A footnote to the Rock Wedding, and update on Gary (July 17)

If i had to title this entry, i would call it “A Heart Affair and A Heart Repair.”

i am happy to announce that Shania and Obie are now lawfully married. The wedding, i am told, went splendidly. i was not able to be there.

On the night before the big event, as i was putting final touches on a song that i was writing for the ceremony (a honeymoon song appropriately titled “See Rock City”), my dear Mom awoke to tell us that she was having chest pains and numbness in her arm. A  midnight trip to the emergency room revealed that she was having a mild heart attack. She had a heart catheterization done to deal with a blockage, stayed in the hospital for several days, and was told by her doctor in no uncertain terms to rest and avoid stress. To that end, she and my Dad have relocated to their condominium in Columbus. She’s doing well. She’ll be coming to the farm several times a weeks to check on Gary and tend to things here. She and Dad both claim to be bored mindless in town. i know that they want to return to the excitement of life in the middle of the woods but, for now, they’re doing what the doctor advised.


    • The Short Update on Gary

Gary’s condition is much as it was at the last update. He has declined noticeably and is mostly non-communicative. He sleeps most of the time and, when awake, keeps his eyes closed. It seems that he has lost any functioning sense of sight. Thankfully, he can still chew food and swallow, though he eats little. He has a preference for watermelon and mocha milk shakes. Most mercifully, he is still pain free except for occasional headaches.

My three sisters — Beth, Linda, and Laura — have been angelic in their willingness to help with Gary’s care (as have the families they’ve left in Tuscaloosa, Auburn, and Missoula). Gary and i are rich indeed to have them in our lives.

Sometimes i hold Gary’s hand and sing old hymns to him, very softly, while he rests. When he hears the first notes, his face relaxes noticeably. He seems to enjoy and take comfort from the songs and the familiar voice.

On one occasion a couple of days ago, he began humming in what, i am convinced, was his effort to sing along.

At another time that same day, after i’d been there a good long while, i stopped singing since he was, i thought, very sound asleep. He raised his left hand slightly and moved it as if he were gently patting someone on the head. Of course, i want to believe that he was thanking me, applauding me, expressing his affection for me. i hope i’m right; i think i am. If so, i will archive the gesture as the most memorable applause of my musical life, from the most wonderful audience i’ve ever known.


Two years ago, in conversation with a teenage boy wise beyond his years. i asked him to describe his girlfriend. (His dad had told me that he had a romantic interest.) After a long pause, the young man said something along these lines, “if i try to describe her to you, i might leave something out or emphasize something wrongly or paint a false picture of her. i’d rather that you just meet her in person.” And so, later that night, the three of us had supper together and i met the one that he felt he could not adequately describe in words.

She proved to be, as he knew all too well, too charming for words, certainly greater than the sum of her parts. And i admired the ability of the young man to hold his tongue, to understand the limitation of words, and to bide his time.

What’s the point, you ask?

i am asked frequently about Gary’s condition? And i completely understand the question — i have asked similar ones countless times myself when wanting to know about others — and i try always to answer it. But i always fear that, in reducing the present season to an inventory of body parts and symptoms and medical facts, i am almost irreverently handling a phenomenon that is infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. That might be why i am so delinquent with my updates to this page. i wish that it were possible for me to say “if i try to describe it, i might leave something out or emphasize something wrongly or paint a false picture of what’s really going on here. i wish you could be here in the middle of this event with me, and love this dying friend as much as i do, so that you understand what is going on for yourself.”

Many, maybe most, possibly all of you have lived through a cancer season yourself. You know what it feels and looks like. You know the sinking feeling at the start of the morning when the little light that was in your loved one’s eyes yesterday is even less today. You know the uneasiness of waking up wondering what the day might hold for you. You probably know about the small regrets that haunt you about the things you wanted to get done while he could still write, still speak, still sit up, still sing, still comprehend clearly.

It is difficult, when the days are all about dry sheets and timely medicines and breathing patterns, to think of anything but the visible, the tangible, the immediate. And it has proven, for me, to be no small challenge to remember, day to day, the promises of God, the truth of Jesus, and the claims of my faith, though they are always in reach.

So, a few layman’s observations concerning Gary’s condition, poorly worded at that, are all i can give you. And, as a family, we are not at all sure what much of it means. We love the Gary that we are given each day, however much or how little of him that might be, and trust that he can still sense our affection for him in the meager ways that we can connect with him now.

i’ll keep writing in an effort to keep you informed. And i will trust your ability to keep the bigger picture in mind. The whole of all this is so much greater than the sum of its parts.