nana Chowk.  No one else.  Just Dad and us as the family.   Likewise Sunday afternoons for games - and an annual holiday (usually to Kodaikanal).

I later found out that Dad would go to his office on many a night after those evening times with us as kids.  His love for us came at a price.  All true love does.

Mum, myself, Stefan, Premi and Dad.  Plus our first two pets - Snowy and Tiger.  
Good times as we moved to our childhood home of 'Elim' in Nana Chowk late 1975

As the years have gone by, I found myself bench-marking my life with where Dad had been at that point in his.   It was always sobering.   Handing over a national leadership position - at the age of 46 - so that younger people can have a chance.   Taking in a whole new set of foster children - after Stefan, Premi and myself had left the home.   Standing by Mum through the challenges of depression and recovery.  Always being ready to minister to people.  Always being ready to look at the positive side of things.  Always being ready to forgive.   Dad lived out the Bible.  Sometimes uncomfortably for a person like me who wanted a more 'normal' father - but in hindsight, Dad was spot on.  Not easy to 'live up' to a life like that - but by God's grace I don't have to.  Dad's example was a pointer not a blue-print.  And he spent plenty of time helping unpack his own life-lessons - ones that I inevitably find myself telling others about.  A rich legacy.

25 years ago - the Eichers celebrate Mum and Dad's 25th wedding anniversary in Upland, Indiana on the 23rd of Dec 1992.  We had hoped to celebrate their 50th this year - but that was not to be.

And then we have the final months of a life well lived.  Time since March 2015 was a blur.  From Dr. Stephen looking at Dad's MRI and telling us to get Dad to Thane immediately - while also informing us that 'this is the disease that will probably kill your father' - to the last days of Dad's life in the monsoonal green of Lalitpur - each moment that we were able to spend together was a miracle - a hyper-real opportunity to be.

Dad suffered much.  A lot in silence at night.  He was old-school about pain and spoke of it only when it was fairly unbearable.  Many a night in Mussoorie he sat in his chair (the most comfortable position for him) and prayed.

Dad's approach to God was always on the practical and experiential side of the spectrum.   Not for him weighty theological debates (though he had his own fairly eclectic views).  But rather the practice of the presence of God.  Lived out by love in action.  Lived out by reading the word and meditating on its simple truths.  Lived out by putting into place whatever the latest joy Dad had to share with all and sundry.

Forgiveness was a key word in the last few years as Mum and Dad helped scores of people deal with past bitternesses.  Letting Jesus help people forgive others was essential to giving release.

Dad put this into action just before he died.  The actions of a certain set of people had hurt him deeply - and in a time when he was hardly able to speak, Dad brought us together and with our help, spoke out his own sadness of not having forgiven them.  He then prayed a prayer of forgiveness and release - and was blessed with another portion of the peace that He enjoyed in such turbulent times over the course of his 75 years on this dear broken planet of ours.

Dad with his beloved Bible - sitting on his chair in Mum and Dad's bedroom in Shanti Kunj, Mussoorie
In the days just before we were able to shift him to Lalitpur, it would take Dad a painful 20+ minutes
to ease himself from his bed to his chair - a distance of 2 meters.

Did we pray for Dad to be healed of his cancer?  Of course we did.  During surgery.  During chemo. During palliation.  After all, we are asked to come to our heavenly Father as dearly loved children.

Am I disappointed that the 'miracle' did not take place?  No.  Not really.  I have seen enough death to know it well.  Dad lived his life to the fullest.  There is not a trace of regret in my heart that Dad had left something undone.  All that he had to say, he said.  All he had to love, he loved.  A life lived for God.  No regrets.

Dad left this world a year ago.  He was translated and is in paradise.  One day he will be resurrected. Flesh of his own flesh in new and wonderful way.  We have much to look forward to.