Three nights ago, my husband received the phone call. You know the one you always hear about but think will never happen to you. Yes, we know life is fleeting, and we knew we would lose his father someday. Just not that day.
“You know,” my husband said to me when he returned home from his parents’ home that night. “I always tried to prepare myself for [my father’s passing], but there is just nothing you can do to ever prepare yourself for something like this.” It was midnight at that point, three hours after he heard the sound of his desperate mother’s voice on the other end of the line telling him she couldn’t wake his father. His best friend. His sage. His idol.
My father-in-law struggled with heart issues for years, long before I joined the family. In fact, more than 20 years ago he underwent quadruple bypass surgery, and just a few short months ago he had received a pacemaker and defibrillator . And really, we shouldn’t have been surprised with all the heart issues. After all, his heart was just as stubborn as he was. He hated going to the doctor. In fact, up until the past few years, he had only been to the doctor for two reasons: to have the heart surgery and to have some of his fingers reattached after an accident in his wood shop. And even with the latter, he insisted he drive himself to the doctor–yes, with partially detached digits and a bucket between his legs to catch the blood. Like I said: stubborn.
But this was the beautiful thing about Cecil. It was never about him.
He could be hurting, but he would never let you know it. “If I was any better, I’d be [insert some snarky, clever comment here],” he would always reply when you asked how he was feeling. Then he would quickly turn the conversation to what mattered more to him: you. After asking if I enjoyed my day, he would always reply, “Well, good. It would be foolish not to.”
Cecil loved me like his own, but really that could be said about a lot of people he knew. I have truly never met a more selfless human being. He has opened his home to strangers, providing a bed for anyone who needed it without asking any questions and feeding literally hundreds in his home in the past several years. And he always found ways for his passions and talents to serve others, too. From his 40 years in education (40?!?), to his service in the church and community, to the hundreds of vegetables he gave people from his garden, to talents and skills he passed on to others through his carpentry, to the people he took hunting with him, even to the number of cans he opened while serving you at his home (he would never let anyone open their own soda–that was a job for the host)–his life truly is one that has left a lasting legacy.
So tonight, we plan to get together with Chase’s brothers and sisters and their families and talk about his heart. Not the one that failed. Not the broken one. Not the one who stole him from us. No, tonight, we will sit around a fire pit and talk about the one that really defined him. His compassionate heart. His servant’s heart. His stubbornly selfless heart.
You know, it’s incredible how someone with a weak heart can have one of the strongest. But when you think about it, maybe it makes perfect sense. Maybe he spent his entire life sharing his heart with everyone else and it finally had nothing left to give.
If everything that you do flows from the heart (Proverbs 4:23), my father-in-law had the most beautiful heart there was. Cecil dedicated his life to serving Christ by serving others. He gave indiscriminately, and while he left this earth with nothing, he has now gained everything in Jesus.
So today, instead of mourning, I choose to celebrate my father-in-law, because, well, it would be foolish not to…