On Tuesday, my husband and I conscripted my brother into childcare and went to donate blood at the annual memorial blood drive for Vicky Graham. Vicky died of cancer a year or two after we joined the church. The blood drive is an especially appropriate way of remembering her, because during her fight infusions of platelets were one of the things that helped her feel better and get stronger. Vicky’s dad Whitey was standing at the entrance to the drive when we pulled up. We chatted, he signed us in and gave us stickers and little squeezy-balls. He thanked us for remembering Vicky.
As I was drinking my post-donation beverage, Whitey waved goodbye and said that his lovely wife was there to pick him up and he’d see us later.
Thursday night, when I came downstairs from putting Thane to bed, I saw my husband standing stricken with a phone to his ear. Whitey died Thursday afternoon from a massive heart attack.
When I think of Whitey’s dying, I think of work. There are Christians — I am one — who tend towards an intellectual approach to their faith. I think theology and Biblical study. Whitey was a Christian whose faith was done with his hands. He spearheaded the church’s ministry with the Dwelling Place, serving a meal to the hungry. Several times a year he cooked a meal for the church — Easter Breakfast, Fall luncheon. He was behind “Soup”er Bowl Sunday, and the Blankets and Tools drive. He was the lone guy on Deacons. He served with me on the Hospitality Committee. In my church bag, I noticed an envelope from him, my name scrawled on it. It was one of many projects we were working on together. He was a man who did things in accordance with what he believed.
He was also a father, many times over. He and Jean had three children: Vickie, Alex and Andrew. He and Jean had over 200 children. They were, are, foster parents. One of the last things he told me about was Alex and Andrew making foster-child Daryll laugh — Daryll is about Thane’s age. Whitey and Jean offered short term and long term homes to children in dire circumstances. They prayed every year for the children who “aged out” of the system and were sent alone into the world. Those children were always welcomed back at the Graham household.
When death comes long and slow, you have time to prepare. Gradually the tasks that person undertook are put aside in illness. I’ve seen that before. When death is a sudden visitor, you realize just how much you relied on a person. Whitey was supposed to give the sermon this Sunday while our pastor was on vacation. In an unusual fit of preparedness, he had already finished writing it, and it was read to us. It was about his faith, how his journey with Christ had progressed, and about what it had meant to him to be in community with us. It was an affirmation about how much he loved us. How strangely profound to hear from a man who had had every intention of delivering it himself.
Tomorrow, I will play “Lord of the Dance” at Whitey’s funeral. In September, I will find someone to prepare the Fellowship Lunch that was always his domain. In March, I will buy yellow roses and play “Lord of the Dance” for Vickie and Whitey. His example will remind me to be not only a thinking Christian and a feeling Christian, but an acting Christian.