He was 56. He died of metastasized bladder cancer. Less than eighteen months ago he was diagnosed and cut and treated. In January the scan showed nothing. It came back. He died on Friday.
He and Melodie had been married less that a decade, first marriage for both. They were happy. Delighted would be more accurate. In love. He said, “she is the best wife I could find.” That was shortly before he died.
“We are so blessed.” That was what he said for the several weeks before he died. He was grateful for the people who came, the people who walked with them through this. Not just metaphorically. One friend literally walked with him daily, helping him to build strength. And he spoke of being blessed often, this man with cancer.
Keith was the youngest of 5 children, with four sisters. At least one struggled with cancer. Keith wasn’t likely to be the first one to die.
We’ve known Melodie since way before Keith. Nancy talked with her a few times a year. She sat in the front row today. Smiling and nodding. She hugged us before the funeral. Hurting but confident.
Lots of people showed up today, people from two different churches he was part of. People from the medical facility he did IT for. People from the sound companies he was part of before settling down. Friends who had known him since he was born, since he was in college.
There were tears. There were smiles. There were verses from the Bible and songs from the hymnal. Four guys and a pianist who have been a quartet for 30 years, who have known Keith for that long, sang. We sang about having a firm foundation and about God’s faithfulness in the middle of pain.
The people in the room were far from perfect people. There were people who are perfectionists, people who are picky, people who struggle with getting things just right. I know, because there was one of those people sitting in my chair.
And Keith was one of those people, too. He was quiet. He could be quietly intense. He was a good friend to lots of people, willing to work behind the scenes to help things work, misunderstood because of that.
I forgot until writing this that we ate lunch together a few times after one of those difficult events. I was aware, but not directly involved. It changed the dynamic of our relationship BUT he was gracious and helpful and thoughtful. They were, I remember now, nice lunches.
He talked with his pastor a lot during the last year. Not because he was trying to fix things at the end, but because they were friends. He talked with his pastor, his friend, about how much time we waste arguing about things that don’t matter, that will never matter.
What he knew mattered, what he began thinking about even more than ever, was heaven. Not as a nebulous concept, not as something that might happen, but as something he was absolutely convinced of. And he talked about Jesus. He knew Jesus. Not abstractly, but as a real person.
I’ve thought about bucket lists, about things that we want to do before we kick the bucket. Across the street from us, next to the garbage can, is a pile of 5 gallon buckets. The lady who lived there is in an Alzheimer’s facility. She likes Build-a-Bear. The man who lived there lives with his daughter. The buckets are empty.
For Keith, buckets weren’t something to kick. He filled them with faith and love. He emptied the ones that had gotten filled with garbage. And then he was ready to die. He wanted to get through the process.
And just as I am sure that his body is buried, though I didn’t see it, I am sure that his soul is safely alive.
There is something about how someone in the middle of pain speaks about hope and blessing.