A servant’s heart

“The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.” – Billy Graham 

In March 2020, when normal life as we knew it ceased to exist and the cable news channels pummeled us with 24/7 coverage, terrifying graphics of viruses, and menacing dirges, I vowed “it” would never be a topic I’d write about, ever. I swear, the words, “C****-*9” and “p******c” will never appear in my column! You are my witness! I proclaimed, more than once, to our sleeping dog, Hank. By banishing the topic, my goal was to give readers an escape from the constant bad news – one less place to hear about it again and hopefully provide a chuckle or two. How-ever, much to my intense indignation, the subject I swore to never write about has forced my hand. 

No! I refuse to write the words! I won’t because I’m angry and I don’t want to give “it” any more oxygen than it already has devoured. I hate “it.” I hate everything about it because not only has “it” made all of our lives miserable for well over a year and probably more, “it” stole someone very dear to my family: my father-in-law, Larry Ranum. 

Earlier in 2020, Larry was vibrant, healthy, and enjoying a new chapter in his life. After spending seven arduous years lovingly caring for Janet, his cancer stricken wife who passed away in 2013, Larry had found love again. In 2018, he married Sandy, a delightful, sprightly lady he met at church. Trips were planned, adventures on the horizon; their future was bright and we couldn’t have been happier for them.

But then, on Thanksgiving, everything changed. “It” showed up. A few days later, Larry was in the hospital. After a week, he was home. Not long after that, he was back in the hospital, in the ICU, and on a ventilator. We were told by the doctors we would have to “wait and see how he does.”

Just as thousands of families with loved ones hospitalized with “it,” we weren’t allowed to visit. Brian couldn’t sit with his dad to provide with him the comfort and reassurances he needed from his son. I couldn’t hold Larry’s hand and pray for his healing. Visits from his granddaughters were verboten. It was frustrating and heartbreaking but what could we do? The rules were clear. Thankfully, however, Sandy was allowed short visits with Larry since she had been in close proximity to him and was symptom free. Our days revolved around the text updates and telephone calls from her. Even though Sandy was always reliable and thorough with them, it was an excruciating exercise in patience.

Agonizing days passed. No change. Slight improvement. Worse. No change. And then, in what felt like a blink of an eye, we were faced with the worst news: Larry wasn’t going to recover. He would never be the man he was before “it.”

It’s a truly terrible decision to let go of a loved one’s life because the medical options have been exhausted and quality of life is in serious question. It violates our instincts to preserve life. It forces us to give up on our desperate prayers for recovery, to release hope on a miracle, and to trust that God’s plan is the right one. It makes us comprehend there are fates worse than death and that if Larry had been able, he would have said, “No way. Let me go.” So, with shattered hearts, we did.

I was allowed to sit with Larry at his bedside to privately say goodbye. As I held his soft, warm hand waves of gratitude and sorrow swept over me as I contemplated the blessing Larry had been in my life.  I’m sorry this is happening, Larry. This is so unfair. Thank you for welcoming me into your family with open arms and loving me like your own daughter. Thank you for your unceasing generosity when we needed it the most but were too proud to ask. Thank you for teaching me what it means to live selflessly, to give without expecting anything in return, and what an “in sickness and in health” marriage really looks like. Thank you for bringing Sandy into our family; we will make sure she’s ok. I’m so sorry you didn’t have more time with her. This is so unfair. I’m sorry we couldn’t save you. I love you so much, Larry. Thank you for everything. Goodbye for now. I’ll see you again in heaven. 

I can only hope, somehow, he heard me.

Seven hours later, Larry was gone. The caring, selfless, generous man with a servant’s heart, died January 23, 2021. I still can’t believe he’s gone. 

So often, life doesn’t go according to our plans. I saw Larry living 20 more happy years with his sweetheart Sandy by his side, continuing his volunteer work as a blood donor, at Habitat for Humanity, his church, Bettendorf Parks, and the food bank. In my plan, Larry should be here to proudly watch his granddaughters graduate from high school and college. He should be here for his children. Larry. Should. Be. Here. And so should the loved ones you lost. 

Finally, to “it” I say this: you will not win. You will be defeated and humanity will prevail. As a Christian, I believe God brings good from every situation. I may not know when or how but I have faith it will happen. I also have faith in the principles Larry lived by: embrace positivity, be thankful for all your blessings, and live to serve others – because if I’ve learned anything in this life, those principles win. Every time. 

Thank you for everything, Larry. Rest in peace.

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