Respect Life Month Testimony: End of Life

By St. Joseph County Right to Life | October 17, 2018, 6:42pm


SOUTH BEND, Ind. —  The following is part of St. Joseph County Right to Life's Respect Life Month campaign for 2018. Don Harty's father, James Harty, is the featured Wednesday Warrior for Life for the series' third week, which is focused on end of life issues. This testimony may not be used without the express permission of Don Harty.


In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul quotes the Prophet Hosea. He says, “O death where is your victory? O death where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55).


My father, James Harty, died this past January. He was part of the Greatest Generation. He grew up in the depression, he was a World War II veteran, he worked hard, and he raised a family of five children with his bride of 63 years.


Dad taught us all many things as we were growing up, and even well into our adulthood. Important life lessons, common sense, work ethic, the value of a dollar, and perseverance are just some of what we learned from him. But only recently could he teach us how to die. And what a gift we were given to watch him die with such dignity. Dad really showed us all how it should be done.


Dad enjoyed relatively good physical health and was fully aware until about a month before he died. In December his body began to fail resulting in the transition from earthly life to eternal life. It was during this month that we were witnesses to his death, giving us a bed side seat to the truly great gift of passing from life. Here is what we witnessed:


Deep expressions of love for family. Repeatedly we were treated to hearing “I love you” and “I’m so proud of all my kids and grandkids.” He told us how much he loved his family. He talked about Mom and how much he loved her. Just seeing the joy on his face when we arrived, the strong squeeze from his hand, the calm that we could bring to him by being there with him—all of it was priceless. When he was nearing the end, he poured forth overwhelming expressions of love like never before.


Dad was also exceptionally kind and appreciative to those who provided care for him. This wasn’t new but witnessing it in this last month was amazing. Caregivers provide such a valuable service for an often thankless job. They perform works of mercy on a daily basis and Dad let them know how much he appreciated them. He would constantly say “thank you” and “God bless you” to them. This endeared Dad to them and you could tell they became fond of him in very short order. Always a prankster, Dad was seen asking some of the nurses to lean closer so he could hear them talk—only to give them a peck on the cheek.


Dad’s death was also a death of courage. Dad faced death head on and never looked back. No one really knows what goes on in the mind and soul of someone preparing for death, but I know that as the days on earth were counting down for Dad he was himself awakening to the everlasting. He was looking forward to Heaven and to enjoying a preview of the beatific vision. There was no fear, only desire to be reunited with his bride, his family and those who went before him.


Another fruit borne from this experience was seeing the deep faith that was inside Dad come bursting forth. During these moments, we heard prayers spoken we had never heard him speak, bible verses repeated that he had learned in childhood, hymns of praise sung aloud for all of us present to enjoy. We listened as Dad made his peace with Our Lord and Savior, expressing regrets for his earthly sins.


This power of the Holy Spirit working in Dad over this last month is a lesson we will never forget and there could be no stronger evidence for me of a kind and merciful God preparing His servant for His Kingdom.


Maybe the greatest gift we received from his journey was the love that we shared with him and with each other. Enduring this trial brought us—his children and grandchildren—all closer, deepened our appreciation for each other, gave us reason to spend time together, to talk, to pray, to hug, to wipe away tears. What more can we ask for?


I used to say that I hoped I would receive a call one morning from a family member telling me that Dad died peacefully in his sleep and didn’t show up for breakfast. I thought this would be the best. But God knew better.


His plan was to have Dad die just as he did so that we could receive these gifts. My way would have not provided the opportunities for these graces. I prayed “Thy will be done.” We got just that.


So, thank you Dad for teaching us this final lesson: how to die with honor and dignity.


There are some in our world who wish for and work for the ability to end their life on their own terms. Not only is this a most grievous sin against our God, but as we witnessed from the blessings and gifts we received from Dad’s death, it would be an enormous loss for the dying loved one and the family accompanying them on the journey. I cannot imagine missing out on any of these experiences or trading them for expediency, convenience or some imagined sense of a lessened burden. God will help us with our burdens if we ask for his help.


One final thought. After Dad passed away and we waited for the funeral home to come and pick him up, I wondered aloud what death would mean to those without faith in the Resurrection. We were happy for Dad when he died. Overjoyed at the prospect of Heaven as his final resting place. Relieved that the suffering and stress of this world was over for him. Without faith in God and Heaven death is the end. For Christians it is the beginning. Praise God for that. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”