A tribute to my step-dad

Beautiful couple!

Beautiful couple!

What a blessing Clifford Duncan was to our family. He and my mom married in July 2003. Mom was beginning to lose her vision, but he gave her a new vision: Travel!

My mom and dad were married 54 years when he passed. Cliff and his first wife, Hazel, were married 49 years when she passed. So both knew the joys, tribulations and blessings a long marriage brings. Losing his wife was difficult. Talk about lonesome! He told me he prayed for a wife. And did I ever imagine my mom was praying for a husband? No, but in spite of living near family, she was lonely and with her loss of vision, her life was becoming more lonesome.

So that was the scenario when my middle sister and Cliff’s oldest daughter “fixed” them up after he had recently lost his wife to cancer. He and Hazel traveled extensively in an RV around the country, including to Alaska in a motor home! They started small and owned about every type they make. My parents owned a travel trailer, but they kept it in an RV resort. Mom always wanted to take it on the road, but my dad was a home body….so she finally got on the road with her new husband.

They dreamed of traveling cross-country together.   While Cliff and Hazel traveled extensively, it was mom’s dream. Mom especially wanted to make it to California to see one grandson and his family. He and his wife had four children, but it had been years since she saw them. Did I mention their ages? Mom was a spring chicken at the age of 79 and Cliff was on the older end of 69!  You really couldn’t tell they were 10 years apart in ages. Oh, if mom could see and read this, she’d be mad I’m telling her age (she’s now 92). So shhhhh…..

They began their journey, after selling his home, to be full-time travelers. And at the time, that was the last thing we ever dreamed of doing, ourselves (ha and look at us now). But we did admire them. My middle sister and her husband bought a Class A motor home and traveled with them for a while. And much of the time was spent in Florida so my husband and I would ride our motorcycle to visit them.

Full Time Travelers

They weren’t on the road long when they began to think they needed “roots.” Cliff had heard about a place in Alabama, where you could own your land and have full hook ups for your motor home. I said, gently, at your ages, you may want to live near one of your six children! Mom had 3 and he had 3. Well, since we lived in Florida, I always say we won that lottery! They moved near us. And my middle sister bought a snow bird home there was well. And eventually, Cliff’s oldest daughter and her husband semi-retired and moved there as well. So we had lots of great family times and especially for the holidays.

We kids helped put on a  beautiful and simple wedding. Then we entered the life of a blended family with six adult children.

Wedding Party

I loved Cliff right away because one thing he told me early on was that he reads the Bible every morning and had since 1994. And then he began reading it to my mom every morning. He was a regular church attendee as well. Mom always wanted the continuity of church membership. Cliff became such a wonderful blessing to her, how could I not learn to love him like a dad? And at my age, that was not going to be easy, but we quickly bonded.

Cliff and mom became active in their new church.  It had an outreach ministry to the community with a used clothing store. They worked in it faithfully until it closed.  I can’t begin to say all they did, but they were very active until recently. They even began to bowl with a group of friends from Sunday school. Imagine my nearly blind mom bowling. Yep and she wasn’t too bad.

Their days of traveling in the motor home soon came to an end after mom suffered a serious fall in one of the parks. It was so sad to see them have to slow down, but at their age, it was worrisome to all of us kids to know they were on the road full-time. They really didn’t plan their trips, just started driving, and then used an RV membership to find a place to stay over.

Eventually, Bill became more vocal about wanting a motor home, so Cliff helped him want it even more. They could talk for hours about the dream. We fell into a rhythm, where we mainly were together for the holidays. They did take occasional trips and eventually, their favorite place was Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

We did little things for them around the house that were difficult for them. In particular, I helped maintain Cliff’s computer. He amazed me at how he liked to stay up with everyone via email. We even got him and mom on Facebook to better stay in touch with family. But mom really struggled with it due to her vision loss. Bill considered him a friend.

Cliff was a real patriot. I love seeing the American Flag hanging outside of homes. It seems the only people who fly the flag were in the military. And that was Cliff. He served a tour of duty in the Army.

What was there not to like? He and mom were very loyal to each other. But they never imagined Cliff would pass first. But he did have a number of health issues. He is survived by five siblings, with only two siblings older, and he was the first to pass.  He was just so engaged in life, it was just hard to hear that he was terminally ill. He was diagnosed the end of March. He called each of us kids to let us know. We were in Talbot Island, Florida at the time, getting ready to head to Virginia, to be at our daughters April 1. What should we do? We didn’t think long about it. We turned our rig around and headed south and spent a week with them.  It was tough. He was told he had two months to live, maybe six if he took treatments. He decided to fight it and survived over eight months.

We also managed to visit them over Mother’s Day, then spent a month with them in September. We all thought the end was near, but he seemed to improve and the hospice nurse finally said he could last six more months or even six years. So he had a second chance and he began to get out and walk as well as change his diet to help his body heal from the radiation and chemo. He began to gain weight and felt like eating out again.

Life was good…and then, a few weeks ago, he became miserable with pain. The hospice nurse came and had another nurse come to help him. They ended up sending him to the Emergency Room. He took a turn for the worse….and in about two weeks, he quietly passed from this world into the arms of Jesus. My oldest sister traveled there to help mom as my sister and I were unable to go help. But we were there in prayer. Mom stayed with him in the Good Shepard Hospice House for the 10 days he was there. My oldest sister traveled there to be with her as his local daughter had a prearranged travel obligation arranged with her sister. They were both with him over Thanksgiving. They thought they would see him when they returned. But no, he didn’t make it.

So now to reflect. Just like my dad when he was terminally ill, he never cursed God for the disease. And more important, like Job as told in the Bible. Both accepted their fate. And Cliff kept his faith to the end, saying he didn’t understand it, but he accepted it. He and mom tried their best to be prepared, but there is just no way to really prepare for the loss of a loved one.

We seek our solace in the Bible. We understand life is short. And our bodies are only temporarily here on this earth. We know we will be reunited for eternity.

 LORD, make me to know my end And what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient I am. Psalm 39:4

So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21

Chapter 15 – Life in God’s Waiting Room!

If you heard you were going to be living in God’s waiting room, what would you think?  For me, it had a charming connotation.  For Bill, rather negative thoughts!  He had heard this about Florida, but I never did (that I recall).  The first time I heard the phrase, it was in a City Confidential TV show about our new soon to be home town!

We moved here exactly seven years ago!  Wow, how time flies!  In our 36 1/2 years together (and as we like to joke, “on and off”), we lived in Virginia, Alabama, New Jersey, back to Virginia and now in Florida.  Until we moved to Florida, we probably knew only about 15 people who died, including both of our dads and my dear brother-in-law Steve.  I do recall the year 1999 was a particularly sad year.  I attended 10 funerals, which included my dad and Steve.  The other funerals were mainly parents of friends and the other’s were relatives of co-workers.  Now I do know, as you get older, you will know more people who die, but what has happened to us has to be some record!  I know we are not that old!

I do need to add a caveat here and take a time out.  My husband and I were privileged to play hosts to nationally syndicated author, film maker and really, a comedian or at least a humorist, staying with us for four nights.  Have you heard of Bill Myers (www.billmyers.com)?   He more or less set the tone that started me down this road!  He was in Florida for a week, talking to students in Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando as well as our little ol’ sleepy, rural town.

In addition to wonderful conversations over breakfast, I heard him speak five different times:  at a youth rally Saturday night (about the dark side of the supernatural);  a mixture, but mostly older people Sunday night (about Christianity and the arts – particularly about film producing, movies and TV); and two different talks to students from 1st grade to 12th grade at a small private Christian school (his “Just Say Yes” to God – testimony and he taught a creative writing class); and then finally address another mixed group, geared to youth Monday night (his favorite talk about the Glory of God).

He impressed everyone, entertained us, educated us and just helped us know our Lord God in a more intimate way.  It was in a talk to the elementary students, where he somehow talked about a national survey of “old people.”  You know, really old people, people in nursing homes.  He was trying to encourage the youth to reach their full potential, and I hope he did, but he sobered me up!  He went on to say, these old people were asked, “If you could live your life over, knowing what you know now, how would you live?”

The number one answer was to not live so carefully, wishing they had taken more risks.  (For those who personally know me, for three years I was focused on how to prevent youth from using drugs and alcohol – because they do engage in a lot of risky behaviors-so I was freaking out a bit.)  But the second response was that they all wished they had done more things that enhanced the Kingdom of God or that had eternal consequences.  Now this was what I was hoping to hear!

I have been thinking a lot about this these past few months as I have been helping to coordinate a huge upcoming youth rally with Chad Varga. Plus, the past two weeks, helped coordinate the youth rally at our church with Bill Myers.  Refreshing to think about making a difference in the lives of youth – differences that have eternal consequences!

So back to God’s waiting room!  I just realized, since we have lived here, I’ve attended nearly 20 funerals, but missed another 10, which were either held out-of-state, we were out-of-town, or there was no service (sadly one dear friend would not allow one to take place).  So in 7 years, 36 people have died that I had a relationship with (or with their family member) just here in Florida.   So maybe there is something to the fact Florida is known as God’s Waiting Room.

Well, this sounds like a morbid post today, but it is a fact of life!  So I guess you can say, I may be unwittingly becoming an expert in end of life matters.  As Christians, we do rejoice in the Blessed Assurance, not only will we be reunited with our dearly departed family and friends, but we will also be with our Heavenly Father for eternity!

We rejoice in the death process as it is a fact of life – we will all one day die: “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment…”  (Hebrews 9:27)  For those who have given their lives to Jesus, we all know the scripture, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” 

The good news is that as far as I know, all 36 made it into the Kingdom.  All had at one time or another, publically professed their belief in Jesus.   However, not all exited this world in good relationship with family members.  In fact, a few had many unresolved family issues and that is what I am most concerned with.  And the one who would not allow a funeral or memorial service had the most unresolved family issues.  (Did I mention my husband has an aversion to funerals?  If he shows up, and he did to about 4 of these, it is nothing short of a miracle!)

Years ago, when Billy Graham was in his late 80’s (he was born in 1918) or so, he confirmed what he knew where the Bible said, Life is but a vapor.” (He uses the Kings James translation of the Bible.)  I thought, well, he is old so to him, I can see that!  But for me, I was still too young to think like that….even though the Bible warns us!  I have read and studied the book of James many, many times.  I think that book was written for me, in fact, because there is so much in it that seems directed at me!  But in all the times I read and studied it, this one particular scripture, James 4:14 in the New International Version did not hit me like it does today:  “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  Mist translated is also vapor!  Life is too short to have unresolved family issues!  Life is meant to be lived to the fullest!  And life is meant to consider the afterlife!

We have to be careful and not say to live however you want, but to know there are consequences in everything we do.  I think that is part of physics, which is beyond my intellect.   But what is within my intellect is what happens to people at the end of their lives.  If their death is not sudden, and all but one of the 36 were, they had time to prepare for their deaths.  They all wanted to be surrounded by their loved ones.  And for most, they were!

But for one person, with the many unresolved family issues, she only had her two daughters with her and a few close friends.  She had been estranged from her daughters for years.  And subsequently, she was estranged from their husbands, their children and grandchildren.  She wanted nothing more than to be with family but they could not resolve their issues until the very end.  Fortunately, there was some reconciliation.  But there were lost years of family celebrations, weddings, birthdays, holidays.  Lost years of hugs, tears, laughter.

I guess what I loved most about Bill Myers visit was his favorite talk, about the Glory of God.  And that is what I want to end with!  No matter how we live our lives, we all will exit this world and for us Christians, we know that to be absent in the body is to be present with Jesus!

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:7-9