God took home a giant among men early this morning.
My friend, David Wilder, whom I have written about extensively here on my blog, passed away around 4:15 am. I just found out this evening.
Although I have been aware of his prognosis for a few weeks, it still hit me pretty hard. As is always the case when someone leaves us, I keep running through a series of memories that seem to have left a more lasting impact.
I remember riding in the car with David when I was about 25 years old, and he suddenly turned to me and asked, "What was the most important day of your life?". I knew what he was angling for, since I had accepted Jesus as my savior in 1991. I said something like, "I could say my wedding day, but I think I know what you're saying." This, of course, was before I had kids, so that didn't even enter the picture at the time.
Basically, most of my strongest memories are of David being the life of the party, or of him openly sharing his faith with others.
He taught my son a series of funny handshakes that we still use, along with teaching all of us "The Birthday Song" a few years ago. Brandon actually requested this song at his birthday in December. David mentioned that the key is to get a group clapping in unison…."This….is….your…birthday song. It isn't very long." That's it.
I remember the time that I was supposed to meet David at the Asian buffet restaurant that he seemed to love. I showed up a little early (not common for me) and I was waiting outside for him to arrive, when I saw a guy that I hadn't seen in years waiting beside me. "Hey, Alan! How's it going?" "Good, how are you? I am meeting David Wilder here for lunch." David had accidentally double-booked his lunch! Of course, with his ever-present good-natured charm, he played it off while laughing, "Yeah, I thought you guys might want to see each other again."
He was the greatest encourager that I have had the pleasure of knowing. When I first met him at church, I was working as a restaurant manager in 1995. Last year, he said, "Look at you and how far you have come. You were working at Souper Salad when we met. Now, you are a successful broker and you own your own company." As I have indicated, this type of talk was not uncommon for him. I can only hope to have a fraction of his ability in this arena.
You always knew when David was in the room, primarily because he was pretty boisterous and his voice resonated really well. I attended a 50th birthday party about four years ago that he organized for our previous pastor, and David had written a long and funny poem which he read aloud that night. He didn't have a microphone, but nobody missed a word. When he lost his ability to speak a few months ago, it struck me as especially cruel.
David was born and raised in the Boston area and he was the oldest of seven kids. He lived in Texas for over 20 years, but he never fully lost his northern accent or the accompanying demeanor (sometimes). He was not afraid to challenge others in a friendly way, and he never lost an opportunity to share Jesus with anyone he met. I have honestly never met anyone like him, and I probably never will again.
I had the opportunity to see him again twice recently, after I wrote my last post about him a couple of weeks ago. The first time, I spent about four hours at his house, talking to him and to Jan. More than once, he just seemed to want to hold my hand. I prayed a number of times, and I got the chance (thankfully) to tell him that he was my hero. When he finished his first round of cancer treatments last year, we got into the habit of saying "I love you" to each other when we were parting ways. Before his surgery in November, those were the last words that I ever heard him utter, which seems particularly fitting.
This man was like my big brother (I am an only child), mentor, teacher, encourager, and a very, very dear friend. In many ways, it is harder to lose him than it was to lose my own father almost three years ago. With my father, I mourned for a relationship that I didn't have. With David, I am mourning the loss of something very tangible – a loving and loyal friendship.
If I had any doubt in my mind about David's eternal destination, it would be harder, but I truly know that he is celebrating now. It doesn't make it easy for those of us left behind, but it is comforting and I have never been more sure about anything. The hospice nurse told Jan that she had never seen anyone this young (49 years old) go so peacefully.
For those of us who knew and loved him, this is no surprise. I am reminded of a quote that I read in a book years ago, and I can easily apply it here: Death for David was just like passing through a door into another room. We had lunch last year, and he told me that he was not afraid to die, but he was afraid to hurt. After many months of hurting, I am happy that he is out of pain forever.
They are planning a "life celebration" next Saturday rather than a traditional funeral. I know he would like that. I haven't seen or heard from Jan yet, but we will try to see her tomorrow if possible.
If you are interested in reading the entire journey that I have documented, here are my previous posts about David, some of which include info about my mother-in-law, who is actually doing quite a bit better, in case you are curious. I will write about her again sometime soon.
I wanted to publicly thank everyone who has donated money to David and Jan over the past few weeks. If you are still interested in donating, I know that there is certainly a need for money, more than ever until Jan can get back to work. I also told David a couple of weeks about the outpouring of support and that I was sharing my faith with a lot of strangers, and he was truly happy to hear this, too.
The details about how to donate money for Jan Wilder are in this previous post:
Thank you to those of you who have been supportive during the past few months. Your friendship is like gold. If this is the first that you have heard about this topic, thanks for reading this long post. Take care and God bless you all.
EDITED: I felt strongly led to include this link to a song called "Lifesong" by Casting Crowns, as it really exemplifies the way that David lived his life, and I hope to do the same: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SA8BxgQ6rN8. Take a few minutes to listen if you have time.