Pop died on Wednesday, September 16, 2020. He’d been home from the
hospital for exactly a week, and his decline was quick and painful to watch.
That week though.
For seven full days we took shifts so that someone was always
with him and his bride. We were together as a family almost constantly. Because
of covid, there were very few visitors, and as a result we as a family were
bound together tightly in sadness, yes, but mostly by love. We looked at
pictures, tended to tasks, laughed a lot, and cried even more. Tenderness
abounded, grace was everywhere, love was shiny and bright, and GOD WAS THERE.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been so aware of His loving presence. This truth, given
through Paul in Philippians 10:6, shone like a light to all of us:
And I am certain that God, who began
the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally
finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
I had a precious few hours with him during one of those
first nights – I wasn’t sleeping and neither was he and the whole house was quiet
as a mouse. It was hard to hear him by then, and listening to his coughing was
almost unbearable. We spoke of so many things, from some really funny stories
about his son that I love so much and had never heard before, to intensely
personal things like fears, and promises, and hopes, and Jesus. Always we came
back to Jesus.
For the past 20 years, he has been more than a father-in-law
to me, you see – he was my brother, shepherd, mentor, and TEACHER. He taught me
from the moment God claimed me as his own until the last time we spent alone
together, always doing our best to “divide the scriptures rightly.” We had some
terrific verbal sparring contests that never failed to bring one or both of us
to a real understanding of a mystery we couldn’t get before. Or to the real
understanding that sometimes things must just stay a mystery.
That night, even though he couldn’t work his phone or the
remote very well anymore, he said: “Get my computer.” (It wasn’t a suggestion.)
So I did, and he proceeded to try to show me some new Bible software, and even
though we never quite figured that out, here’s what he said to me first: “You
need to know about this, you’re going to be teaching women all your life.” He
couldn’t have given me a better blessing.
By Friday, Pop finally, finally, finally started to allow
his mind to wind down, and it began to slow down with his body. Even though his
notes for the next week’s sermon were sitting on his keyboard, even though he
kept going to radiation, and taking the meds he could hardly choke down, it was
so very evident to us that Pop’s “work” was coming to a final finish. Watching
him prepare for his exit is what we were doing.
Saturday is a blur to me now. What I remember is the mingling
of emotions, among us and between us. We looked at pictures, alone or together,
and reminisced while wandering down memory lane. The kids told stories I’d
never heard before, and Pop spent most of his time looking for his phone. (Does
this surprise anyone who knows him? Absolutely not. He was widely known for his
“gift of phone” and at the merest nudging he picked it up and dialed whomever
he was thinking of.) I spent a lot of the day saying, “Pop, it’s charging”
because by then he just couldn’t work it anymore. He would continue to ask for
that phone almost to the end. He was tired, and frankly, so were we.
But then came Sunday. Sunday was simply the most beautiful
thing I’ve ever witnessed. A dear sister of theirs orchestrated a praise service
on the front lawn of their house – down to colorful paper on the ground that
was carefully spaced six feet apart.
We didn’t really know what to expect, but we gathered around
Mom and Pop as they sat on the front porch. Pop was so weak by then that it was
exhausting for him to get there, but as we watched, people started streaming
onto the lawn from every direction. As they were still coming in, the singing
started. They sang, we sang, we sobbed. I looked down at Pop, so hunched over
in his chair that I couldn’t tell if he was awake or asleep, and noticed him
keeping tremulous time, tapping his leg with his still-strong working man’s
And mouthing the words. Every word.
I can’t even tell you any of the hymns and songs we sang
that day, only that it was far beyond astounding. Cars driving by rolled down
their windows, some stopping to listen, one to join us in song. It was church.
Church at its finest. Worship, praise, honor and glory all wrapped up in the
Holy Spirit on a front yard in Raytown, Missouri.
After a long while, the singing stopped, and the
processional began. They lined up and one by one, spoke to and over him,
telling him what he had meant to them, telling him goodbye, and urging him on
into glory. There were millions of tears shed that day as he watched his very
own funeral unfold before him. He knew they were saying goodbye, and I think it
wasn’t until those moments that he fully realized that his journey here
was nearly finished. And that the hope
of glory was soon to become not a hope any longer, but a reality.
For we have heard of your faith in
Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident
hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. You have had this expectation
ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News. (Colossians 1:4-6)
That afternoon, he had two final conversations. In the first
one, he humbly and truly apologized and mended a fence that had been broken for
13 years. Mended so well that the seam is invisible, when all hope of
reconciliation had been lost long long ago. This one I will unabashedly call a
The second one was his goodbye to his bride of 66 years –
that was an intensely private conversation, and it was the last time he spoke.
He drifted away that night and never came back to us, and on Wednesday morning
he left his broken body and ran into the waiting arms of his Savior, for all
“Fight the good fight for the true
faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called
you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses.” (1
Pop did this – he FOUGHT for the true faith, he held TIGHTLY
to the promises, and he never missed a chance to declare the truth and never
met an open door he wouldn’t walk through. He believed wholeheartedly that his
eternity in heaven was secured once and for all, long ago, the day that he said
“yes” to Jesus. The day he was changed forever.
Instead of the service that might have happened in the
pre-Covid world, we had a simple graveside service as a family at Leavenworth
National Cemetery. Taps played, the casket was draped with Old Glory, and then that
flag was folded precisely and perfectly by two soldiers. They handed the flag
to Pop’s bride, and then, unexpectedly, saluted her. Commended HER, for his service
to and for our country. It was an intimate finale to a grace-filled,
mercy-driven, sacred week, and it was perfect.
It’s a year later now, and it’s clear to us that the time for
any kind of service has come and gone. But I must tell of this. Pat got 135 (one
hundred and thirty five!) cards from family and friends far and wide, and every
single one had a message inside telling of how Pop had impacted them.
Here’s what I think about that:
I think that all those things would have been said to Pat at
a service, and while that would also have been wonderful, most of it would have
gotten scrambled and much forgotten in the big-ness of those few hours. Instead,
the words poured down on her like rain, one note at a time, and she remembers every
one. Answered every one, in fact. Here’s a powerful quote from that letter:
Everyone who has contacted me and
asked me how I am doing. I feel they are really asking me, “How are you
adjusting to being a widow?”
In one sense, my grief will always
be with me. When CS Lewis lost his wife, he wrote that losing a loved one is
like having your leg amputated. The wound may heal, but the leg will never grow
back. You’ll always have that absence in your life, and you’ll always walk with
There was an incredible ministry of love to her in those
cards, and especially those written words, and she was blessed in both the receiving and the
answering. I dare say the recipients of that beautiful letter were impacted by
it as well.
Now, she is joyful and hopeful as she limps, because she
KNOWS she will be reunited with him – someday. She still grieves, and
remembers, and of course she always will. But her hope and joy come from
knowing Jesus is her Savior. May we learn from her example as she continues to
run her race well.