My father died this spring. He was 96 years old, and he was ready. I’m not sure I was — but I have no doubt that he has joined his Savior in heaven.
Dad taught me many things — but above all, resilience and faith. He worked hard as a dentist; he was a faithful husband and father; he enjoyed playing golf and bridge with his friends; and he was a devout Christian. When I was very young, I remember him preparing to teach adult Sunday school – poring over commentaries and maps as he worked on lessons about Paul’s travels in the book of Acts. He was clerk of session, and both of our pastors often visited our house. Later I learned that in those fraught Vietnam War years, the two pastors – on opposite political ends – were barely speaking. Dad was decidedly Republican, but he needed the pastors and the church to know both men were respected.
Bit by bit, Dad lost his roles. He set down work and they moved to a retirement community. He lost Mom bit by bit to Alzheimer’s disease before she died. He moved again to be nearer to us kids. He gave up driving, then his apartment. In the end, he was confined to a wheelchair in a skilled nursing center. His only outings were to the doctor and to his duplicate bridge group where he played twice a week with my brother.
Then, a year ago, after his 96th birthday, he sent this email to his family and closest friends:
Greetings to all. I have waited with this update until the excitement and prolonged celebration has subsided. The big treat was at bridge club on Monday. The club provided a huge delicious birthday cake. They gave me a card covered with kind wishes. They sang, and politely listened to my words of thanks. During the course of the game, many stopped to express their congratulations. I was overwhelmed with the attention.
I pondered why this affected me as it did. I recalled reading one of my daughter Karen’s sermons, that no matter what our status, we all are somebody. Then I realized that my changing status had affected my self-image. From an authoritative professional at work, the father, provider, exemplar at home, an influential leader of the extended family, a respected and active member of the church and local community, to my present status. I am isolated with dozens of elderly, dependent, wheelchair-restricted people. Our needs are met and the care is good, but I could be Room #311 instead of Hank.
I am not whining, just describing the situation. Therefore, when a wonderful group of folks demonstrate true caring and concern, layered with respect and compliments regarding my mental condition, I come to the conclusion that, hey — I am somebody.
I’m looking forward to the coming year with hope that the provider of so many blessings in my life will continue to favor me. Thank you for your friendship for these many years, and thank you to the family, my legacy. I am so proud of you all.
Love, The Old Geezer
The resilience and faith of “The Old Geezer” kept on till the end. In one of our last visits just days before he died, he recalled how he loved leading his retirement center’s Good Friday service, where he sang “The Old Rugged Cross.” As he shared this with me, he could barely talk – his lungs failing, his breath shallow. But as a closing testimony of his faith – his deepest identity – he looked me in the eye and sang:
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame.
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was saved.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down.
And I will cling to the old rugged cross
And exchange it some day for a crown.
Christine Chakoian is pastor of Westwood Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles.