Posted tagged ‘passing away’

The Box

March 8, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                March 8, 2018


It arrived yesterday, filled with familiar scents and memory items that no one else would see with any value.

It’s been three weeks since my dad passed away. My sister and brother-in-law have been sorting through his belongings after moving everything out of his apartment. It was a major task just to get it moved, but, for starters, she simply was moving it from one place to another…her house. The last week for her has been a time of sorting through the items that are reminiscent of our father.

In sending me “The Box” she was bringing part of Dad to our house. The box did not contain items that I necessarily need, but it contained some of who my dad was- kind of like a small museum!

I was looking at some of the contents this morning and pondering Pops.

I now have four University of Kentucky ball caps. One of them- a blue cap with a large letter “K” on the front- was worn by Dad, a UK grad, to the UK basketball game back in December of 2016 against Valparaiso. My sister took a picture of him in the lobby at Rupp Arena that night alongside former UK coach, Joe. B. Hall. Each of them had their “hurry-canes” by their side as the camera snapped the photo.

In the box are my mom’s Bible and one of Dad’s old Bibles. Each have their names scripted into the lower right corner leather.

There’s his personal calculator from about thirty years ago. He had not transitioned to using the calculator on a smart phone, because he didn’t have a smart phone. He had one of those flip phones that resembled the walkie talkie’s on Star Trek.

There’s a tube of Brylcreem! (“A little dab will do ya!”) That takes me back! Most of my uncles, plus my dad and grandfather, used the hair cream. That was the thing back in Eastern Kentucky. Dad didn’t need to worry about his hair blowing all over the place. The cream kept it firmly matted in place. When he started having some skin cancers on his scalp, ears, and nose he had to ease up on the Brylcreem. I’m not sure if Brylcreem has an expiration date!

There’s a trophy recognizing his achievement of finishing last in a euchre tournament back in 1975. Mom and Dad went to Florida with three other couples from our church, enjoyed the sun during the day and played euchre each evening. The trophy features a gold horse’s rump! I remember Dad telling me about it in detail. It always elicited a chuckle, remembering the razzing but mostly remembering his friends.

There’s a shoe horn still in mint unbent position. Putting his shoes on properly was an indication of my father’s emphasis on doing things correctly and not in a hurry.

There’s the photo album with the title on the cover “Our Son’s Wedding.” Yes, it’s our wedding from almost 39 years ago. As I look at our youthfulness, and who my parents were back in 1979 all I can say is “Wow!”

There are a few of my mom’s Longaberger baskets. She collected them like baseball cards!

And a stapler! And replacements blades for his electric shaver! And a cookbook put together by people from his church!

And handkerchiefs folded neatly, like they were a part of a J.C. Penney’s catalog display.

I’ve experienced families that descend like vultures on the possessions of the deceased. It’s an occasion where the lust for someone’s valuables devalues the life of the one who has passed on. My dad’s valuables are on the other end of the spectrum. I am like Don Quixote as I look at them, seeing rich memories in a shoe horn and value in a tube of Brylcreem.

I stare at the collection that brings stories and moments back to my mind. Saying goodbye to someone is never painless, but recalling the shared times and conversations…that’s priceless!

Dad’s Things

February 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 19, 2018


It’s a small apartment located at the end of the first floor in the Wyngate Senior Living Complex. Dad has lived there for about the last three years, making new friends and acquaintances with other travelers of life’s final chapters.

Later on today and tomorrow my sister and I will spend some time over there going through some of his possessions, and breathing in the memories.

Dad passed from this life to the next on February 15 at the age of 89 years and 8 months. His was a life well-lived!

His apartment is a testimony to who he was and what had become entwined in his life.

There are the oxygen tanks that testify to his health limitations. Like a changing autumn landscape, I had noticed the changing interior of his apartment when I would come for one of my visits to southern Ohio from Colorado. Medications, the medical supplies a diabetic would need, blood pressure monitor, and (Sorry, Dad!) a good supply of adult diapers, his apartment spoke about that winter season of life that most of us will arrive at.

Scattered through the living room, bedroom, and closet are numerous items with the initials “U.K.” on them. Dad graduated from The University of Kentucky. He was proud of his Wildcats, suffering through many a football season and much happier most basketball seasons. There are UK shirts, hats, mugs, plates, flags, and the 1951 UK Yearbook. He had attended Kentucky after getting out of the Navy, but it wasn’t easy. He had married Mom, welcomed Child #1, our brother, Charlie, and provided for his growing family as he wore the hats labeled student, employee, husband, and father. Things were not easy during his UK years, and yet those years shaped him with the elements of resolve, perseverance, and organization.

Come to think of it, using the word “scattered” to begin that last paragraph would be the antithesis of who Dad was. His apartment is organized. His papers are organized. His cupboards are organized. By golly, his dresser drawers are organized!

There are Rotary remembrances. The service club had been a part of Dad’s life for close to forty years, joining the Ironton, Ohio chapter not long after our family moved to the town in 1969. Service defined Pops! He fit well in the organization that was sewed into the community’s fabric. But he also served the church, served his neighbors, and served our mother in their sixty-five years of marriage. He served as her caregiver in the last few years of her life, and at Wyngate he did those little acts of service. I remember my sister telling me that Dad tutored a woman who lived in the apartment next to him on how to give herself an insulin shot. She was scared to death, but Dad was able to bring down her anxiety about being poked and help her jump over that hurdle.

Pictures and pictures! Photo albums filled with pictures…framed pictures…pictures attached to his refrigerator…pictures with meaning and memories. The pictures give “snapshots” of his journey…family, church, laughter, friendships.

Going through Dad’s things, I realize, is important for my walk of grief. It’s ointment for my aching soul as I cry out for my father to come and sit beside me. Most of the things in his  apartment will end up going to Goodwill or to someone else who needs furniture or dishes, but for now I need to be amongst “his things”. It’s a part of letting go and finding peace.

The Two Davis’s

August 12, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            August 12, 2016


I made two visits this week. Both of them were to men whose last name is Davis. One of them celebrated his 41st birthday on Wednesday. The other is 95! Neither of them has a lick of hair on top of their head- one because his dad paved the way for that hairstyle, which has been followed by all three sons, and the other because…he’s 95, and the top of his head looks like a telescope view of the moon’s surface!

One of the Davis’s is the Sultan of Sarcasm, the other is content to get settled in to telling the listener a story.

The younger Davis has taught middle school social studies for fifteen years…perhaps being the reason why sarcasm rises to the surface for him so often. The older Davis was a postman, familiar with the lives of those that he delivered important letters from loved ones to.

I was the pastor to both of them and their families. Since I retired from being a pastor a few months ago now I am a friend to both of them.

I refer to the older Davis as my “Colorado Dad.” He possesses many of the same great qualities as my father has. The younger Davis could be my son, but I prefer to see him as one of  my peers. We have shared many a lunch together in his school classroom, talking about this and that.

Both of them are dear to my heart.

Both of them have cancer.

The older Davis is in his final days. I sat by his bed yesterday, probably for the last time. He drifted in and out of sleep. I held his hand, he told me how much he loved me. My heart ached to see his frail figure. The two of us had golfed together a number of times over the years. I would drive long and to the right, and he would drive short but right down the middle of the fairway. He would be putting it in for a bogie, and I’d hope for a bogie putt. At the end of our nine holes he would be about a 46 and I would be a 48. BUT he was 90 and I was 57! We enjoyed each other’s company so much. Every time he greeted me we would embrace and he would whisper to me “Love ya!”

About five years ago I officiated the funeral service of his only son, who had died in a motorcycle accident. I grieved with my Colorado dad as the sorrow overwhelmed him. A parent should never have to bury one of their children. It was a confusing time for him, and I mostly listened to his questions about why things happen. It was also at that time that he started asking me more questions about heaven, what it would be like and whether he would be reunited with his son there?

I held his hand for one last prayer by his bedside, and then he dropped into a medicated slumber again.

The younger Davis was discovered to have a tumor in his brain six years ago. He had just done a state high school championship game in basketball and a month later had a seizure. When a second seizure happened shortly after that he was checked out at the hospital. The test revealed the tumor. Three months later surgery was performed to get as much of it as possible. Ninety-five percent was removed and the follow-up treatments took care of the rest.

But cancer is like the neighbor’s dog who keeps coming into your yard and pooping. You clean up one mess and the lawn looks pristine again for a while, and then you look out the window to see the canine leaving his mark again. Cancer is kind of like that. It is a time in a person’s life that is filled with crap! The crap of dealing with insurance companies…the crap of scheduling appointments…and the crap of never-ending anxiety and uncertainty about the future.

My friend’s cancer came back. We continue to pray for healing, but hope too often is getting shoved into the back seat. On Wednesday his family had a birthday celebration for him at the rehabilitation facility he is a patient at. Hopefully he will be able to return home next week with some skills that will enable him to better function in his home. The future is uncertain, and he knows it.

My visits with him are often punctuated with quiet moments as each of us deals with where we are in the journey. I brought him a totally inappropriate birthday card that I knew would bring a deep chuckle to him. One of the comforts of our friendship is that we can be a little off-color with one another and not be embarrassed. In fact, we expect a little political incorrectness in our conversations.

Our journey has gone into the deep valleys of new tumor growth, but also ascended some high mountains of clear MRI results.

Bottom line! I have been extremely blessed to be a part of the journeys of the two Davis’s! The depth of a friendship is discovered by the bruisings of life.

A Worship Funeral

May 23, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            May 23, 2016


In 37 years of pastoring I had never combined the Sunday morning worship service with a funeral. I’ve led a number of worship services where it felt like I died while delivering the sermon, but that’s different.

So this past Sunday was a new experience. The small congregation in the Colorado Eastern Plains community where I travel to speak twice a month saw its attendance jump from the typical twenty up to eighty as the family and friends of the dear man who departed filled the congregation.

Some may think that combining morning worship with a funeral is a little too sober and depressing, but it wasn’t. The man who had passed away, Larry, had lived a full eighty-five years of life, had been in poor health the past couple of years, and was ready to be done with the pain of this life and make that transition step into heaven He had played professional football back in the last few years of the 50’s for the Raiders and the 49er’s. Some of the aches and pains of those years of playing had taken their toll on his body, even though he had lived almost another sixty years.

I talked about living through loss, that grief is part of this journey of life, and I also talked about the hope that followers of Jesus have in the midst of this journey. What I’ve learned over the years about funeral gatherings is that the most appropriate funerals are a mixture of grieving and peaceful joy. That it’s appropriate to laugh…and to cry, to ask God questions of why and to thank him for the specialness of the person.

That’s the road we traveled on Sunday with Larry. His former pastor who came to the service donned an “Oakland Raiders” cap for a few moments. It was a few moments of humor that people appreciated. In the moments of silence and prayer the sounds of weeping could be heard. A few people shared stories of times shared with Larry, expressions he would use, his use of the name “Buckwheat” when bringing someone to understand his point of view. It was a good time of sharing memories.

And it was also a time of acknowledging the loss, the departure, the harshness of the moment of saying goodbye to the person.

I’ve learned that a gathering because of death can be a very confusing time for Christians, as well as those who don’t follow Jesus. Christians, so often, try to make it a celebration of life and detour around the grief. Other people who have no interest in the spiritual meaning gather to grieve, but have no sense of the hope.

And so, on Sunday we acknowledged the grief and the sadness, but also rejoiced in the memories and the promise.

And it was good! There was a meal served right after the service and most of the eighty stayed and spent time eating roast beef, baked beans, and macaroni salad, while sharing more stories about Larry.

And it was good. We walked with our grief and punctuated it with tearful laughter.

The Deaths of Two

December 22, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 21, 2015


This past week has been a time of death. That may sound morbid and dark, but it is the reality of the blessing of lives lived and dreams unfinished.

One death was of our church’s former pastor, a man who impacted many lives and dealt with a number of health difficulties, although the seeds for his death may have come as a result of an accident a few months ago. Regardless, death came… and took… and left confusion behind. Grandchildren were left wondering. Friends recalled shared events, conversations had, camping trips taken.

There was sadness, and yet understanding.

The second death was of a sixteen year old young man. It was most unexpected and hard to accept. Death does not discriminate between ages. Although it mostly accompanies the elderly to the next life, sometimes it chooses a different partner that takes the breath away from those left behind.

Death seems to be especially hard at Christmas time, and, unfortunately, more frequent. Our own family views Christmas a little differently now since my father-in-law passed away on Christmas Day nine years ago. In the midst of our kids and grandkids and son-in-laws there is still a whisper of loss as we remember Christmases past.

The family of the sixteen year old are being supported by numerous friends and family as they walk through this, but there are deep wounds inside them that will take lifetimes to heal. Death is like that. It comes and stays. Even when we try to shove it into the attics of our memories it knocks on the ceilings of our hearts to remind us that something…or someone is missing.

The walk through the valley that is overshadowed by death (Psalm 23:4) takes on new meaning as people struggle on.

Our hope is in the last part of Psalm 23:4. “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me.” 

Although very few of us are comfortable with death, we can take comfort in knowing who walks with us.

Walking Amongst The Relatives

October 26, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 26, 2013

      Yesterday I returned for the first time to the cemetery where my mom was buried this past September 6. The day was grey and cool as we drove the hour and a half into the hills of eastern Kentucky. The conversation between my dad, sister Rena, and I was warm and reminiscent. We talked of past events and family practices, and the miles passed quicker than the coal trucks.

At the cemetery Dad guided us towards my mom’s grave site. The last time I was there a tent canopy told us where to head. Our family pallbearers carried my mom the final sixty feet in honor of how she had carried many of our burdens through the years. It would have been appropriate for a squash casserole to have been passed through the grieving at that moment. Problems often got soothed with food in our family.

This time, however, there was not a canopy, just Dad to shepherd us towards the place of rest. Though filled in you could tell that the sod had been recently positioned to blanket the departed. There she was…still below me, as I kneeled by her marker.

Virginia Helton Wolfe


Someday my dad will lay down to her right, just as he stood on her right when they were married at the United Methodist Church in Paintsville, Kentucky on August 13, 1948.

Let me tell you…being in that cemetery was like being back at the dinner table of my Mamaw and Papaw Helton’s farm house in Oil Springs, a few miles further down the curvy road; for my mom has been laid to rest in the midst of family.

Mamaw and Papaw were to the left, gone for years but not from memory. I asked Dad on the way back home how they had first met. A grandson seldom knows how romances of previous generations begin…or even cares to know, in case some family scandal get forced to the surface, but I was curious. How did people meet before Facebook or text messaging? Dad told me the story. In the company of a couple of his friends, Papaw had come by the house where Mamaw lived. She had expressed her interest in him by throwing green apples…not at the whole group, mind you. Her aim was squarely focused on him. Romance followed shortly after the apples. Family history that is not written down is often more interesting than anything else.

Right next to Mom is my Uncle Bernie. Her sister Cynthia, Uncle Bernie’s wife, is the only one Helton sibling still living. Uncle Bernie almost made me a smoker. He used a pipe and smoked cigars. As a young boy the smoke from both were always a satisfying aroma, like a pleasing Levitical sacrifice to God.

I walked a little further and greeted Uncle Milliard and Aunt Rene. Milliard had been a barber, and for a short time had operated a Dairy Queen. Barbering was much easier. As a barber he could have conversations with people. At DQ people were only interested in getting their hands on sundaes and properly-dipped cones. Aunt Irene was a saint. She had taken in our one year old cousin, Johnny Caroll Helton, when my mom’s brother, Uncle Doc (John) had lost his first wife and needed to get a grasp on his life again. Aunt Rene and Uncle Milliard never had any children of their own, and so we were all their children. When Aunt Rene was diagnosed with cancer she gave a sum of money to each of her nieces and nephews and told all of us that she wanted to see us enjoy it while she was still alive. We went to Disney World. It’s a family vacation we still measure others by.

Uncle Junior (Dewey Helton, Jr.) and his first wife, Grethel, are buried close by as well. Uncle Junior was a good man who liked to give me a little pinch on the leg to make kids squirm. I kind of wonder if they taped his fingers together in the casket just in case when his body rises in the last days he will come out seeking the backside of some unsuspecting saint’s leg? It’s a question I am not willing to find a quick answer to.

My Papaw’s Uncle Ernie is laid there…in a lonesome place with no one beside him. Ernie had been estranged from the family for a while and still looks somewhat isolated where he rests.

Across the narrow road where hearses pull in is my dad’s part of the family. My Granny Wolfe, whose husband passed away in a mining accident when my dad was young, is there. She was a school teacher back in times when women who got married had to give up teaching and be at home. Granny had a calming voice. I remember staying at her house in Wittensville, Kentucky and she would let me stay up and watch a movie on NBC on Saturday night. That was the first time I became familiar with Bride of Frankenstein. Sleep did not come easily that night.

My Granny Wolfe would always be taken back by the beauty of a wrapped Christmas present. Each Christmas we would fully expect that the opening of her new sweater or blouse would be preceded by the words “This is too pretty to open!” My mom was skilled as a gift wrapper…a talent that has not been passed on to me.

And then there is my Aunt Lizzie, a Kentucky Colonel, who lived to be 99! She was a delight, soft-spoken with a definite strength in her voice. Aunt Lizzie had a determination that ran deep. In fact, it has run deeply into our own children. She took art classes at the community college when she was 96, and painted pictures of the log cabin she was born in.

Flanking those two great ladies are my Uncle Dean and Aunt Della and their spouses. Great Uncle Sam is laid there as well, as are several other relatives that I don’t recall, but all who have histories.

We walked and pondered. Most of the markers had recently-mowed grass on them, which I gently brushed off in respect and honor to their continuing presence in my life.

We walked and talked, laughed and spent moments in quiet reverence.

Walking amongst the relatives was what I needed to experience. To see that Mom is in good company, even though she has moved on to eternity. There was something deeply fulfilling for me to be there…with Dad and Sis…stepping between generations…remembering and being blessed by it.