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July 02, 2003: Farewell to a gentle man

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My older sister met the man who would become her husband in her freshman year in college and from that point on they were an item. We all knew they were going to get married; it was always just a question of when. When he finally popped the question, the next step was the official meeting of the families, although Iím pretty sure my parents and his parents had already met a time or two before.

His parents are two of the most gracious people I have ever met. Louise is, through and through, a lady in every sense of the word. And Dallas was tall and quiet and gentle, but with a sparkling sense of humor and a brilliant mind.

Over the past twelve years weíve spent time with my sisterís parents-in-law, sometimes sharing holiday dinners and celebrations. They came to my wedding. They came to watch my motherís consecration as a diaconal minister a few years back. We watched Dallas perform in barbershop quartets. Richard helped my brother-in-law hang Christmas lights around my sisterís parents-in-lawís house.

A few years ago Dallas was diagnosed with Alzheimerís. Heíd always been such a brilliant man Ė a professor in mathematics at UC Davis, a voracious reader, a musician. It seemed such a shock that this could happen to, of all people, him.

The last time I saw him was at my wedding, nearly two years ago. The tall graceful man Iíd known was quiet and tired, seeming sometimes a bit lost even though at that time at least he still had all his wits. Last summer they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and managed to gather every one of their friends and family around them, knowing with utmost certainty that this would most likely be their last. It reminded me of that one family reunion I attended years ago, celebrating my grandfatherís 80th birthday, with every single one of his descendants present and knowing that this was the last reunion he would ever attend.

The disease progressed mercifully quickly. Last week he succumbed to renal failure, and last Friday he passed away, his family at his side. He wasnít really there any more; hadnít been there for months, but they had time to say goodbye.

Iíve never been able to believe in gods and devils and heavens and hells. But if there really is a heaven out there, somewhere, I know thatís where he is, his mind as sharp as ever, singing barbershop with old friends.

Rest in peace, Dallas. Iím sorry your youngest grandsons (my nephews) never had the chance to get to know you, but donít worry Ė weíll all do our best to tell them all about you. It was an honor to know you and I think someday theyíll understand that too.

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