Mack Arthur Meeks, my father-in-law, slipped away from us this past Tuesday, January 24, just after midnight. Alzheimer's had zapped him of his short-term memory, so much that he couldn't remember what he'd had for lunch, just minutes after finishing it. In fact, by the end, he couldn't recall even eating.
And it was carving away at his long-term memory as well. It was as if there was a limited amount of storage, almost like a computer, and that over time more and more facts were being deleted.
By the end, he knew he loved his family and he could remember that he had hit four hole-in-ones in golf. He was still proud to be the next youngest of six children - 5 boys and a girl - and he could remember every one of their names. Sarah, he'd tell you, was a "good girl" and she, being the oldest, "helped raise us boys." He and all of his brothers were "good boys" and "never caused any trouble. That's what my Mother said." She's not around to ask, but I feel sure she might share a few headaches that bunch of boys caused her.
He would point to a painting of an old house that hung on the wall of his room in Memory Care. "That's in Kite, Georgia," he'd declare. "And it's the house I was born in. But we moved to Adrian when I was a boy." All that was true, and the mention of Adrian opened the vault of memories a little more.
"I went to Adrian High School," he'd tell you. "I had four girlfriends. They loved me because I played ball." He'd grin, nod his head up and down a time or two and add, "I was a good ballplayer. Basketball and baseball. We had a good team, especially basketball. Played in the State Tournament up in Macon." All true. Well, I'm not sure about the girlfriends, but I don't doubt it.
Adrian took him down another path, however, one that led to a white church sitting alongside Highway 15. It was the Methodist Church, his boyhood congregation, and a place dear to his heart until the day he died at the age of 89.
"My Mother was a good Mother," he'd say. "Played the piano at the Methodist Church when I was a boy. Made sure we all went to church."
And so, when Uncle Sam gave him a uniform and a rifle after he graduated from high school, he wore a dog tag around his neck, one that proclaimed that he was indeed Mack A. Meeks, and a Methodist at that. After his discharge, he moved to Warner Robins and joined the First United Methodist Church there. He was faithful in attendance, active in Sunday school, a steady volunteer for the Food Pantry, and he drove folks to doctor's appointments and hospital visits. He was also popular with the kids and teenagers as his pockets were filled with peppermints that he dispensed with a smile.
His faith ran deep. We couldn't take a bite before saying the Blessing, and that's held true until the very end. Once, in the last year, we got him to say the Blessing. "Thank you for the food," he said, and then he added something to the effect of, "I love you, Jesus."
Regina - my wife of 36 years, but always "his sweet girl" - showed him a cross not long ago. He told her it was pretty, and she asked him what it meant, maybe what it reminded him of.
"Jesus" was his immediate response.
And so we let him go with confidence that the path that led to and from that old Methodist Church is not a dead-end street. Rather, it stretches all the way to heaven, into eternity, and he is safely at home with his Lord. Not because he was a good boy, but because he trusted in a great Savior.