Not the movie with Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon.  This is real life – or real death.  Or both.

Bettie’s Dad, Paul Hill, died Sunday afternoon.  He was 85 years old.  He had been ill for a while, and confined to a wheelchair for a few years.  But that’s not who he was.

Paul was a man who loved to laugh.  He always had a funny story or a joke to tell.  He wasn’t the class clown – he wasn’t one to grab attention for himself.  He was a quiet man, but he had a smile as wide as the day is long.

His wife, Ruth, preceded him in death by about eleven years.  Paul had other loves, even before that.  He loved food

and even at his 85th birthday party last year he ate a bowl of ice cream.

He loved to listen to Paul Harvey, carving out times in the day to listen whenever he could. He loved to grow vegetables and flowers, and when Bettie brought him flowers from her garden, his face would glow.

He loved his children, and his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren.

He could always make friends. After he moved into Meadowbrook, he was named Valentine King of the nursing home the first February he was there. He got along real well with the nurses and the residents. His friend Barbara misses him terribly. She was tearing up and had trouble talking when she learned of his imminent death.

And it is a time to be sad, a time to cry, a time to mourn. Paul was a special man to us. There will be people at the visitation that meet friends, who didn’t know they both knew Paul. There will be teachers there, swapping stories of Paul’s pranks. “He did that to you, too??!!” The stories will make him come alive again, at least in memory.

When Bettie was cleaning out the pockets of his suit coats this week, she found some interesting things.  There was some pocket change.  Fifty-five cents.  A quarter, a dime, two nickels, and ten pennies.  One of the pennies was a wheat penny.  I don’t think it was an accident, and I don’t think it was a good-luck penny.  I think he found it, and then didn’t spend it on purpose.  Paul was sharp.

A couple other things that Bettie found in Paul’s pockets were candies.  One of them was a little Snickers bar, like you’d give out at Halloween.  He may have gotten it at some doctor’s office, or it could be leftovers from a party.  Either way, I’m surprised that the wrapper still had something inside it.  Paul really liked his sweets.

There was a handkerchief, and some mundane trash, but there were two other things that were very telling.  One was an announcement for a Christmas play at Ron and Karen’s church.  That’s not the surprising thing.  He was involved in church for longer than I have known him, serving on the board at the church where Bettie and I were married.  What was unusual about this announcement was that the performance was set for December 19, in the year 1999.  Ruth died about two and a half weeks before that.  Had they planned on attending the play together?  Had he been carrying the announcement around for years as a reminder, a memento?  It’s battered and folded enough that it’s possible.

The final thing Bettie found in Paul’s pockets was a little religious saying, about the size of a business card.  It says

His mercy is everlasting
His grace is sufficient
His strength is perfect

That card had been in his pocket for a while, too.  It’s scuffed and a little crumpled.  But it was in Paul’s pocket, something he carried close to him.  And that faith, alive and worked out, lives on.  He passed it to his children, and to his friends and co-workers.  That faith enables Paul to get up out of the wheelchair and stand upright on his own feet.  Not here, but he’s walking on streets of gold in Heaven, where he has a new body.  He’s being celebrated up there today, even more than he’s being remembered down here.

Paul wasn’t the first to go to Heaven, and he won’t be the last.  We’ll all have to face that judgment when we die.  And we’ll live forever, either in Heaven or in Hell.  Which one we end up in depends on whether or not we follow the original dead man walking, Jesus Christ, who was resurrected after the crucifixion.

I’m planning on going to Heaven, and reuniting with Paul.  He’ll have that big grin on, and probably have a funny story to tell about some angels he saw.  He might even start telling the story and interrupt himself by laughing at the humor of it.

We’re sad today, but there’s hope for tomorrow.  So, Paul, this isn’t goodbye.  It’s “see you in a while”.

Even so, we’ll miss you.

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