July 11, 2010

Saying good-bye to a FRIEND

I took this picture the last time I saw my dear friend David. He was surrounded by his grandchildren, they were so bright and fresh, so engaging, so lovely. Everyone seemed to be enjoying each other. He went around the circle introducing everyone and at the end, he turned to me, then holding my hand, he announced to everyone,

"This... is my friend!!" I felt so proud in that moment and so very blessed to know this sweet man.

I don't remember when I met him, maybe it was in the chapel during Mass. I had grown to love the words of the liturgy, but more than anything else, I loved the man from the Philippines who sat in the back in a wheelchair. His deeply resonating voice had grown louder every day due to his deafness, it could be heard above others who repeated the Mass, known since childhood, in a rote manner. But David would linger on phrases, saying them with great feeling as the kindly Father Meyers waited. I so loved that, the patient priest and the old man in the wheelchair, for I knew David felt each word deeply, just as I did

For years as I entered the nursing home's front entrance, there sat David with a greeting for all. He was smart and articulate and could carry on a conversation about anything from a world crisis to his pondering why teen girls would make a pregnancy pact. "Where were their parents?" he would say. I always loved his thinning hair that stood up in a "butch" style. His parting words were always the same,a blessing given to thousands over the years,

"Have a good day (or evening) May the good LORD bless and guide you!" And my response was always the same too. "Thank you!! He does David, He does!!" It was a ritual we had, and continued long after he stopped hearing well

David and I spoke often, he was such an encouragement, so appreciative for the moments we chatted. I found him to be a man of honor and great faith. He told me how he had grown up in the Philippines and had attended a mission school. He told funny stories about his classmates, about a girl he loved there but how he would later find the love of his life. One afternoon he sang me a song, I watched as he lifted his good hand in front of him, that was strange I thought. Then it occurred to me that he was raising his hand in praise as a choir boy would but the paralyzed hand just wouldn't meet it's partner. That did not deter him as he sang his childhood song;

"Praise Him! Praise Him, all ye little children, God is Love, God is Love..." Oh I loved it!! People looking from every direction enjoyed it too. Then I sang him the song about the shepherd boy David who slayed the giant Goliath. We talked about his job with IBM, golf, working in Manhattan and teaching at a University. He said they promised to keep his position after he had his stroke, and lately he had been thinking about taking them up on that offer. I told him I thought he should consider that, the students would love him.

He reminded me, though sharing the same name as the great Old Testament King, he had never dishonored his wife, who had died many years before. No one would ever say he acted inappropriately with any woman or staff in the nursing home. Then with a wink he added,

"I think she watches me." how we laughed about that!

One weekend morning I found him in the chapel, sitting in his wheelchair with his head hanging low. I slipped over and knelt down beside him.

"David, are you sad?" Strangely he heard me.

"Yes" he spoke slowly and deliberately. "I am wondering, all these years, why am I here. I always believed God brought me here to encourage and help others, even with my stroke ...but I wonder now" His head dropped lower as we grasped each others hands.

"Oh David, if only knew what your life means to so many" but I was crying now with no words of comfort, "David, can we pray together?" he nodded yes.

So I prayed not caring or knowing if David could hear or understand. My heart was breaking with sadness so I poured it out on the Savior who welcomes us. I told Him that I had seen His very face in this man, His child, a man with a broken body, sitting in diapers and his breakfast on his shirt. I told God David had been such a blessing to so many, I spoke of David's caring kindness, his smiles and blessings, how he was a light in a sometimes a dark place where people live out their lives, where staff have their own struggles, where people's dreams end. And in the midst, David was there, a missionary like the ones who taught him the praise song, always the same, a constant blessing to oh so many.. And then I just asked the LORD to show David how important he is, how valued he is and what an instrument of love and grace David had been, especially to me. I think God knew it all anyway but it was a good reminder that even the encourager need encouraging. And best of all I knew He'd come to David, prayer or no prayer.

I didn't know when he died, I just saw the paper on the bulletin board inviting everyone to his Celebration of Life. It was week old when I saw it, but I will always celebrate my friend David's life. I miss him. But for now...

Have a good day and may the good LORD bless and guide you!!

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