“At My Father’s Feet,” Ensign, July 2002, 63–64
I have never been a relaxed airplane passenger. My heart pounds frantically, my palms become damp, and my feet tap rhythmically from takeoff to landing. However, as I flew toward my parents’ home near Sacramento, California, on an overcast February day, the bumpy flight was the least of my worries. A parent of five children, I was in the middle of a divorce, and my father was dying.
My dad, simply put, was wonderful. He was handsome, funny, and kind, and he always put my mother and his five daughters first. Although not a member of the Church, he never missed a “daddy-daughter date” or a late night trip to the stake center to retrieve us after a regional dance. He was a successful businessman who taught us honesty, the value of hard work, and the importance of enjoying life’s journey. Now, just a year after retirement, he was losing his battle with lung cancer.
My father had given up smoking 11 years earlier, but the damage had already been done. The morning before my journey began, I had received a call from my sister telling me that Dad was not doing well and that I needed to come right away to say good-bye.
I was not prepared for my father’s frail appearance as I entered my parents’ home. He was so thin! His thick dark hair was gone because of the chemotherapy, and a hospital bed now held a prominent place in the family room. I was devastated by his rapid decline in the few weeks since I’d seen him at Christmas.
As I made my way down the hall, Dad heard my steps. He turned toward me, smiled, held out his arms, and said, “Julie’s home!” I held myself together for 20 minutes as we talked, then slipped into the kitchen and fell weeping quietly into my sister Kimberlee’s arms.
The next morning, after very little sleep, I began to help my mother in her daily routine. This particular morning, my mom had an appointment, and my sister Kimberlee and I were delegated the task of bathing my father, rubbing him with lotion, and helping him into fresh pajamas.
As Kim and I prepared warm, soapy water and gathered supplies, I told her I was not sure I could do this without falling apart. Kim answered thoughtfully: “I really feel it is a privilege to care for someone who has given so much to me. I want Dad to remember me smiling and happy.”
Kim, my junior by 12 years, was displaying a calm assuredness that I did not feel but vowed to emulate.
Finishing our preparations, I carried the basin, towel, and washcloth to the family room and, kneeling before my father, began to wash his feet and legs. At that moment I forgot my troubles. My thoughts turned to the Savior.
“He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
“After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wipe the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded” (John 13:4–5).
It occurred to me that serving another in this way is an act of great love and devotion. It is a privilege to symbolically wash away the dirt and grime of someone’s troubles, the pain of a strained relationship, and the cares of an unforgiving world.
As I gently cleansed my dear father, it did indeed become a privilege for me. My father, who had given me so much and required so little of me, had now provided me with an opportunity to do something that brought my heart closer to him and to my Savior, Jesus Christ.
“For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15).
My father passed away just two days later. When I think of those last few days, I realize that I must always follow the Savior’s example and take advantage of every opportunity to serve others.