Celebrating John T

For a year we knew John T’s days on earth were numbered. It was after he and his son Max climbed Mr. Kilimanjaro last year that he was diagnosed with stage four cancer.

I began to think about how people are revealed to us. As a baby is christened, we wonder what hopes and dreams for the child are hidden in the hearts of the family. The infant grows up, and if s/he gets married, we learn a lot from the toasts, roasts, and good wishes of the peers during that celebration. The family draws near at the end of life, and we hear a summary of accomplishments, both tangible and intangible. The intangibles bring in the future – how s/he influences following generations.

A week and a half after John T’s death, John, grandson David and I drove to Charlotte. We picked up grandson Nathaniel and went to church with him. A year ago Nathaniel visited churches within walking distance of the downtown campus and settled on St. Peter’s. When it was time for prayers of the church, we were surprised that the pastor prayed for the family of John T. Wow! John told Nathaniel that it was kind of him to have requested prayer for him.

“I didn’t,” said Nathaniel. “We prayed for the family last week, too.”

We were invited to have lunch with the family at the church before the service for John. A very gracious couple were overseeing it. The man saw Nathaniel walk in and said, “You’re the chef, right?” I didn’t know the man, but he obviously knew our grandson. The woman invited us to help ourselves at the buffet as she tossed a huge salad. I found out later that these lovely people were John’s parents. On the day of their son’s funeral, they served lunch to the extended family and close friends. How humbling! I wish I could have done something for them. For one, I would have told Suzanne that our daughter Lise had idolized her from the moment she met her many years ago. I’ll join Lise in admiring both Suzanne and Randy.

Not having permission to use anyone else’s photo, I took only one shot of us with niece Julie. (Julie is John T’s sister-in-law. My brother and Beth are the parents-in-law.)

Nathaniel, Julie, John, and David

In church, I took a picture of the flowers, flag, medals, and boots. On the wall is a projected photo of John with Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background.

As expected, we felt we knew him much better after listening to John’s family and pastor. He was an adventurer from an early age. Wherever he went, he became a leader, though his purpose was to serve others. He was an Eagle Scout. All present and former scouts were invited to stand and repeat the scout oath. Veterans stood and were recognized with applause. Two of his friends, currently in the military, were there in their impressive dress uniforms. Pastor Rick talked of John’s outreach to everyone he met. The last year of his life was a good one, filled with joy and peace. The staff at the oncologist’s office asked each other, “Who is he that he exudes such joy and assurance?”

Pastor Rick said he regularly visited John in his roles of pastor and good friend. “He wanted to know how I was doing and if there were anything he could do for me. That’s the way he dealt with everyone. He was always willing to share the source of his strength and his assurance of an everlasting life after death.”

We were invited to go out in the parking lot for the releasing of balloons (approved and biodegradable). Students from the Christian school, where John taught science, picked up balloons on the way out. Those who couldn’t get in the sanctuary had watched the service in the fellowship hall. I knew the sanctuary was totally full, but people kept streaming out. There were hundreds of people there and countless others watching the streaming video from home. The hushed crowd listened to the haunting playing of Taps and then released the balloons. Dark clouds overhead hurled a drenching rain at us. I felt that had John been in the crowd in person, he would have laughed and helped people run for cover.

Pastor Rick, wearing a blue shirt and raising a thumb, gives signal to release balloons.

Nathaniel shared his discovery about the prayer for John at St. Peter’s. After the celebration of life service, he saw a couple he recognized. He is guessing they were involved in the school where John and niece Kathie taught, either as teachers or parents of a student. There could have been many Charlotte churches upholding us in prayer that day.