The Passing of a Man I Loved

One of my favorite stories has the line in it, “Everybody dies alone.” I’ve always loved the brutal honesty of that statement. That no matter what, no matter who you are with, no matter who you are, you face death alone. We live in a world where honesty about death is hard to come by. We work out, eat right, and do plastic surgery to avoid it. We take drug after drug after drug to keep it at bay. And when we must face it, we sanitize it, cover it up, and hide it. Yet, we’re all going to die, each and every one of us. That’s the horror of this life. That’s its curse. We’re going to die. This life ends.

About three weeks ago, a man I loved died.

“Had he been sick, or was his death unexpected?” The first time someone asked me that I just stood there, trapped between both yes and no. Yes, my dear extra father had been sick for a very long time, and had given us some good scares, but that’s just it. He’d been sick for so long, we just kinda expected him to keep plugging along, or for the downhill spiral to be more gradual. So yes, he’d been sick for years, and yes his death was unexpected. I had just seen him. I knew he wasn’t doing well, but I kept telling myself, “The doctors aren’t panicked, so I’m not gonna panic.”

The next morning he died.

It wasn’t a ‘peaceful’ death like Harry’s, surrounded by saints singing, holding his hand, praying, reading scripture, and doing their duty to the end. It wasn’t like what I’d heard of Glenn’s, where he was able to give his children marching orders before he passed. It was a cold dark morning with EMT’s and doctors struggling, fighting to find a pulse, find a breath, bring him back. It was a police officer taking us away from him to give them room to work. It was us huddled in the emergency room hallway trying to reach our siblings, knowing, having to decide this was the end.

For me, the next few days were busy. Planning a Memorial Service is like planning a wedding, on the fly, in four days. There were lots of tears as we started to put my extra Dad’s life together one last time. There was laughter as we shared stories. Both good things, but for me there was also a layer horror hidden under it all. A profound sense of unrest. I’m not even sure what I was reacting too. I just felt disturbed.

So, I preached to myself. Over and over and over, I recited the truth to my unhappy heart. I knew that my extra Dad had died, but I also knew where he was. I knew that he wasn’t in some void, that he wasn’t lost forever. I know, I know that I will see him again. In fact, the first thought I had was that my extra Dad was now up in heaven with my Yankee Dad. They are up there and someday I’ll be with them. I’ll shed this mortal life with all its temporary, yet heavy burdens, and I’ll join them at Christ’s feet for all eternity. Oh happy thought.

I knew the truth, but the sense of horror didn’t ease up. It just didn’t go away.

What was creeping me out so much?

The Sunday after his Memorial Service we gathered in our normal spots in the church building. That was hard, being there without him. Not hearing his voice while I was singing. Not hearing his ridiculously loud whispers to Wanda during the service. Seeing my husband try to stay emotionally in control. Hearing my extra Mom cry. It was all hard, hard, but good. Then we took the Lord’s Supper. I’m not exactly sure what Jarrett said, but I’m sure it was something about Vidal being with the Lord now, while we’re all still “in remembrance of” Christ. That’s when it hit me: Vidal did not die alone. Not everybody dies alone. There are a few, a happy few, we band of brothers, who do not ever die alone. Christ was with Vidal every step, by horrible step. When we weren’t there, Christ was there. Vidal didn’t die alone. I can’t think of a more beautiful or wonderful thought. Christ, the one who took on death for us, was with Vidal at the end, just like He was through all of Vidal’s Christian life. The Holy Spirit was with Vidal at the end, just like He was through all of Vidal’s Christian life. He was there to help him across the dark waters to the Celestial City, where Vidal is now perfect with no sin. He has seen Christ, his only hope. He is at rest. Vidal is more alive than all of us. He has left the Shadow Lands. He has finished the race, finished the war, found his hope.

The sense of horror slipped away.

Peace has followed me every day since.

I miss the old guy. I miss his love. I miss his support. I miss him being proud of me. I miss him being proud of his son, my husband. I miss his stories. I miss his generosity. I miss him. I will miss him until I join him, but I know he’s safe and so am I. I know that my missing of him is temporary.

It’s strange to lose a parent. It’s strange to face life without them. It’s strange to realize you are going to finish the rest of this life, possibly forty years or more, without them. You can’t share with them and they aren’t there to support you anymore. It’s a strange feeling. Yet there is peace. “Our Father in heaven…” Our Father. We have a forever parent. One who can’t be taken from us, and one who will not leave. He won’t abandon us. He won’t fail us. He won’t exasperate us. He won’t disappoint us. He won’t die. We have a heavenly Father who loves us in the most perfect way of a father with his child.

Here is hope. Here is hope in death. Here is hope in the loss of a man you loved and have loved for years.

Not everybody dies alone, not everybody.

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Not Without Hope

 

Me: How are you? (giving him a big hug)

Ron: Better now.

This. This is what I will miss. This little ritual that we had when we saw each other, that doesn’t really matter, but meant so much to me.

I first met Ron when he came down to visit his children who had moved to Texas and joined our church and a church plant we were part of. We often teased him and Joan that we were holding their children and grandchildren hostage to force them to visit more often. Ron fit easily in our church making me wonder if he wasn’t just a Texan at heart. Him and Dad, and a few other pastors I can think of, must have all shopped at the Reformed Baptist Pastors Hawaiian Shirt Shop. Before I had my own health issues, we spent many Wednesday nights at Chick-fil-a with Ron and a handful of others talking about theology, history, confessions, books, and movies. We enjoyed several movie nights whenever Ron was in town over at his daughter’s house.

What made me love him most though was how he invested in my husband, as a young preacher. My man doesn’t make friends easily. He loves his church and loves his family, but is a true introvert with only a handful of close friends. He and Ron took an instant liking to each other. I think it was their mutual love of the Old Testament. Ron would email him lists of books to read and constantly gift him books. That’s how the name Yankee Dad came about. Ron passed a book to me right as the service was starting on a Sunday and said, “Tell Price this is from his Yankee Dad.”

That’s what Ron meant to us.

Ron was one of the first people we told about my husband considering finishing up his Bachelor’s Degree so that he could go to Seminary. Ron had suggested it, talked with my husband about it, encouraged him to pursue it, and promised to pray for us. I was so excited to keep him posted on our progress.

A little earlier this summer, Ron joined me in the sound booth at church that I was managing, and gave me a gift. It was a book of letters Esther Edwards Burr wrote to her best friend. He said it reminded him of Pride and Prejudice as he read me a passage from it. Then he handed me a second copy and asked me to pass it to Stephanie, his “literary girls” he called us. I couldn’t me honored or in better company.

This was one of the last conversations we had. He preached one last time for us. And that was it.

The Lord took him home.

I can’t even type that without crying and yet it’s not a crying without hope. It’s not an angry crying, a bargaining crying, or depressed crying. It is the tears of a soul who has had to say good-bye for a time to another soul they loved. It’s is crying with HOPE. Hope and faith and love. This was not a mean death caused by some cosmic bully, but a kind and good going home of a faithful servant. Yes, we miss him. Yes, we all think of all the hopes we had of many more years of Ron’s faithful preaching and teaching and friendship. But, we trust the Lord that this was good.

I won’t forget the look on my husband’s face, the mixture of sadness and burden, when he came to tell me the news. I won’t forget him changing in a matter of minutes the Bible study he was doing to teach on death for a Christian and how is okay to grieve. I won’t forget him weeping himself through the study. 
Already, I’ve heard of two cases where moms were able to speak of the Lord to their small children because of this. How happy would that make Ron? My house is going to be filled up with Renihans for his Memorial Service. How happy would that make Ron?

This death didn’t shake my faith, it only confirmed it further. Death’s sting has been removed because we will gather together again, glorified, and with our Lord and each other.

One of my favorite quotes is “Never out of the Fight” from Lone Survivor. As a Christian, we’re never out of the fight against sin and temptation. We are always battling our own lust and pride and hate while dealing with the consequences of the fallen world around us. We’re never out of the fight.
But, Ron is.

Ron is out of the fight.

His battle is done.

Done. Can you imagine not fighting against the sin nature still inside you? How weary are you of committing the same sins over and over, of never being able to do anything perfectly, of never truly completing something? How ready are you to see Christ? To be united in perfect love with your church family with no more bickering or misunderstandings? How ready?

Ron is there. Now.

He is out of the fight.

He is with Christ.

That is why I can weep in hope and even with joy.

I will miss my Yankee Dad. I will weep for the things that didn’t happen, and for the family he left behind who I dearly dearly love. But I will see him again.