Jesus’ body, the church, revealed God to Roger. It gave him a family. And at the end, it revealed itself again to others—this time through the life of the man it had saved so many years ago.
We had noticed Roger was sleeping more and snoring very loudly. Honestly, everyone was relieved he was sleeping. It meant he was at peace and we weren’t having to move him or feed him or bathe him. He had always been a big snorer, so no one really thought anything of it. But when the nurse came to check up on him, she called us all into the room. “He’s actively dying,” she said. The weight that had been looming over all of us finally settled. She explained how to position him for comfort, how to administer the morphine, and what we would be looking for as he grew weaker. This sweet nurse was also a Christian, we discovered. As she explained how this time was for the person to make their peace with God, we all responded, “Oh, he’s been at peace with God for a while. He made the decision to follow Jesus years ago.”
Throughout those few days of Roger “actively dying,” and watching as he slowly passed away, we were each struck by the palpable peace in it all. Had God not revealed himself and Jesus not changed Roger’s life all those years ago, the scene would have been much different. Can you imagine sitting there willing for the person with a diseased brain to suddenly become coherent enough to make the most important decision of their life? Instead, we all sat there in shifts, knowing that God had prepared Roger for the journey well in advance. Nothing was dependent on Roger. Everything, including Roger, was safely in Jesus’ hands.
Tessa and I had struggled with the decision to return to America from our work in Madagascar. There is no standard timeline with Alzheimer’s, and we were at a loss to know when the right time to return would be. A year after we left, Tessa and I had independently prayed and felt right about coming back for a couple of weeks to visit her family. It was on that trip that God solidified for Tessa the desire to come back and take care of Roger when things got really tough. When he fell in November the following year, none of us really knew if that time had come yet. It was certainly not a positive development but it could still be years before he needed full time care. With a lot of prayer and inner turmoil, we made the decision to send Tessa home for a month to assess the situation. About a week after she arrived, he fell again. He appeared to have been making progress with his physical therapy, but something was still not right. We then planned for me to return as well and transition away from Madagascar to helping to provide full-time care for Roger.
After Tessa and our daughter, Chyella, picked me up from the airport, we stopped by Roger and Karen’s for me to say hello. Roger greeted me with a smile and pat on the back. He had obviously deteriorated physically (he spent most of the day sitting in a recliner at that point) but he was still alert and recognized me. As I sat there with him he put his hand on my shoulder and gazed meaningfully at me as he teared up. I responded to what I assume he was trying to tell me and assured him I was here to take care of him and his family, as his son-in-law. It was a moment I will never forget.
The next morning, as our family began breakfast after a month apart, we got a call. Roger had fallen again. This time Roger could not help at all to stand himself back up. Thankfully, I had just arrived and could lift him myself and get him back to his chair—something the women would have struggled to do themselves. Even in this, God’s timing was perfect.
The next few weeks, Roger deteriorated rapidly. With Roger’s every new low we were so grateful to God that he had led us to come when we did. There was no way we could have known. Only because of God’s kindness were we right where we needed to be at the exact right time. He had prepared us for this a year ago by prompting us to visit and showing Tessa what needed to happen. And now here we were, Roger now officially dying on the day in April we had originally planned to leave from Madagascar. We would have been too late.
The night before he died, we all sat beside Roger: Karen, Tessa, Molly, and me. We were listening to his rhythmic breathing (made less painful by the morphine) as the pallor of death grew. I think we all cherished the opportunity to sit, sing, and talk to him one last time—sharing our final thoughts in the reverie of his room. Those last few hours were surreal as we seemed to sit there still beside him while, in some unseen way, Roger made his way through the valley shrouded in death and ascended that final mountain. There at the top, he slowly pulled his knees up and cocooned himself, waiting not for the end but rather a new beginning. There was a whispered calm that night. Truly, though he walked through the valley of the shadow of death, we feared no evil, for Jesus was with us, comforting us like the Good Shepherd he is.
We had sat in shifts throughout the night, never all sitting in there at the same time. Later the next morning we all assembled and ate breakfast together, then slowly trickled back into Roger’s room. It seems Roger sensed everyone was back together—and he was ready. With his wife and daughters in the room with him, Roger let go of this life and stepped into the next, running to the One who had always loved him and adopted him into his eternal family.
It wasn’t until later my own father and mother reminded me. Roger had died two years to the day that we left for Madagascar in 2017. Only God could have done what he did in our lives over those two years and yet simultaneously arranged for us to come back at the exact right time to be with Roger.
The cold chill in my soul was warmed by the kind warm sun in the Spring air as I walked outside. I had just watched Roger step into the afterlife. A friend from church had just arrived with lunch, reaffirming one last time for Roger that God was with him in all seen and unseen ways. In the wake of death, I think everything grows a little lighter and less stable. It felt as if that soft breeze might carry me away with all that I knew. Underneath that shaken certainty, however, and past the unstoppable force of mortality, was something more real than me or the cars zipping along the road beside the house. It was more real than the chirping birds, the swaying maples or the brightly shining sun. Past all this was the bedrock-solid reality of a personality of powerful love: aware of all that was going on, conducting it all, and reaching out in affectionate care. When everything else was exposed as fleeting and fickle, Jesus stood taller and more real. He was with us.
Roger was a draftsmen. He loved the calculations and sketch work for building new structures. Roger will not be remembered for the buildings he helped build, or for any great achievements. He will also not be remembered as a poor slug of a man who limped through the end of his life as another whitewashed victim of Alzheimer’s. Roger will be remembered by his family—his wife and daughters, his son-in-law and granddaughter, and his spiritual family in the church—as a man in whose life Jesus made all the difference. Roger’s life had been torn down and then rebuilt on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ. And although Alzheimer’s leveled all the terrible weight and fury of its malevolence on him, it could never separate Roger from the One who loved him.