Posted tagged ‘remembering’

Dad…Two Months Gone

April 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    April 15, 2018

                               

Two months ago today Dad, Laurence Hubert Wolfe, passed away after a well-lived life of almost ninety years. He really wanted to break the finish-line tape of the ninety mark, but didn’t quite make it. And that was okay!

There are very few people who come to the end of their lives and are able to say “It was good! It was very good!” Dad was one of those! What made it good was the value he placed on things that are irreplaceable. He treasured his friends. When his friend Bill Ball passed away last summer it pained his soul. Bill was the last of Dad’s long-time friends, had passed the ninety mark a few years earlier, and the two of them conversed every week. Each had lost his wife around the same time and each had been married in excess of sixty years.

When Bill passed I think it hurt Dad, but it also eased the way for him. Seeing your friends, who are irreplaceable, travel on to Glory is like being afraid of entering an unfamiliar place, but then you see your friends go there and it makes it okay.

Dad had strong beliefs and convictions that he didn’t compromise. When the days remaining are few, I think that also brings a person to be able to say life was good. Remaining true to your promises and your commitments are signs of a life that is deeply-rooted, not tossed this way and that by what sounds good at the time. Steadfast and persevering, that’s how I would describe him! Gentle and fair would also be listed in the description of who he was and is.

A person never really gets used to the absence of the one who has always been there. The impact has been too deep and significant. I’m blessed in that the impact my dad left on me causes me to smile and feel blessed, as opposed to feeling oppressed and wounded.

And now two months since that Thursday afternoon when he breathed his last I still am able to experience his breath upon my life.

And it is good!

The Hand Grasp of My Father

February 16, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                February 16, 2018

                             

“Dad, look who’s here to see you!”

I entered his hospital room and caught sight of the elderly man, withered and worn out. His dinner tray, that he hadn’t the least bit interest in, was in front go him. Perhaps a six year old should be made to eat his peas and carrots but not an 89 year old man in his last hours.

He mumbled a few words when he caught sight of me. I think he said, “Well, hi, son!”

And he grasped my hand with firmness and purpose.

That hand had grasped me a number of times over the course of my life. Sometimes it conveyed discipline and disappointment, and at other times it told me of a father’s pride in his son’s accomplishments and decisions.

I remember that hand on the back of the bicycle I was learning to ride. I’d be wobbling like a Saturday night drunk riding it down the sidewalk. Dad would be jogging along behind me keeping me propped up, firmly grasping the back of the seat. From the front it must have looked like a car in serious need of the wheels being aligned, but from the back it was a view of the youngest child taking another step in the long ride of growing up.

“Dad, I can’t get the lawnmower started.”

Dad came out to the garage where I was struggling with the machine. His hand firmly grasped the handle on the end of the pull cord and he pulled. On the second pull the motor took off and he looked at me with a slight smile that non-verbally communicated “You’ve got to put a little muscle behind it.”

“Thanks!” I sheepishly replied.

I remember the grasp of the hand at the end of my ordination service on June 24, 1979. I had just been given the charge to ministry, been prayed over, and congratulated…and then there was Dad’s hand grasp telling me how proud he was of me, but also the importance of the calling.

Last summer we stood in a side classroom of Beulah Baptist Church. The worship service had ended a few minutes before that and there was a woman who had requested that the deacons pray for her. A serious medical condition had been discovered. They invited me to join them in the prayer circle around the lady. I stood next to my father, Deacon Emeritus of the church, grasped his hand, and then listened to him and others pray for the woman. His hand hold was firm, just as his faith in the power of prayer was strong.

Within an hour we held each other’s hands around the dinner table as he prayed for the blessings of God upon our meal and family.

When I would come from Colorado to visit him in the past few years he would reach his hand towards me at meal time, grasp it with care, and pray the dinner grace.

After several minutes in the hospital room he finally releases his grip and allows my sister to feed him the chocolate pudding from his tray. Unlike the peas and carrots he eats all of the pudding. It’s the last food he will partake of, a taste of sweetness that describes the effect of his life on so many others.

Less than a day later he passes on…and it’s okay! Like his hand grasp, he is a man who had a firm grasp on what is important in life.

That last grasp of the hand. I’m extremely thankful that God allowed me to have it. In my memories of Pops i’ll hold on to that moment for a long, long time.

Going To See Dad…Probably for the Last Time!

February 14, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          February 14, 2018

                       

I’m sitting in the Denver airport waiting for an early morning plane that will jet me across the country, hurry me off it in order to find another plane that will then come part of the way back in the other direction. It’s a hard trip, not because of the stress of flying, but rather because of the reason for the journey.

Dad is failing. It’s not unexpected. His second home this past year has been St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia. He’s inching towards his 90th birthday. Each week seems to bring a new health concern. Last week my sister was by his side for a consultation with a hospice counselor.

Today’s flight is punctuated with memories and uncertainty.

I remember how my dad stood by my mom’s side in her final days as the Parkinson’s gradually took away her ability to use her hands and legs, and her ability to speak. It was a painful journey.

I remember his journey to Colorado to attend our youngest daughter’s wedding. While there he brought Lizi to tears with the gift of a special piece of jewelry that had been my mom’s.

Since I didn’t eat breakfast this morning, I’m remembering my dad’s hamburgers. Honestly, I have never tasted another hamburger that rivaled his. Even though I got the recipe and instructions from him I could never come close to the distinctive flavor. When you ate two of Dad’s burgers you were sorry that you couldn’t handle a third!

I remember the sadness we experienced when he couldn’t attend our oldest daughter’s wedding because Mom’s health was not good, but I also cherish the memories of his visit about four years ago and how he bonded with our granddaughter Reagan, who was three at the time. I remember her coming into the house one morning and yelling, “Papaw, Papaw!” She paused for a moment and then she said to me, “I know he’s here. I can smell him!” (His after shave announced his presence.)

As the plane flies through the clouds I can’t see anything around me or below me. It’s a metaphor for Dad’s situation. There is not a clear picture of what is and what will be. Somewhere in front of us the clouds will part and the picture will be seen.

My emotions are close to the surface. A few times this morning the potential for tears was heightened, and yet they haven’t erupted as I expect they will. My father’s best emotion was laughter-laced joy. I can hear the echo of his chuckle as we fly over Kansas. I can see his body shaking in rhythm with the laughter. If it was a story that he was telling for the hundredth time he’d close the tale with his hand slapping his knee in total appreciation for the memory.

Death is not a fear of Pops. He’s prepared himself for it. A number of times over the past four and a half years since Mom passed he has taken the hour and a half drive over to Johnson County, Kentucky to visit her grave. His name is already etched on the grave marker beside her. A few feet away are the resting places of my aunts and uncles, and a wee bit further is where his mom, Grace Wolfe, has long since been lowered into the ground. Dad is ready to once again be laying next to my mother. There is sweetness and love in the known destination, just as there is a mixture of grief and peace within me as I consider what is to come.

Being Deacon Emeritus of his church, Beulah Baptist, death is simply a part of the faith journey. Dad looks forward to the reunion of the saints, and the glory of the Eternal Gathering.

“How’s it going, Pops?” That has been my Sunday night greeting to him for the past several years. “Well, hi, son!”

And we’d talk about this, that, and the other…the ladies at Wyngate (his senior independent living complex where he has resided for three years) who have been giving him the eye and considering the possibilities; the Kentucky Wildcats (he being a UK grad in the early 50’s); the latest fire alarm at Wyngate set off by one of the residents who wanted to cook up some bacon on a Friday night in his apartment; how his friend, Bill Ball, was doing (Bill passed away last August); and the weather.

I’ll miss the way we could make each other laugh, and at the thought of it I can sense the rumblings of the tears rising up.

Last weekend thousands of people attended a funeral in Colorado Springs for Micah Flick, a Sheriff’s deputy who was killed in the line of duty. A father, he leaves behind a wife and twin toddlers. It is a story about the cruelty of life, a senseless shooting by a man who did not value the life of someone else. Micah, in fact, took a bullet to save someone else’s life. He will always be remembered as a hero, even in the midst of tragedy.

My dad’s journey gets placed on the other end of the spectrum, a life that has been longer than anyone expected, a life that will be celebrated with tears of thankfulness and the smiles of many.

Things will not be the same, and that’s okay!

Remembering Ashes

May 28, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 28, 2017

                               

Yesterday the ashes of a dear friend of mine were scattered from the top of a hill and wind-blown down into the valley of his grandfather’s land…a place that he loved to be in his growing up years and even when he decided he was finally an adult. His wife posted pictures from the family gathering on Facebook and my eyes watered from their effect.

It was appropriate that the family has chosen Memorial Day weekend, a time of remembering and cherishing, mourning and blessing. I’m sure that as they stood on the top of the ridge they shared stories  and Greg’s brothers recalled brother exploits of the past that have taken their places as family legends.

My soul rumbled with quivering peace to know that they had paused to remember their son, husband, dad, and brother. Remembering is underrated these days! Speeding into the unconquered future and new experiences is the lane of life most traveled.

Where we’re going, however, can not clearly be understood without a grip on the past. One school day this past year when I was teaching seventh grade social studies at the same school that Greg taught for fifteen years, I wore a pink shirt that our area basketball officials were wearing before basketball games to emphasize, and remember, that the fight against cancer is ongoing. Greg had dealt with a cancerous brain tumor for six years before his death last October. On that school day I retold his story to each class. I brought them with me on his journey that was punctuated by devastating medical reports and MRI’s of good news. We remembered together even though most of them had never known him.

Remembering is a gift. It has meaning and substance. Greg’s nine year old daughter will remember yesterday’s gathering on a ridge for the rest of her life…the scene, the smells, the words of her grandparents, uncles, and mom…and there will be a sweet humming in her soul. Losing your dad at such a young age is something that many kids never recover from. The road of healing is always shaded by the stories of remembrance.

Password Overload

May 27, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            May 27, 2017

                                   

My life is saturated with passwords!

I’d much rather return to the days of Password…the TV game show, hosted by Allen Ludden. My family had the boxed game as well, and we pretended we were perceptive contestants who could figure out the hidden word associated to any clue.

But now my life is overrun with passwords for everything! Our cable went out this week. To reboot the system the TV was asking for a password! When Carol and I had a 12 inch black-and-white we didn’t need a password! Of course, we only received three fuzzy channels, but seriously!…a TV password!!

For the past year I’ve been driving over to the Sprint store each month to pay my bill because I couldn’t remember what my passcode was. At the store all I have to remember is to bring my credit card, and my phone number. (Side note! I think Sprint looks to put the person with the least amount of personality at the store entrance to make you want to leave!) Last night I went to Target to buy a new cell phone. (Second Side Note! The Target Tech guy was awesome!) Through the meeting of the minds, like a high school quiz bowl team, the Target tech person, Carol, and I were able to figure out what my Sprint password is…and then I had to figure out a new six digit passcode for my new phone since my old one was only four digits! Conquer one password, and add a new passcode…the mountain of remembered info just keeps getting higher!

As a substitute teacher I had to remember an ID number and a password. Whenever a call came to be sub for someone I had to enter my ID number and then the password. The problem was that I subbed in two school systems, and the calls would come at any time. If it was early morning I had the info right beside my bed, but if I was at basketball practice I HAD TO REMEMBER THE PASSWORD!

I have a passcode for my debit card and another one for my online banking, and a passcode for my garage door opener. I have a passcode for my satellite radio, and a password for AOL. I  had a password for my basketball officiating web site and another one for the pay site called “RefPay.” I have an ID number and password for United Airlines, and another one for Travelocity, and another one for Southwest Airlines…for Pete’s sake!

My list of passwords is like remembering the full names of each of the U.S. Presidents, and then trying to put them in order! “Okay, was it James K. Polk and then John Tyler…or was it William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, and then James K. Polk…or was it Tyler, Harrison, Polk?”

I told Carol that I’m going to make a list of passwords and passcode and put them in our deposit box, but that also means that I have to figure out where I put the key for the security deposit box!

Bottom line, it seems that I’m having to remember a lot more these days. It used to be that our password would be the name of our cat, but we’ve had so many cats that I can’t remember which one of them we memoralized into a password. How can I remember what my Firestone Credit Card password is if I can’t even remember what I had for lunch today?

Leaving Pops

February 11, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            February 11, 2017

                                           

Five days with my dad…not a lot of time, but deeply meaningful.

I flew into the massive Charleston, West Virginia airport on Thursday afternoon. Dad came home from another time-share experience at St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington the previous Tuesday evening. When I knocked on the door of his apartment at Wyngate Senior Living Complex, heard the invitation to come on in, I was taken back by the tubes he had in his nostrils receiving oxygen. He looked a bit frail and “dragged out”, as he would say!

We chatted about this, that, and the other, soothed by the ointment of each other’s presence. After an hour or so it was time to let him be for the night. We had seen each other after an absence of about eight months. It was almost like checking in on one another to make sure we were okay, and now we could sleep.

The next day when I walked into his apartment I was taken back again, but this time in a good way! He didn’t have the oxygen machine going. He looked like he was “with it”, the familiar smile authentic and inviting.

“How’d you sleep, Pops?”

“I slept like a baby! Went to bed about 10:30 and didn’t wake up until 5:30!” Seven hours! My dad hadn’t been able to sleep for seven hours straight since he was…was…was probably in his seventies! Getting all the body parts of an almost 89 year old body to cooperate at the same time is on the same scale as getting all of Congress to agree!

“That’s awesome, Dad!”

Well-rested conversation flows much better than dragged-out dialogue. We talked about new great-grandchildren and grandchildren, “remember when” moments and tall tales of previous aunts and uncles.

“Are you going to have lunch with me?”

“Sure! Are you going to eat in the dining room?”

“Yes.” He hadn’t ventured down the hallway to the dining room of the complex since he had come home from St. Mary’s. He grabbed his “hurry-cane” and we headed down towards the room of wisdom and crankiness.

The residents who had arrived before him recognized his re-emergence from his isolation. Smiles and greetings floated his way, and he made the rounds to each table hugging the widow ladies and shaking the hands of the few men scattered around. We sat with Chuck, who hears about as well as someone on one side of the Ohio River listening to conversation on the opposite bank. Dale joined us, parking his motorized scooter in a spot close to another. Navigating through the scooter and the walkers in the dining room was like driving through a Walmart parking lot! Chuck could walk, but not hear. Dale could hear, but not walk! Senior complexes are a pantry of can’s and “can’ts”!

Meeting Dale and Chuck, as well as others, opened up hours of shared stories from Dad. I learned once again about Carl, who had been born four miles from where Dad had been born in eastern Kentucky, and is a constant source of encouragement for Dad; and Leo, who had been at the same Navy basic training camp with Dad and Carl in Williamsburg, Virginia.

We revisited the story of Leo setting off the fire alarm about a year earlier because he was frying bacon in his apartment at 9:00 on a Friday night. We laughed about the possibility of motorized scooter races in the parking lot. We paused to remember Nellie, the lady who lived in the apartment next door, who Dad had taught to give herself insulin shots. Nellie had passed away a few months before.

Each day of my brief visit followed this path of remembrance and revelation. Super Bowl LI was the first Super Bowl my dad and I watched together. Awesome!

And then Monday night I said my goodbyes. His embrace contained strength and joy. It seemed as if each day had been a step of progression for him.

Whenever I say goodbye to my father I realize it could be our last visit, our last embrace, our last walk down the hallway…and I treasure the moments of the stroll!

When Your Friend Passes On

October 23, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           October 23, 2016

                               

Yesterday I officiated at the funeral service for my friend, Greg Davis. “Officiated” is an interesting word to use in this context since Greg and I have been basketball officials for years. In fact, I think that’s how we first met…being a part of the same high school basketball officials’ group.

Then we discovered that he was teaching at the same middle school that my youngest daughter attended…then we discovered that he had been on the summer staff at Black Forest Baptist Camp…then I discovered that he had been raised in the First Baptist Church of Sterling, Colorado, another American Baptist Church! It was a series of discoveries that forged a deeper relationship.

Then the cancer was discovered!

Then I became his pastor!

Greg and Jordan had exited the church they were a part of and, to put it bluntly, they were done with church…an organized church, that is! I noticed that they still had a support group of friends who had exited the church scene along with them, and this group was on an unusual faith journey together.

Then about a month after his brain tumor was discovered I entered our sanctuary one Sunday to begin the worship service and was surprised to see them sitting in a pew on the right side about four rows from the back. Cancer has a way of putting things in perspective for a person. The church I pastored became a safe place for them to ask God the hard questions, a place where they could ask for prayer and have the congregation gather around them…literally!…lay hands on them and pray! They relocated as time went on to the left side of the sanctuary about five rows from the front and many Sundays Jordan would share the latest news of Greg’s MRI or oncologist appointment. I would see Greg sitting beside her and weeping. When I retired from the pastorate at the end of 2015 it was gratifying to see my former church continue to journey with Greg and Jordan through many difficult days, and they will continue to be a support system for Jordan and Kayleigh in the days ahead. She knows that she is not alone.

Yesterday was an emotional day for many people. The sanctuary was full of family, friends, teaching colleagues, and church folk. I found myself riding the roller coaster of emotions as I sat on the platform and then while I was speaking. I’ve presided over probably 150 funerals in my years of ministry and I rarely get emotional during them, but yesterday was different. As I thought about it last night it occurred to me that my flood of emotions may have been connected to the six year journey I had traveled with Greg, a road that was filled with as many praise-filled occasions as gut-wrenching test results.

The funeral was two hours of laughter and tears. One person commented to Greg’s parents that he had never laughed so much at a funeral. That’s good! Laughter is the sugar cube in a cup of tears. People laughed at the sharing of some of Greg’s old sarcastic comments and his brothers’ sharing of past stories, and people cried as his nine year old daughter read the letter she had written to her dad after he passed.

Death is harsh. It will hold hands with each one of us whether we are willing or reluctant. As I told those at the service yesterday, for the follower of Christ it is a confusing blend of grief and joy. There is deep sorrow over the physical departure of the person and a simmering joy because of his eternal relocation.

I miss my friend, and I’ll continue to miss him. In a very weird way one of the blessings of friendship is the sorrow of loss.