People here still remember my parents. I know because they still ask about them. They may not have lived here long, but they were adored by those they served.
Well, technically, only my father, the Rev. Charles P. McDonald Jr., “served” the church. For nearly two years in 2005-2007 he was interim pastor for First United Methodist Church here in Las Vegas. But my mother, Lois Lee King McDonald, also served — brightening up the congregation with her inextinguishable optimism and belief, always, in the goodness of everyone she met.
It was an unusual set of circumstances that led my parents to Las Vegas. They had spent essentially all of their long lives in Arkansas, and had retired in my mother’s hometown of Conway just a few years before their move here. But when Joanne Sprenger, a leader in the church here, found out I was a Methodist preacher’s son, she asked me if he’d be available to serve the church here, since they had no pastor at that time. I told her I’d ask him, never expecting my 79-year-old father to say yes.
I was wrong, not because my father jumped at the chance but because my mother did. “Your mother’s ready to go,” Dad told me as they pondered the request. Within days they had moved to New Mexico.
Apparently, Mom knew what the rest of us didn’t— that Dad didn’t need to retire; that deep down he had no desire to end his 50-plus years as a minister; that he needed to answer this “calling” in the affirmative. And that, if all that could be somehow set aside, at least they’d be where “Son No. 4” and his wife had moved, along with — and this is no small detail —two of their many grandchildren.
It was a beautiful fit. They were exactly who the church needed at the time, and Charles and Lois fell in love with Las Vegas. For me personally, it’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever enjoyed, to watch my parents, one more time, do what they did so skillfully — serve a congregation with unconditional love, uninhibited laughter and undeniable acceptance.
My mother was always Dad’s strongest supporter, but she was so much more than a preacher’s wife. She raised six boys and taught school. She’s a profuse reader with an active curiosity, and she’s also done her share of writing — especially, I remember, after surviving breast cancer.
And, more than anything else, she’s a believer — in God, and in all that’s good in people.
After Las Vegas, Dad went on to serve two more churches before health problems forced him into a final retirement. In a way, he died last year with his boots on. Even during his final days, he ministered to his caregivers. His interest, love and concern for people was real.
In his final days he couldn’t speak, but he mouthed the words “I love you” to my mother. I can’t think of a more appropriate way for him to go.
Since then, my mother’s been without her husband of 62 years. I know she misses him, but you can’t necessarily tell by her disposition. Instead, she’s been an inspiration of gentle strength.
She understands that dying is a part of life. She sees her life as one big blessing, one in which even the difficult times led to lessons learned and unexpected additional blessings.
Her view of the world is one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I can see my own blessings so much more clearly because of her.
Now, it’s her turn to die. They found a growth on her pancreas — almost certainly, it’s cancer — and she’s too old to fight it with surgery or chemo. Nor does she want to.
The doc gave her only a few weeks to live. She says she’s ready. She says she’ll miss her family dearly, but she misses Dad too — and she’s looking forward to seeing him on the other side.
Talk to her and, if you didn’t know she’s dying, you wouldn’t be able to tell by her demeanor. She’s still counting her blessings and loving everyone for who they are. She’s our tower of strength. She taught us how to love life. Now she’s teaching us how to embrace death.
Perhaps her final blessing is to be relatively pain-free in her final days. A medical procedure, performed recently, should make her comfortable to the end. Thank God and modern medicine for that.
I’ll miss her dearly, but I’m happy for her. She’s going to a better place, where many of her loved ones will be waiting to greet her. And at the front of the line, I also believe, Dad will be there, asking her what took so long.
“I had to say my own goodbyes,” I can hear her saying. “But I’m here now, ready to be with you.”
That’s as it should be, Ma, because blessings never die.
Tom McDonald is former editor and publisher of the Optic. He may be reached at 505-426-4199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.