Yesterday Hal and seven of his siblings, accompanied by spouses and several generations of offspring, gathered to say goodbye to father, grandpa, great-grandpa and friend, William C. Thomas. I usually called him Willy. The eight kids planned and presided, and a mix of family members made up the small orchestra and choir. It was definitely a home-grown memorial service.
It lasted longer than scheduled, appropriately enough, as Willy had little regard for the clock. In the time of open worship, many people stood up to talk about one of his characteristics or to share a specific memory. His granddaughter Anna, currently serving a short-term in Russia, sent an email about her last conversation with Grandpa. A little removed from reality, frequently the case in this past year, he looked out the window one afternoon and pointed to Grandma, sitting in the yard. He confided to Anna: “That woman doesn’t know it yet, but I intend to marry her.”
Anna laughed and informed him, “Grandpa, you’ve been married to her for 70 years.”
A look of incredulity passed over his face and he responded, “That can’t be possible! She doesn’t look old enough!”
As the family gathers now to eat together, reminisce, and reflect, we recall the hard times as well as the blessings. Bill/Willy/Dad/Grandpa was far from perfect. My own relationship with him seemed to be more a tug-of-war than anything else. I never felt he quite approved of me. So I pretty much kept my distance.
That all changed during the last months of his life. We put both Willy and Esther in a care home a little less than a year ago, after wrestling and agonizing and finally realizing that we were all too tired to continue caring for them in our homes (a task that fell mostly to two of Hal’s brothers). They needed continual care on a level we were not prepared to give. But the result was positive, and they both seemed to become more content under the routine of the home. Among us all, we were able to visit every day.
Over the course of these last months, a mutual sense of forgiveness and acceptance grew up between us. I can’t explain it, except as answer to prayer and the work of the Spirit of God. Willy seemed as happy to see me as I was to be with him. He didn’t want to let go of my hand. It was sweet, and the care-giving flowed both ways.
Willy lost touch with reality the last two weeks of his life, except for a 15 minute window while Hal was with him. We had just brought him back from an emergency trip to the hospital and had just placed him under hospice care. As Hal sat beside him, he saw reason and awareness in his father’s eyes. Hal explained all that was happening, told him about hospice, told him he would be going home very soon to meet Jesus. Willy thanked his son, assured him that we had made the right decision, and that he was ready. After saying that, his mind again drifted away. But what an incredible gift.
Thanks be to God. Willy’s home, free at last.