This morning I told my wife what I still hear of a certain voice. Some of it is dying out, but much is very much alive.
His very last words were “Thank you for coming.” Those are the words he spoke to two widows, his Vietnamese language teacher and her sister, who had come to visit him and his wife in their home. The two were there with him and his wife in their bedroom, standing next to his hospital bed. They stood together, his best friend and these other two good friends, the three of them soon to share a bond of grief. I was there too, standing, listening. The next day, more of his family called on the phone and even more came to be there to stand by him. And that day he passed on from this life.
The day he passed on was exactly half a century to the day when he stood by her hospital bed, when she gave birth to me. I first heard his voice fifty years ago, on that day when my mother brought me into the world. He spoke some of the first words I ever heard. And I heard him speak his last words; these are the words I remember best. “Thank you for coming.” His name is Jim Gayle, and he’s my father.
If you’ve visited this blog before, then you may recall that my father’s words inspired it. “Mind your language,” he told me. And so I tried. Now I want to remember some of the things he said, while his weak voice is still so strong in my ears. His voice grew weak as he battled cancer for 20 months. He called his battle his “climb” up the mountain. The irony of his voice, and his body, growing weak is that his spirit grew so very strong.
Many days recently, he recounted to many who listened, how God would wake him in the night to get him thinking about his relationships. He had been a missionary much of his life, but as he faced disease and death, his mission was to focus on loving people in a different way. He had been the “head” of his household, the “head” of his wife his “helpmeet.” But after getting sick, he started treating her as his best friend, and he called her his “soul mate,” and he taught her to take the lead in driving their car, in controlling their finances, in doing the yard work, and in so many different ways that he had before taken charge with. He treated her as an equal, but he told everyone who would listen that she was “God’s greatest gift.” He told her, often, openly, how much he loved her. He made her laugh with gentle humor. He touched her. He worked to stay alive, up through their 54th anniversary, and ten days beyond it. And he reconciled with his children, telling them he’d failed, that he had loved unevenly, selectively, and he made this right. He told us how much he loved us, what he saw as our strengths, encouraging us by saying with detailed specificity how proud we made him. He always asked about every family member when one of us called him, and we called every day we weren’t there with him. He recalled how he’d had resentments and had had unsolicited advice for those less fortunate, but how he had more recently heard God saying how much He cared for these, and my father then started caring for these same ones, with a profound compassion. He developed an intense and authentic curiosity about and interest in others like I’ve never seen in anybody else in my fifty some years.
This post is not a shrine to my father, however appropriate such a thing might be for some in the cultures I grew up in.
Rather, I’m wanting to remember how my father sounded. It’s harder for me, and perhaps that’s okay, to hear his harsh tones. Many days, fear, shame, and guilt were my response to his strong voice. I hear, and want to hear more often what I recall of, his weak raspy voice that was so strong with his interest in others, so accepting, but so valuing and validating. So, let me leave this post to my father’s voice. First, you can look at some of my favorite pictures of him. Then, you’ll be able to see the beautiful service my mother planned to remember him with so many others (I think around 700 to 800 came). Finally, you’ll hear his actual voice, both spoken and in writing (in an interview and then in his Caringbridge blog).
Jim Gayle is interviewed in the following video. Here are two links where you can find the interview and hear one of his friends talking about what she learned from him:
Here are some handwritten notes from my dad, likely, written before I was born in a book I found in his study not many days ago (“Who am I? People or position, power, etc.”) :
In his last 20 months, my father (with my mother) kept an online journal as he “climbed the mountain,” battling cancer. These are the last words he wrote. You can find the journal here: