In memory of a special friend

Published 1:06 pm Monday, December 4, 2023

This is not an easy column to write. But I will do it anyway.

This past Saturday, I held my wife’s hand as we waited our turn to view the casket at a friend’s funeral. When we stepped up to view the body, as I’ve done at more than a hundred funerals and visitations, I expected to see what looked like my friend in pleasant slumber. Instead, my immediate thought was, “That’s not him.” It was as if I was looking at someone’s idea of a joke — replacing my friend with an empty home of sorts and hoping no one would notice. 

I know it wasn’t really him. It’s like looking at a house the person has always lived in and realizing the residence wasn’t the person. Of course the body itself wasn’t him. He was (and is) spirit, and had departed that home. 

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What I expected to cause more sorrow and elicit more tears instead brought a slight smile to my face. One I hoped no one would mistake the meaning of, if they saw it.

“Of course you’re not there,” I said to him in my mind. “You’re with Jesus.”

I was one of seven pastors invited to speak at this funeral — a testament to what kind of man this was. There were current and former ministers, old and current friends, and me — someone with a particular connection to the man.

When it was my turn to speak, I introduced myself and said something like this, “Dennis and I had a unique connection.” 

Some of those who knew us both couldn’t help laughing.

“Dennis and I were friends for more than 16 years. I was his pastor for a brief time,” I said. “And we were both married to Debbie.” Realizing what I’d just said, I quickly corrected — “Not at the same time!” — which just caused the laughter to increase. 

Dennis had married my ex-wife, and became quite possibly the best stepfather to my two sons and two daughters that they could ever have wished for. 

He was a godly man, loving, honest, loyal and protective, wise and financially smart. An aggressive form of lung cancer took him just three weeks after he was diagnosed. I’ve seen many blunt and aggressive comments made about cancer in general, and I can’t say I disagree. It’s a beast.

It happened just a couple of days before Thanksgiving this year, and his funeral came just two days after. My ex, his widow, our children’s mother, has handled all this as best as anyone could be expected to handle it. The “kids” — ages 19 to 29 — have all grown up a little more, very quickly, out of necessity. 

Because I am a Christian and Dennis was, as well, I know that he is completely healed now and in the presence of his Savior, Jesus. I’m sure he’s excited for the rest of us to join him one day. 

One of his closest friends was a pastor who gave the main message at the funeral. He walked to the podium and set his Bible down, then had to take a minute or two to compose himself after just saying, “I don’t want to be here.”

My heart echoed his statement, and I think everyone else’s did, too.

As I said at the service, I say again now. I am grateful to have shared a friendship with Dennis. I am grateful to have shared my children with him. And I look forward to seeing him again.

Until then, my friend.