I put off writing about this for awhile, as I wanted to let it marinate in my mind before sharing it with others. We attended the "life celebration" (NOT a funeral) for my friend David Wilder, who passed away March 28th. The event was held on Saturday, April 5th. I apologize for the length of this post, but I have a lot to say. :-)
A few days before the celebration, Jan Wilder called to ask me if I would be interested in speaking about David at the event. I told her that I needed to think about it overnight. I prayed and thought about it and I decided that I simply was too emotional to do this. After watching a few others speak, I am convinced that I made the correct decision. It was tough enough to be in the audience and keep my composure, much less on stage.
There were roughly FIVE HUNDRED people who attended, which really was not a big surprise to me. David was a lifelong salesperson, and a "connector" who managed to stay in touch with everyone. Once a friend, always a friend. That just seemed to be a motto that he lived by.
We arrived early, and I saw several people that I hadn't seen since we left our previous church (where David and Jan still attended). We were directed to the appropriate building, and I was warmly greeted by many friends. The hugs that I got that day were not the half-hearted kind, but bear hugs, from both men and women. It was as if everyone wanted to show their love for each other in a deep way.
I was doing fine (i.e. not crying) until we entered the main part of the sanctuary, and I saw a picture of a younger, healthy, smiling David projected onto the screen over the stage, along with his full name and birth and death dates. Tears came swiftly.
During the actual celebration, one of the themes was "Things Dave Liked", which seemed appropriate. Golf and food ranked highly. Drew McHolm, who was officiating, was the pastor of our previous church, and he mentioned offhand that he was "David's best friend". As others came up to speak, this became a running joke, because they ALL thought they were Dave's best friend. He had a way of making you feel that way, and when you had lunch or a round of golf, you never felt like his attention was divided. He was spending time with YOU, after all. His sincere interest in others was an enviable trait.
So, the celebration lasted a couple of hours, and we sang some of Dave's favorite songs, including "Agnus Dei" and "How Great is Our God". I have never heard people singing in this fashion before, and I doubt that I will hear it again anytime soon. Generally, when people are singing in a church, there is a reserved quality to it, but not this day. Everyone was belting out these songs, and the emotion was palpable.
Near the end, they showed a video with pictures from his childhood all the way through his recent illness. There were several video clips as well. David dancing in a goofy way with some friends, David participating in a church drama, and, lastly, David sharing his faith in Jesus in a frank manner, while looking right at the camera, encouraging others to get to know his friend and Lord. This last part seemed particularly powerful, considering that many of his family members are not believers in Christ.
David was the oldest of seven children, and I got a chance to speak with two of his brothers and his mom that day. All of them were struck by how many people David impacted here in the Austin area. To them, David is that kid from Worcester, Mass. To us, he was a giant in the faith. The last person we spoke to before we left was Charlie, who is eleven months younger than Dave. Pam mentioned to me that she felt comforted while speaking to him, because he looks and acts so much like our friend.
We spent a total of five hours on that beautiful Saturday catching up with friends, and sharing funny and poignant stories about David. It was a reunion of sorts, and I know Dave would have LOVED it. The guy knew how to work a room.
One of our friends made a comment that I will likely never forget, "This is a picture of what heaven will be like." I could not agree more. There was a church split about nine years ago, and many left in a huff back then. All of those harsh feelings were forgotten, and I saw people hugging and laughing that I honestly never thought would speak to each other again, at least not here on earth.
Overall, this journey has been life-changing for me as well. I watched people streaming in and out of David's home in the last weeks of his life, many travelling from several states away just to tell him what he meant to them and how he brought them closer to God. I was among them, of course. David was 49 years old when he died. I am 37 now. This made me begin to evaluate the impact that my life is having on others. If I die in 12 years, how many of my friends will feel compelled to visit and weep at my bedside and tell me that my words and my actions deeply affected them?
David affected the course of my life in subtle ways for years - his openness, his boldness, his friendship, and now, even his death.
A friend of mine made an interesting point the other day while we were chatting in the church parking lot. He didn't know David personally, but he came to know him through my discussions during our men's group. He said, "Sometimes I think God takes people like David earlier, because it does make a bigger impact and it often inspires people to carry the torch that they carried." This is an exceptional truth, as I have found myself thinking along these very lines ("If David isn't here anymore, who is going to be that guy?").
With that in mind, Pam and I have decided to join and help our associate pastor who is planting a new church in Georgetown, Texas starting this fall. I had been considering it already, but now I am certain that this is something I am supposed to do, based on recent events. Dave was always looking for opportunities to spread God's Word and God's love with others. How can I impact the largest number of people possible? By staying where I am, or by starting something from the ground up? The answer seems very clear to me.
Several of you have asked about Jan and how she is doing now. Before addressing that, I wanted to mention that the money we raised at the AR Gathering was truly needed. It took me a couple of days to get it to her, and she later told me that she was down to $39 in her checking account the day before I brought these funds. WOW! Talk about an answered prayer. Thank you again to all of you who have contributed to help her.
With regard to Jan and her current emotional state, she is struggling mightily with the loss, but she is firmly faithful to God that she will work through the pain. I would encourage anyone reading this to visit www.carepages.com and sign up to leave her some kind words on the Message Board. The profile name is "DavidinAustin".
Someone asked me what happened to David's body, and I didn't actually know until I spoke with Jan's sister. David was cremated, and half of his ashes were scattered on his favorite local golf course. His mother took the other half home to scatter at the lake house where he grew up. This seemed particularly appropriate, since he spent about half of his time in each location.
I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to send cards, emails, or to call and express condolences for me. I thank you also for your prayers and kind words when things were uncertain over the past several months. Your support made things easier to handle.
Lastly, I will leave you with a quote from my wife (which I shared in a previous post): "David got his work here done quickly." Truer words were never spoken.
God bless you if you actually read this whole post, which is probably my longest ever. Have a terrific week!