Bill Cathers died last weekend. As we were with him in late December, we sensed it would be the last time. But the news is still hard, and we wish we were not so far away.
Hal and I met Bill and Irene 46 years ago in Arcadia, California when we were part of the Arcadia Friends Church. Those were exciting times when God’s Spirit moved among so many of us. Richard Foster was the youth pastor. Bill was sort of a Christian guru to a large group of us young adults. He and Irene adopted us into their large family of six kids.
We became pregnant with our first child. One evening as we were praying together, Bill came under the Spirit and prophesied that the baby was a boy and that he would grow up to become a man of God. After we brought David home from the hospital, it struck us both as funny how relieved Bill was that the baby really did turn out to be a boy. He was also delighted that David was born on August 20, his own birthday.
In late 1971, the Cathers saw us off as we began our journey to Bolivia as new missionaries. We kept in touch through letters, and always spent time together when we came home on furloughs. It helped when the Cathers moved from Southern California to Newberg, Oregon. When home from Bolivia, we made it a habit to spend Sunday evenings up at the Cathers farm. We watched the Cathers kids grow up, and they were alongside us as David and Kristin found their places in life. We shared the joys of becoming grandparents and (they) great-grandparents.
This long term friendship helped give stability to our lives, as well as joy. Bill was to us a mentor, counselor, prayer partner, co-conspirator in mischief, fellow poet, and friend.
He spent the last few weeks of his life in an intensive care home, and we were able to visit a few times, noticing how fast he seemed to be slipping away, a once highly articulate man losing his ability to arrange words in an order that made sense. The last evening we spent with Bill was at the end of December, just a week before we flew to Bolivia. As we came into the room and bent down over his bed, he broke out into a huge grin and reached for our hands. He pulled us down to where he could kiss us and wouldn’t let go. The only word that came out of his mouth was, “Yes!” And he said it over and over. “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.” A couple of times he said, “Praise Jesus!” and then it was back to “Yes. Yes. Yes.”
At one point as he was holding both our hands, he said to us, “I love you so much. You’re wonderful!”
Hal had brought his harmonica and we played and sang some of his favorite songs; Bill sort of hummed along. We ended up staying almost two hours. Bill was alert the whole time, full of the joy of the Spirit. It was as if he were preparing to meet Jesus.
I will miss him, but I know he is now whole and young and articulate—but possibly silent in the presence of his Lord. I grieve, but Bill gave me the language for the kind of grief he would have wanted from me. He gave me the word, “Yes.”
If we could say anything to him right now, it would be, “We love you so much. You’re wonderful. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.”
Celebrating their 60th anniversary, 2011
The Cathers kids honor their parents, 2011