We went to Dick’s drive-in in the U-District Thursday (U being University of Washington, for those of you unfamiliar with my exotic, sophisticated, Washingtonian lingo). It wasn’t optional. As far as I know, it’s not possible to drive to and from SeaTac airport without making the obligatory stop at Dick’s — our version of In-and-Out Burger.
Got in line. Gave our order: Two deluxe, four cheeseburgers, four fries, two tartar, three vanilla shakes, one diet Coke. And then Dave said, “Isn’t that Bill Gates?”
Sure enough. Two lines over, smiling and trying not to notice that twenty heads had turned in his direction, was the founder of Microsoft. “Hi, Bill,” someone near him said, as though Bill were a buddy.
“Hello,” he said, still smiling.
One woman left her line and scampered over to stand behind him. Clearly, he was her buddy too. She began talking as though resuming a previously interrupted conversation.
While I strained to eavesdrop, Zac, whom we had picked up at the airport, said, “That’s just wrong.” I might have heard more of Bill’s conversation than just the woman’s “I’ve noticed it’s really grown around there in the last ten years, haven’t you?” if Zac wasn’t delivering a speech about standing-in-line propriety and burger anonymity right in my ear.
“Mom, quit looking at him,” he warned, smack in the middle of said speech.
I really wanted to linger so I could tell you what Bill ordered, but Zac hustled me straight to the car. I can tell you that Bill wore simple black pants and a modest blue jacket with thin black squares, and that Melinda was waiting for him in their Volvo station wagon, two cars from ours.
I have to say, he seems like a very nice, very humble man. But while watching Bill back up their car, pull out of Dick’s, and drive east on 45th Street, I thought the same thing I often think when his name or his face pops up in the news. I thought of baubles, and how quickly they will dissipate when this life is over.
Later in the day, we went to the home of a rich man, to bring him worship and communion in the last hours of his life.
We parked not far from his mobile home, and noticed as we did so that two other couples from church — Dave and Sue Kunkle, and John and Laurie Watson — were also parked near the Baileys’ home. With Bible, communion elements, and guitar in hand, we walked up to the house, knocked on the door, and joined the others inside.
Bruce was lying in his hospital bed in the living room next to the sliding glass door, where he had a view of the neighboring mobile homes, and the potted plants Alberta had set on their deck. Two IV bags hung from a stand at the head of his bed. When I asked her if she rotated the bags herself, she nodded. “It’s okay except when I have to lift the stand higher to get a better drip. I’m just not strong enough to do it when two bags are hanging there.”
I walked to the bed and took Bruce’s hand. “Hello,” I said. “It’s good to see you.” His eyes latched with mine. He didn’t speak or smile, but his grip tightened. “Your hands are nice and warm,” I said.
We took seats around the bed, and prayed, and sang. First, a song of declaration.
I believe in Jesus
I believe He is the Son of God
I believe He died and rose again
I believe He paid for us all
And I believe that He’s here now
Standing in our midst
Here with the power to heal now
And the grace to forgive
Then a song of adoration.
Isn’t He (isn’t He)
Isn’t He (isn’t He)
Prince of Peace
Son of God
After another song, and more prayer, Dave asked, “Bruce, would you like to have communion?” And Bruce said his one and only word: “Yes.”
Dave read from Matthew. Alberta gave her husband a small bite of communion bread, then helped him drink the juice. Then, clustered around his bed, we laid hands on Bruce and prayed that God would ease his pain, and fill him with peace, and give him glimpses of the heaven he was about to enter. Bruce closed his eyes, and kept them closed — and sometime in the early hours of Saturday morning, he opened them to Jesus.
He died a rich man — rich in the love of his wife, the love of his church family, the love of his God.
And he’s a rich man still.
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? ~ Mark 8:36
Anita Scheftner says
How precious..beautiful..meaningful..whatever cherished adjective I can’t think of right now…crying but happy tears for them..I was there when my Dad died..I didn’t want to be there..but now it’s a precious memory that I wouldn’t trade for the world..Invisible hugs to Alberta..<3
I know what you mean, Anita. After the wound heals a little, we have better perspective. It truly is a gift to be there with someone at the end of their life.
Teresa Townsell says
As always, your stories are poignant and so beautifully written.
I wanted to share that my 95-year-old grandmother passed away one year ago, and I was fortunate enough to have made several trips back to Kansas to see her between August and January;–in January I was there with her at the end . . . and felt her final heartbeat. (I never thought time and distance would have allowed for me to have been with her in the end, but I’m so grateful it happened.)
Anyway, as part of her memorial I used part of the poem, “The Dash”, which you might be familiar with, and it parallels the message of your meaningful story. I hope we all are as “rich” at our life’s end as Bruce and Grandmother were.
part of the poem by Linda Ellis
I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
from the beginning…to the end.
He noted that first came the date of her birth
and spoke of the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
that she spent alive on earth…
and now only those who loved her
know what that little line is worth.
If we treat each other with respect,
and more often wear a smile…
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy’s being read
with your life’s actions to rehash…
would you be proud of the things they
say about how you spent your dash?
Teresa, I didn’t know that about your grandmother. How beautiful that you were with her at the end! I was with my grandmother, too. I count it as one of the highest privileges I’ve been given.
That’s a wonderful poem. I’ve heard bits of it, but I think that’s the first time I’ve seen the whole poem. Thank you!
Cora Welch says
Shannon, I just love getting those little glimpses of Jesus waiting for us. Thank you for helping to ease my hurtful heart.
Praying for you, my friend.