No separation from a father’s love

Published 8:08 pm Saturday, February 15, 2014

By Dennis Edwards

One day back in 1962 the doorbell rang, and there stood a short man with a pot belly and a warm, sweet smile.

Junius Henry Hardie was one of the gentlest spirits I’ve ever known. We connected almost immediately. He was there to date our widowed mother following an introduction from Aunt Blanch. Two years later he became our stepfather.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

With him arrived five uncles, six aunts and a host of cousins. They were a musical and tight-knit family — quick to embrace and easy to love. Together we shared simple — yet in the eyes of a 6-year-old, grand — adventures to backyard picnics in Portsmouth, the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City and Gates County for visits with Papa, our new grandfather and (grand) Mother Ottis.

These memories are particularly precious now that he’s gone home to be with the Lord. Daddy died Monday morning at the age of 91. He was our last living parent.

A part of me wants to talk about family reunions, graduations, weddings and road trip convoys on two-lane highways and back roads. They are among a plethora of dear and defining memories.

Yet my spirit is caught in his last days and the unforgettable truths I learned as he lay dying.

Alzheimer’s and dementia robbed him of his memory, but not of a love rooted deeper than thought.

We spent some time together a few nights before he died. From his hospital bed, he didn’t know my name — thought I was his younger brother — but couldn’t remember his brother’s name. He held my hand and stared as though he knew he loved me but didn’t know why.

“Talk to me,” he said. “You should be talking.”

“OK,” I replied. “What do you want to talk about?”

“You should be up there on stage,” he said. “Over there. Get up there and start talking.”

There was no stage in his room, so I stood at the foot of his bed and talked to him. He lit up and calmed right down.

The significance of the moment is clothed in a shared history. Somehow it was in him that I am a preacher and reporter, that I was supposed to be up there preaching and talking about something.

What a fascinating message from beyond dementia. Something deep within him knew what I was, and he managed to remind me, even though he didn’t remember me. In the nursing home a few months earlier, he suddenly took my hand one visit to say, “I love you. I really do.”

While a member of First Baptist Church Mahan’s Male Chorus, he was the soloist for a sweet hymn called “It’s My Desire.”

“It’s my desire to be like the Lord. It’s my desire to be like Him. It’s my desire (to show that I care), To be a friend (doing my full share), Till the end (though it is so rare), Through rain and wind (to kneel in prayer) It’s my desire (to be a soldier) Yes, it is (for His great cause) To live my life as He did His.”

Henry lived his desire to help. But his greatest desire was expressed in the way he loved our mother. He loved Lorraine soul deep, beyond reason and with every fiber of his being. In a very real sense, he lost himself in her. Everyone should be loved so selflessly and unconditionally.

In the end, Alzheimer’s and dementia took even that memory away. But some things run deeper than recollection.

The touch of Daddy’s hand and the look in his eyes are proof positive that, like the love of God in Christ Jesus, these illnesses do not and cannot separate us from a father’s or mother’s love.