As I write, my parents are ages 91 and 95. Carl and Lois McKeever still live in the house Dad built in 1954, just on the next hill from the old homeplace hand-crafted by Mom’s father in the years just after 1900. Across the country lane from Mom and Dad lives my sister Patricia and her extended family. She cooks a big meal for the folks every noonday, and any kin within driving distance gets there for the feast. Mom does breakfast for her and Dad, and the evening meal is leftovers.
Our younger sister Carolyn lives in Jasper, some 15 miles away. Several times a week she drives up, bringing groceries. One of Dad’s pensions from his years as a coal miner goes straight into direct deposit from which she writes the checks for household expenses. Older brothers Ronald and Glenn live in the Birmingham area, from 50 to 70 miles off. Ronnie has the power of attorney and manages the other pension and covers their utilities and other expenses. Glenn and I–I live in New Orleans, a seven-hour drive–provide the cheering and emotional support for the others.
There’s a lot to be said for having a large family. If nothing else, in your later years, they sure do come in handy. Mom and Dad birthed seven children, with the 1939 son dying soon after his birth and Charles, born in 1944 and the last of the brood, leaving us too early in April of 2006. Ronnie is the first-born, arriving in 1935, and I came onto the scene in 1940.
I call Mom every morning on my cell phone, usually while driving across town to my office. I know it’s not good to use a cell phone while driving, but I do. I get in one lane and stay there, and try to pay attention to what’s going on around me.
These mornings, Mom reports, “Pop is going downhill.” His weight has dropped into the 140s from a lifelong robust 200 pounds. As a child, I thought he was the strongest man in the county. For his size, he probably was. And smart. He mined coal for a living, then raised a crop on the farm and did anything necessary to make that happen. Once as a child, I saw him tear down an old Farmall tractor and lay it out on the ground, hundreds and hundreds of strange parts. Then, he put it back together and it ran. Nothing he ever did impressed me more than that.
Being the first-born of a family of 12 children, Dad had to drop out of school after the seventh grade and go to work, first carrying water for a planer mill, then, two years later, doing a man’s job inside the coal mines. He put in 35 years without a loss-time accident before a heart attack and other problems almost took his life in 1961, and the doctors put him on disability.
You could never have told us back then that 46 years later, he would still be with us. For most of these years, we have felt he was living on borrowed time, and we sure have appreciated the kindness of the Heavenly Lender.
The longtime pastor of our home church, Rev. Mickey Crane, comes by to visit a couple of times a month, Mom says. He calls on his cell phone from the front yard so Mom will come to the door, and stays an hour. Mom thinks he’s one of her sons, he’s such a part of this family.
Ronnie called me yesterday. He’s reserving some more spaces in the church cemetery for various family members and wanted to know if I would like two, for Margaret and me. No money is involved, so I said to go ahead. The massive tombstone with Mom and Dad’s names–everything is there except the dates–stands in place near Charlie’s. I’ve taken Dad’s picture standing beside it; I knew the day would come when I’d want to imagine him standing there beside me. But Mom has not wanted to see their monument. She laughs, “I have this dread about being in the ground.”
I assure her, “You won’t be. You’ll be with Jesus.” She says, “I know. But when I was a child, we would hear reports of people being buried alive. Maybe someone made a mistake and thought they were dead. That always worried me.” I tried to get a laugh out of her and said, “Mom, that’s one worry you don’t have. If you’re not already dead, the embalming fluid in your veins will finish you off!” I’m not sure how much comfort that gave her, but I thought it pretty well took care of the matter.
Sometimes in the mornings, Mom will say, “I meant to check on Pop before you called.” She goes into his room and places her hand on his forehead to see if he’s still warm. She feels certain one of these mornings, he will have left us in his sleep. Often, he rouses enough to tell her that her hand is cold and it wakened him. I revert to my family-comic role and say, “Mom, he’s been waking up every morning since April of 1912. Don’t you think he’s going to keep on doing it. Chances are, he never will die!” If she laughs, I can’t tell.
They’ve outlived all their friends. Mom waits for the delivery of the Jasper paper, the Daily Mountain Eagle, every morning and the first things she checks is the obituary. These days, only rarely does she know anyone. And they’re all younger than her and Dad. “For a while, a lot of Lois’s were dying. When I was a child, I didn’t know there were any other Lois’s but me.”
I am well aware that we have been blessed beyond anything we could ever deserve. I determine to be strong when the news comes that Mom and Dad or either has left us during the night. Obviously, that day is closer than it has ever been.
Dad rarely leaves his room now, Mom says. He gets up for the bathroom and sometimes sits in his all-purpose recliner not far from his bed. He watches baseball games during the week and football on Saturdays. And he reads every blessed one of these blogs, thanks to Carolyn printing them out and carryng to the country with the groceries. When I go a day without writing one, they wonder why. Carolyn says they especially like it when I talk about home and the family.
That’s why I decided to put something here on this page which I’d like to say to them. By writing it out and posting it here, they can read it and re-read it if they choose. And who knows, it might even help someone else. If that happens, it’s a bonus. But this is just a word or two to my Mom and Dad.
Before you leave us.
YOU’VE DONE GOOD. In the words of Proverbs 31, your children rise up and call you blessed. I think you know that. And your friends and extended family adore you.
You were married on March 3, 1934, with ten cents to your name. The next day, the coal mines where Dad worked went out on strike. You literally started with nothing. Now, as Dad sometimes says, “I don’t want for a thing.” You’ve done well, Mom and Dad.
TRUST THE LORD. No one but Jesus has ever died and come back to tell us about it, so it’s natural for you to have questions and perhaps a little fear about what happens in death. I sometimes “pull a Joe McKeever” and try to tease the fear out of you, Mom, by saying something like, “Well, Granny and Grandpa and almost all your brothers and sisters died. Two of your sons did, and so many others we knew and loved. Everyone is doing it, so it must not be all that hard!” At other times, I’ll say, “Maybe it’s like being born, Mom. If you could ask the baby coming into this world, he’d be so fearful. He’s leaving the only world he’s ever known. But you and I on this side are saying, ‘Come on baby. We want to see you!’ And while he cries, we laugh.”
I’m not sure how much effect my words have, and I sometimes wonder if I’ll feel like teasing when it’s me facing my last few days. Hope so. I plan to say to myself, “Cheer up. You are about to see Jesus! And your mom and dad and Charlie and so many old friends! And too many new ones to count.”
Trust the Lord, Mom and Dad. He’s in control and you will not be.
BELIEVE HIS WORD. Think of all the promises our wonderful Lord gave us. “I will come again and receive you unto myself.” “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” (Okay, ‘dwelling places.’ Same difference.) “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, that they may rest from their labors. And their works do follow them.” “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Do not trust in your own goodness or think that in any way the good deeds you have done–they have been many!–are going to earn you a place in the Father’s House. The Bible says, “He saved us, not on the basis of righteous deeds we have done, but by His mercy….” (Titus 3:5) Good works are the result of salvation, not the means to it.
REJOICE IN HIS MERCY. I love the line from Psalm 103 which says, “He has not dealt with us according to our sins; He has not rewarded us according to our iniquities.” So, if you ever find yourself remembering the sins of your long lifetime–and knowing myself, I expect you can recall quite a few–remember this also: it’s not about your sins but about His wonderful forgiveness. His grace and His mercy.
The best prayer I know is made up of three words. I’ve frequently counseled people who were seriously ill or on their death beds to pray again and again, “Thank you, Jesus.” That’s all. The more you think about it, those words say it all. You’re thanking Him for what He has done in the past, what He is doing at this moment, and what He is doing in the future.
EXPECT IT TO BE GREAT. God loves to surprise His children. Think of all the surprises and bonuses He put in this world–the color, the sound, the tastes, the love, the adventure. Now, imagine Heaven being all that and so much more.
The best thing about Heaven, the almost unimaginable aspect, will be to behold the face of the Lord Jesus Christ.
That brings me to a verse of Scripture the Holy Spirit has burned into my heart. I had never noticed it until recently and have never preached on it. I don’t recall anyone else ever pointing it out or hearing any sermons on it. It’s the 15th verse of Psalm 17.
“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.”
What a promise! Actually, two promises. I’m going to see my Lord and when that happens, I’ll be satisfied. And when will this occur? “When I awake.”
Mom and Dad, everyone I know has these little anxieties about what’s on the other side of death. So, if you do, welcome to the club. But know this: how you feel has nothing to do with anything. It’s all about putting your trust in Jesus and leaving the rest to Him.
Thank you for being my parents. When I was conceived, had God lined up all earth’s parents and given me a choice, I would have picked you. Or not. Being naturally sort of stupid, I probably would have chosen Loretta Young and Ronald Colman. Or Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. But later on, I would have envied Ronnie and Glenn and Patricia and Carolyn and Charlie and wished I’d chosen you.
I love you fiercely.
See you soon.