Friday, January 4, 2013

A Timely Death?

Stew's dad, C.J. Roberson, 81, passed away on the morning of Christmas Eve.   Although he had recently suffered a debilitating stroke, none of us saw this coming.  All of our attention had been focused on his recovery; we'd even set January 2nd as a target date for C.J. to be discharged from the rehab facility to go home.  To our bewilderment, C.J. went "home" several days earlier than we were expecting, and it was to his heavenly destination rather than to his modest brick house set among the pines and azaleas of  lower Alabama.

I broke the news to our daughters and their immediate reaction was tearful. Jenna and Heather had seen Papa over Thanksgiving and had told him good-bye, fully expecting to see him again.  Death wasn't in their plans.  I consoled the girls with the biblical truth that God ordains the number of our days even before our birth ( a la Psalm 139), and so they didn't have to tell themselves that Papa died because he wasn't eating enough at mealtimes.  Though they agreed with this in their heads, their hearts still broke with fresh sorrow over the realization that Papa was gone.

We attended Christmas Eve services that afternoon, and during the assembly a handful of children were baptized.  I thought to myself, "The whole significance of baptism is for days just like today, when I'm struggling with death and loss."  C.J. had made his peace with Jesus while in his sixties, and it had changed his life.  Now in death, it changed how we thought about losing him.  He was spending Christmas Eve with the Babe in the manger, not in a sterile hospital room.  Stew and I found ourselves relieved, seeing C.J.'s passage as merciful release from a body condemned by old age and infirmity.

Leslie and her fiance, Josiah were spending Christmas with us this year, thus Papa's death injected an unforeseen wrinkle into our holiday plans.  We thought we would spend this Christmas getting acquainted in the context of meals, forays to our country property, video game sessions and other relaxing activities.  None of us dreamed that Josiah's introduction to our family would come by way of the crucible of death and burial.  And yet, Josiah and Leslie both agreed that they wanted to accompany us on the hastily organized 500-mile trip to bury Papa.

We departed a couple of days after Christmas and stayed through New Year's Day.  Our family of six stayed with Stew's cousin Jeff, who along with his wife Bonnie, curtailed their own Christmas visit with the grandkids in Orlando, Florida, to hurry home and host us.  

Saturday found our families gathered at First Presbyterian Church for the memorial service, which was well attended by friends and relatives.  Stew, along with his brother, nephew, and 2 cousins took turns speaking about their father/uncle/granddad.  Lissa sang a duet of "The Old Rugged Cross", C.J.'s favorite hymn, and another cousin sang the Navy hymn in honor of C.J's 28 years of military service.  We all comforted one another with loving and mostly entertaining memories of C.J. for hours after the service concluded.

On New Year's Eve, C.J. was buried with full military honors at Barrancas Cemetery located on NAS Pensacola.  He shares a gravesite with his infant son, Steven, who died at birth in 1957.

Was this a "timely death", we ask.  Is death ever "timely?"  From the perspective of our off-beat missionary minds, the answer is a definite YES.   We have embraced a lifestyle which places us on the opposite hemisphere for years at a time.   At this point we are only a handful of days away from shipping off to Japan, for what will likely be a four year absence.  If C.J. had slipped away from us during 2013, only one of the six of us would have attended his funeral -- Stew, who would have had to fly back from Japan alone.  Instead, we all enjoyed the privilege of witnessing C.J.'s  memorial and funeral.  Having viewed his ashes placed in the grave first-hand, our family enjoys closure in remembering a very loving man, a devoted husband and father.

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