Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Reality of Suffering and Death

On Friday, May 18, 2007, my stepfather died. He was a great guy, and he will be missed by many people. I did the eulogy at his funeral this past week.

I compared my stepfather to a rather obscure character in the Bible, Ahimaaz (2 Samuel 18). Ahimaaz was the son of Zadok, the high priest. He was fleet of foot and served at times as a messenger. (My stepfather was a fast runner in high school.) After Joab defeated David’s enemies in a rebellion, Joab needed to send the news back to David. Ahimaaz volunteered, but Joab sent another man as messenger instead of Ahimaaz. Ahimaaz, however, persisted and asked for permission to run to David even after the other man had been sent. Joab gave him permission to run, and Ahimaaz passed the other man and was the first person to bear good news to David. He was enthusiastic, loyal, and good in character. When the watchman saw Ahimaaz approaching, David described Ahimaaz: “He is a good man, and comes with good news” (NKJV).

My stepfather was a good man, and he was an enthusiastic bearer of good news. When people saw him approaching, they had a good feeling about him. He was a good man in terms of his faithfulness to his family, church, and various institutions. My stepfather also had a positive, enthusiastic outlook on life, in spite of the various difficulties that life brought him on earth. Sometimes we have to suffer in this life, and his last two years on earth included much physical and mental suffering. He had Alzheimer’s disease, neuropathy, congestive heart failure, and other problems. My mother was his third wife. His first two wives had died. My stepfather was faithful to all three. He loved social events, good food, and travel. My mother and stepfather had the opportunity to travel to San Francisco, Seattle, Charleston, Savannah, Williamsburg, Boston, Denver, Kansas City, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Europe during their 30 years of marriage.

I had the privilege of being one of his caregivers during his last two years of life. I learned a lot about him during this time of difficulty. He maintained his sweet spirit in the midst of his suffering. I hope that I die quickly in my sleep and that I will not linger in pain, but I don’t get to choose the manner of my death. (A funeral director told me a few years ago that the quick death of an elderly person in his sleep is called a “Cadillac death.”) If I linger and suffer before I die, I hope I will be as sweet-spirited as my stepfather was.