Three Miracles I Experienced During my Dad’s Last Two Days
By George Johnston, Jr.
My dad George Ernest Johnston, Sr. passed from this life on May 16, 2017. I was fortunate to arrive in Dallas, TX, two days before his death and witness three miracles.
My wife Lynne and I both grew up in the Dallas area. Neither of us was born there, but we did meet at my very first prayer meeting at Mount St Michael in Dallas. We both made (independent of each other) an underway commitment to the Christian Community of God’s Delight. We eventually fell in love -– which I think happened to me the first time I met her at the conclusion of that first prayer meeting -– and got married the following year in 1977.
Lynne and I have never lived in Dallas as husband and wife. My career took us away first to Lubbock, TX, then Albuquerque and finally San Diego. Our plan was to always return to Dallas but that door never opened. My prayer to the Lord has always been that if we cannot live near family, would he please make sure our kids get to know their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins? The Lord has been very gracious to us because we always found ways to get together with family over the years. Amazingly, I also seem always to have opportunities to work in Texas no matter what job I had. These afforded me precious opportunities to be with family while on business. I would, of course, stay with my parents whenever I was there on business.
The Gift of Being Laid Off
My business dealings in Texas ended abruptly in June of 2012. The company I was with fell on hard times and laid off many of the senior employees. With the downturn in the economy, I found out that no one wanted another aging “baby boomer.” I finally decided to start my own business as an insurance broker. This was only a part-time endeavor, which left me free to do other things.
I also discovered that a laptop was sufficient to run the business and I could do it anywhere. So as my dad’s health deteriorated, I found myself in a position to go to Texas to help my dad. I averaged 2 to 3 trips a year, staying up to 2 weeks each time. This was a big help to him and my siblings who were carrying the load of caring for our aging parents. It was delightful for me to spend so much time doing the simple things like going to coffee or bingo at my parents’ retirement community, which they both really enjoyed. I scheduled several of these trips during some of their medical procedures and subsequent rehab, which again really helped the family.
In 2012 at age 86, my dad suffered a heart attack. This began a steady slide downward in his overall health. He never complained much. Although there was the occasional low point, he generally faced his difficulties with dignity and grace.
Dad and I were both extremely blessed to go on an Honor Flight together to visit the WWII memorial in Washington, DC, just three months before his heart event. It was such a pleasure seeing him and a handful of other old vets getting their overdue recognition for their sacrifice during the war.
Dad worked hard during his several rehab assignments over the last few years. He always maintained that he was going to get stronger. He was still saying this right to the very end even when it became obvious that he was nearing the end. However, he did wake up the morning of May 3rd with a completely changed mind. He announced to my mom that he wanted to say goodbye. He asked her to call the family. All my siblings in town, their spouses and all the local grandkids took off work or school to come see him that day. He was very lucid and talked to each of them individually thanking them, saying goodbye and giving some last advice.
Dad called me on Facetime that morning and told me on the phone that “he loved me”, thanked me “for all I have done” and wanted to say “goodbye.” I was rather flabbergasted and responded that I would be there in a couple of weeks. I had already purchased airline tickets to come see him and attend my nephew’s wedding over Memorial Day weekend. He responded, “That will be too late – I am running out of runway.”
- First Miracle – Dad ate his last meal on Thursday the 11th of May. The coming weekend was Mother’s Day with my daughter Lisa and her family coming into town. Lisa and her husband Mike were coming to be godparents to my youngest granddaughter Addison. Her baptism and a couple of family celebrations were scheduled. I was torn about whether to move up my trip and leave all of them and the planned family events. I opted to stay through the baptism on Saturday and Mother’s Day brunch on Sunday. I booked a plane Sunday evening getting me to Dallas late Sunday night.
When I arrived in Dallas, I promptly went to my parent’s apartment. I was happy to find him alive but still unresponsive. It had now been three days since he last eaten or had anything to drink. It has been said that frequently comatose persons can still see and hear even when they can’t respond. I sat on the edge of his bed, leaned very close to his face and announced that I was here. Dad reached up and kissed me on the chin and said. “Hi bud.” My mother, brother Tim and I were all amazed. He said a few other things and was very lucid for about 15 minutes. It was late and I could see he was dropping back off so I started to stand up and out came a “Sit down boy!” Very firmly with a clear and commanding voice. I promptly said, “Yes sir” and sat back down. These were the last words he spoke on this earth.
- Second Miracle – Dad returned to his silent un-communitive self the entire next day and into Tuesday. I did spend hours with him just holding his hand and telling him things. He never responded verbally but I did see the beginnings of a small tear in his one open eye after I promised to take care of mom, my siblings and the grandkids. I also promised that we would tell the stories of his life like the time the Kamikaze just missed his ship at Okinawa during WWII or the time he was a small boy growing up on his farm and he buried several little baby chicks. He was playing with them until the mailman arrived. He quickly threw them in a hole and put a little dirt on them so they would not run away while he went to get the mail. His mother saw it and quickly rescued the poor things. She never tired of telling that story.
Finally, around 4:00 PM his breathing became very shallow. My brother Tim, sister Brenda, my mother and I gathered around his bed. (My sister-in-law Cindy was in the next room holding her grandchild Ava.) We began the Divine Mercy Chaplet and during the fourth decade, both my dad’s eyes opened wide. He smiled and a look of joy came over his face. He let out one last gasp then crossed the threshold to the next life. It was a moment of intense pain mixed with intense holiness for all of us. What a gift to see him pass so dramatically from this life to the next.
- Third Miracle – Shortly after this dramatic scene the hospice nurse arrived. She listened to him for several minutes and then looked at her watch. She declared him officially gone at 5:22 PM. The three of us at his bed were crying softly, and I was thinking we need to get the word out to the rest of the family. My phone rang with a text from my daughter Stephanie. She asked simply, “How is PaPa?” I responded immediately and said, “You have a special birthday today (her 35th). He went on two minutes ago.” She shot back a response, “It was very special. He sent a blessing from heaven because I just knew.”
I still have a hard time telling this story. I especially choke up just thinking how God allowed my dad to swing by San Diego to drop off a greeting to his granddaughter on her birthday. Cindy also tells how her 16-month-old granddaughter Ava pointed to the ceiling and exclaimed “da” at the moment of his passing. To realize that we were in the presence of angels, our Lord and his mother at the time of dad’s passing brings a strong measure of comfort to me.
The wake, funeral and interment at the National Cemetery were intense and bittersweet. I was grateful that all 21 grandchildren came to his funeral and all participated in some way. It was impressive to see his 10 adult grandsons walking down the aisle as his pallbearers. It is a great legacy knowing he left behind so many fine young men and women.
My constant prayer the last few months was asking the Lord for mercy. I couldn’t in good conscience ask for my dad to be healed. Mercy was what we receive -- with tenderness, great tenderness -- to me and all the family.