If I didn’t call my future father-in-law a redneck the first time I met him, I know I thought it. It was over 30 years ago and I had flown to Alabama to meet Terri’s dad and that side of the family. Almost from the start of our time that week Gerrard would find things to talk about things that pushed my buttons. About halfway through that week I thought I was marrying into what I perceived to be one of the most racist families in the South.
He finally relented and laughed somewhere in our time together that week. He had been an attorney and found profound enjoyment in giving arguments from both sides of a matter. He had found that racism pushed my buttons and just pressed away.
A little over two years ago Terri and I found ourselves making a huge change in our lives to move from Minnesota to Alabama so we could help care for Gerrard. Joshua, our oldest son, had lived there for a few years and had become close with “Papa G.” It reached a point where Gerrard would join Joshua and his family in church on Sunday nights for awhile. They would always have at least one meal together a week.
Gerrard’s health, which was never that great, took a decided turn about three years ago and the pressure on Joshua to work his own business and care for Gerrard became heavy. We made a huge leap in life change to make the move and help.
Just like the first time I met him and all the subsequent times when we would visit Alabama, it was a mixed bag with Gerrard. It was always a mixed bag with him. There were times I would sit with him and just be there while he had the TV on full volume watching MSNBC so he could gripe about Trump. He was almost deaf as a post and wasn’t getting the hang of his hearing aids. We’d be yelling at each other in conversation while the TV was blasting away, I’m sure confusing and aggravating neighbors near by, or maybe half a mile away.
There were times I’d be the one to drive him somewhere so I would take the opportunity to try and learn a bit more about his younger days. He had some form of dementia by now, but he could reach back and draw from his younger days as a lawyer, even if he didn’t remember it that well and then spun some fantastic story about drug dealers and shooting someone… it was fun at times.
He loved to poke at me about religion. He loved to poke at Terri about religion. It was then I relied one of my favorite Dallas Willard sayings:
“God will allow into heaven as many people as can possibly stand it.”
When Gerrard would talk about religion and his hard time in believing in eternity, I would use that quote. It would leave him pondering a few things. I loved that.
The pandemic was the hardest thing for all of us. He was in an assisted living facility that he loved, but we weren’t allowed to see him. I had to bring him back from the emergency room one time and all I could do was drop him at the door.
His health declined enough he needed to move, so in the middle of the lockdown we saw him for a few minutes and then he was wheeled into a nursing home.
Thankfully, it reached a point where hospice could step in this past week and take him to a care facility they have in Mobile and we could all see him all we wanted. That made the last six days wonderful, even though he was unresponsive those last few days.
Sunday, August 30, I went to church early and Terri went to be with Gerrard. Joshua had spent the night in Gerrard’s room. I went over to see him in the late morning and got to say my good-byes to him.
His breathing was the same as it had been for a few days. We also had a memorial service in the afternoon for a dear lady we had known in our church, so we left to attend. Terri had been asked to be one of the Scripture readers.
She was using her phone to read the text. It was Revelation 7:9-17. As she was reading it, her phone began ringing. Apologizing, she silenced the phone and kept reading. I knew then either Gerrard’s condition had changed or he was gone.
Terri called the number back and Gerrard had just passed.
In the midst of Scripture reading for the memorial of someone else, Gerrard had passed through the veil of what we know as this life into the life we have to come. It the midst of the news we knew was inevitable we found glorious hope. It was a beautiful moment. A treasure.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Rev. 7:16-17)
Life is complicated and relationships aren’t smooth. In the past few months I have leaned on trust in the Savior. I have leaned on the generosity of Dallas Willard’s definition of heaven. I have chosen to trust the work of the Spirit over my own thinking and theological structures.
I am thankful for the last two years being in a new place doing a very different thing so I can in some way help a man who had given me his daughter in marriage. It was my honor to find a way to care for him and be in a place where Terri could more fully care for him as well.