Daddy loved to work. He loved to tinker around the farm, fixing things, mowing, and harvesting. In 2009, Dad began to feel tired, an weary, and unable to work. He thought it was his heart. Instead it was the onset of Multiple Myeloma, a diagnosis with a grim prognosis. For a while chemotherapy provided moments of renewed strength. Actually, he was doing pretty well until this past year when he was diagnosed with Leukemia. The last four months, Mom and our family surrounded him with their love and tenderness. I’m so very grateful to them for the sacred work that they did. They sat in the hospital with him for long, often grueling hours, watching unbearable suffering, yet they counted it as an honor and a privilege. They are my heroes.
As difficult as Dad’s last battle with leukemia was, our family received several blessings from it. One is that as a family we are closer than we have been in years; taking care of Daddy required teamwork and communication. He loved being surrounded by his family, and we loved the time with both Dad and Mom. Another gift was that as Daddy grew weaker aspects of his personality were highlighted. I’d like to share a few of the stories and insights from our family scrapbook.
It’s hard to talk about Daddy without talking about his sense of humor. Daddy loved to laugh and he loved to make us laugh. In our family, a particular corny joke was called a “Papa joke.” The last few months, while he was so incredibly sick his dry sense of humor would surface, and catch us all of guard. Early in June, our brother Bob was sitting with Dad at a particularly tough time and Bob offered to pray with him. After finishing the prayer, Bob said: “I forgot one thing. We need to pray for patience.” The prayer continued. Dad opened one eye and said: “And hurry up.” Just a week or so ago, he rendered those in his room speechless. He was restless and wanted the nurse to come in the room. Bob said to Dad: “the nurse said she’d be right back.” Dad replied: “that’s what Jesus said.”
Daddy had an enormous capacity to love. I’m not quite sure how he did it but he convinced all of us that we were his favorite. Every last child and grandchild knew that they were special to him. Daddy was proud of every accomplishment and supportive during our darkest moments as well. When we were struggling, he’d say: “well keep your chin up.”
Daddy told all of his daughters and granddaughters every time he saw us that we were getting prettier everyday. There were times in our lives he’d pull out the “pretty card” to get us to wait on him, saying: “Will the prettiest girl in the room get me a cup of coffee.” At the time we rolled our eyes, and ignored him. As he was nearing the end of his life we would have done anything to ease his pain and suffering.
This last summer, we noted the way he greeted us girls. Every time he answered the phone or walked in the door, he always said: “Hey Dear.” Another sweet thing he did this summer, when he was so sick and to weak to talk, he’d look around the room with a twinkle in his eye, and a mischievous smile he’d wink at us.
For many of you Daddy was your pastor—actually, he was ours too. As our pastor, Daddy taught us the foundations of our Christian faith. He also taught us about Quakerism. He believed and lived all of his days with the gentle understanding that there was that of God in everyone. The center of Dad’s ministry was his love of God, and his love for others. As we visited Cumby’s the other day, James Cumby pointed out that he had been in the funeral business for 50 years, and he believed no one could offer a better eulogy than Daddy. Perhaps it was because of his great love for others. This provided a way of connecting with people, and for sharing their sorrow.
We can’t talk about Daddy without talking about Mom; she was the love of his life. They met at Western Yearly Meeting in Indiana when he was 16 and she was 15. When he saw on the walkway, he said to his friend: “Introduce me to that girl; I’m going to marry her.” And he did. They were married at 17. Sixty-five years later, he still adored her, still thought she was beautiful. Last week his doctor offered him a particularly grim prognosis and treatment plan. After carefully, explaining his options, Dr. Powell said: “Mr. Rees what would you like to do?” Daddy replied: “I want to hug Mom.” As I was leaving his bedside Monday night, I told him I was going to be with Mom. The last words I ever heard him say were: “Tell her I love her.”
One of the other things we noted these last few months was that Daddy had a stubborn streak, at times downright cantankerous—leukemia exacerbated that. He fought so hard to live. If he could’ve survived leukemia by his sheer determination and prayer, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. Several of us said we’d never met anyone who wanted to live more than Daddy. I don’t think it was a fear of death or dying. After all he was the one who taught us about eternal life. I think it was simply that he didn’t want to leave Mom and all of us. My guess is that Daddy was still arguing with God when the angels came for him.
The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:6-7: “As for me, I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Dad you fought a good fight. You won the race. You kept the faith. We love you.