Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. (Psalm 116:15)
On Monday, I wrote about the need to lean on the Lord for wisdom during difficult times. Today, I’d like to pick up where we left off and describe the passing of my father-in-law.
The Final Days
Corina arrived in Romania on Saturday afternoon (January 26). The joy of her reunion with her family was sweet. Using FaceTime on our phones, we were able to stay in constant communication. Whenever I talked to her and her family, I could see how much it meant to her father to have her home again.
Florin Trifan was never one to beat around the bush. When he found out Corina was on her way, he said, “She knows why she’s coming.” He knew he was dying – that it wouldn’t be long before he’d see the Lord. There was no tiptoeing around the truth.
When Corina arrived, the two of them had time for good discussion Saturday afternoon and evening. Her father took a few steps with his walker, but was unable to muster up the strength to do much more. On Saturday night, for the first time in months, he slept well.
On Sunday, I was still in the States with the kids. When Corina’s dad found out I would be preaching that morning, he insisted on having a time of prayer with Corina for me. Whenever he knew I was preaching, he would tell me, “You preach, I pray!”
At this point, we had a general idea of our plans. If my father-in-law passed, I would immediately get tickets for me and the kids to join the rest of the family in Romania for the funeral. The next day, all of that changed.
Sudden Trip to Romania
On Tuesday morning, Corina told me that her dad had taken a turn for the worse. His pain was increasing, and he hadn’t eaten anything since Monday. His hands and feet were swollen, and his voice was weaker.
We threw all our plans out the window. I knew deep down that Corina needed me, and so I bought the fastest ticket to Romania I could find. My parents agreed to take care of our kids. Within five hours, I had packed a carry-on bag and was on a plane headed to Newark, Zurich, and then Budapest.
On Wednesday evening in Romania, I arrived at my in-laws’ apartment. My father-in-law had lost so much weight that he barely resembled the robust man he had been just a few years ago. With his sister-in-law and his wife holding him up, as he sat up in the bed, I kneeled in front of him and began to talk. Once he realized it was me, all he could say was, It can’t be true.
That night, I sat next to my father-in-law as he lay in bed, and I read the Scriptures to him. I began with Romans 8. Though he was too weak to carry on a conversation, he was lucid enough to remember the words, and I could see his lips moving along with me as I read. He knew the chapter by heart. The only time he spoke was at verse 15: For you did not receive the spirit of slavery again to fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry… and before I could continue, he said out loud: Abba! Father!
After reading Scripture with him, my father-in-law wanted to pray. He called the rest of the family into the room. With his two sons on both sides holding him up, he sat up in bed and we had a time of prayer together in which he blessed me and Corina and our family.
The Final Hours
Wednesday night and Thursday morning were terrible. The pain had increased to the point that my father-in-law was crying out with every breath. Whenever he spoke, he cried, Oh my Father… Sweet Jesus. We couldn’t do anything to ease his suffering, and the feeling of helplessness gripped everyone in the house.
After lunch, the nurse from hospice arrived and administered a small dose of morphine. My father-in-law’s pain gradually subsided, and he entered a semi-comatose state during the afternoon hours.
Not wanting to leave him alone in the room, I sat next to him and read a number of Scripture passages to him out loud. I chose certain psalms, Revelation 21, 2 Timothy 4, John 14, and 1 Corinthians 15. After the first reading, he quietly said, “Amen.” After the second, he was no longer responsive. Sensing he was still conscious, only unable to speak, I continued to read.
Around 5:30 that evening, a close pastor friend of the family, Cornel Iova, arrived for a visit. He saw that my father-in-law’s state was worsening, and he encouraged us to gather around him in the room. We sang a couple of old hymns (“Suna Harfa Laudei Mele” – one of my father-in-law’s favorites), and then had a time of prayer.
Just before 6:00, as the sun was setting, we sang another hymn about heaven:
In ziua de apoi, cand vor fi toti chemati,
Cand cei sfinti intalnesc pe Domnul lor,
Cand strainul v-ajunge in patria sa,
Lauda Domnului vom fi acolo.
The last verse included a line about Christ Jesus calling the saint to come be with the Lord.
By the time we’d ended the verse, we noticed that my father-in-law’s heavy breathing had subsided. His windpipe moved up and down a couple more times, indicating shallow breaths.
Bro. Cornel leaned over and took him by the hand and said, “Florin, you can hear us, can’t you? If you can, squeeze my hand.” Instead, my father-in-law opened his eyes wide. Cornel then replied, “We are all here,” and he listed off the names of every one of us gathered around his bed: Corina’s mom, brothers, Corina and me. And then, without sound or struggle, he closed his eyes and stopped breathing.
Like a candle being blown out, he was gone.
There were many tears in that room that night. We had another time of prayer of thanksgiving with the pastor, and then gently prepared my father-in-law’s body as we waited for the coroner to arrive and for the morgue to come and take his remains.
But in the midst of our sorrow, there was something so sweet, so precious about the whole scene. The moment of transcendence when a person departs to be with the Lord… it is something I will never forget. Corina’s father died the way he lived – with a prayer and a song on his lips.
On Friday evening, hundreds of people were present for a church service mourning the loss of Florin Trifan. On Saturday, hundreds more packed the chapel in the cemetery as we laid his body to rest. On Sunday, I preached a sermon he had begun but had been unable to complete.
Now, as Corina and I return to the States, we grieve. We will continue to grieve. But we take great comfort in the life he lived and the death he died, and the hope of resurrection we have because of the gospel.