I Wish You Could Have Known Him

Dear Will:

It is with a combination of sadness and joy that I write to tell you that on April 17 my father passed away. He was 86.

We were fortunate to have him at home and alert for several days prior to his death. On Easter Sunday (just five days before he died, as it turns out), the family gathered at his home, where he was under hospice care. There were nearly 20 of us there, and in spite of his condition it was fun to be together. We took turns sitting around his bed and keeping him posted on the Masters golf tournament.

Earlier that day he had asked me to give him a Priesthood blessing, “releasing him,” as it were, to let go of mortality. So when the meal was over (he ate nothing) he said to me, “Let’s get on with it.” After a family prayer, I placed my hands on his head and pronounced some simple words, blessing him with comfort and peace and the assurance that he was “free to go” whenever he felt ready to do so.

It was one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do. Afterwards, the grief I felt was overwhelming—a physically crushing sensation that all but consumed me. After pronouncing the blessing, each one there took a moment to express their love to him, one at a time. When each person had had a turn, he gathered us around his bed for some final words of counsel: He asked us to take care of my mother, to love one another, and expressed his confidence that God would watch over us after he was gone.

We cried a lot that day. But as I look back on it—now two weeks later—I recall the day with a great sense of joy and gratitude. What a wonderful blessing it was for us all to be together when he was still lucid, for us each to have some time with him to express our love, for the Spirit of God to be there in our midst and bless us in our moment of grief. I realize that often death comes so quickly and unexpectedly that we don’t get the chance to say our most tender goodbyes. Because we had that chance with my father, that Easter Sunday will remain a favorite memory of his dying days.

His funeral was last week. It became a great celebration of the man as we reminisced together about my father’s life: his charm, his idiosyncrasies, his talents, and his many accomplish­ments. Friends and family gathered from across the map, including some elderly lifelong friends of his. I was comforted by their presence there, for I saw it as an affirmation of a life well-lived.

I had the chance to speak at his funeral service, and although it wasn’t easy, I was honored to do so. I told some favorite stories, including this conversation:

Me: “Dad, if you really loved me you’d buy me a car.”

Dad: “Well, now you know.”

I expressed my thanks for all he taught me and all of the ways in which he blessed my life. In conclusion, I echoed the testimony of Job: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-26). I know I will see my father again, and when we see each other, we shall embrace and enjoy the richness of eternity together. And until then, he’s in a better place, freed at last from his crumbling mortal body.

I’m sorry you never got the chance to know Jay Watkins. He was a good man. You would have liked him.

PW

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Have Mercy on Me Too

Dear Will:

Today I turned on the air conditioner for the first time this year.  I admit that I felt a bit of trepidation as I reached for the switch, in part because a technician informed us last summer that the thing could die on us any minute, and in part because it reminded me of power shortages and rising rates.  My guess is it’s going to be a long sweaty summer.  So I don’t know about you, but I’m eager for the clouds to roll in and stay awhile.  I know: wishful thinking.

I’ve been looking forward to writing to you so that I could share with you something that moved me profoundly.  On Easter Sunday, my wife Dana had the daunting challenge of delivering the main message at our ward’s Easter service.  In spite of my obvious bias, I think I can state with some objectivity that hers was a truly extraordinary discourse, delivered with great insight and spiritual force.  So many people commented on it afterwards that I thought I would share some of it with you.

Here’s one short passage that is a sermon all by itself:

The day must have begun much like any other for blind Bartimaeus.  He probably arrived early at the main gate of Jericho, tapping his way along the familiar turns to get to the highway before the merchants, the donkeys, camels, women carrying pitchers of water on their heads.  There he would spend the day begging for bread, relying on the mercy of strangers to survive.  But on that day Bartimaeus heard the hubbub of a great multitude approaching, and he heard the news being passed along—“Jesus of Nazareth is coming.  The Messiah is here among us.” Bartimaeus, blind from birth, afraid of being trampled by the crowd, had only his ears and voice to find his Lord.  “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.”  Repeatedly the people told him to be quiet.  But he only cried louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

Bartimaeus was profoundly aware of the perpetual darkness in which he lived.  Unlike many who are lost in spiritual darkness, he knew the Savior was his only hope, and so he cried out again and again, until Jesus, hearing his cry, called Bartimaeus to come to him.

In 1981, the Los Angeles Times reported on a woman named Anna Mae Pennica, 62 years old, blind from birth.  A doctor from the Jules Stein Institute in Los Angeles performed surgery on Mrs. Pennica and removed the rare congenital cataracts from the lens of her left eye — and she saw for the first time ever.

The newspaper account tells us that since that day, Mrs. Pennica can hardly wait to get up every morning, put on her glasses, and enjoy the changing morning light.  Think how wonderful it must have been for Anna Mae Pennica when she looked for the first time at faces she had only felt, or when she saw the colors of the Pacific sunset, or a tree waving its branches, or a bird in flight.  The miracle of seeing for the first time after a lifetime of darkness can hardly be described. . . .

The first sight that Bartimaeus’s eyes fell upon was the face of Jesus—His eyes, His compassionate all-seeing eyes.  Can you imagine that? What would you do for that sight?  There is not one of us who does not need to cry out to the Savior, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

Do you sometimes find it hard to see in the dark?  Do you feel the need to have your sight restored from time to time?  Do you, like Bartimaeus, cry out for the Lord’s mercy?  Is there a miracle of the heart for you in this story?

I hope there’s something in that simple tale for you as there was for me.

PW