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Prayer of Thanksgiving
Offered by
Dr. Joseph G. Holt
Ralph Holt's funeral
on January 24, 1993

Blessed God, before whom generations rise and pass away, we praise You for all Your servants who, having lived this life in faith, now live eternally with You. We praise You this day, and glorify Your name, for You alone are the giver of every good and perfect gift.

We especially thank You this day for the gift of Your servant, Ralph Holt, for all in him that was good and kind, that caused him to love You and serve You so faithfully, and to love and to care for his neighbor.

We thank You for the gift of his love that reached out and touched the lives of so many people; his wife Oma of fifty-eight years to whom he was so faithful, his sister Helen to whom he was tender and compassionate, his brother, Comer to whom he was a good friend, his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren whom he showered with care and attention.

We especially thank you for his love of children, for his always being there as a source of compassion, counsel, and support. We thank You for him being a father to not only his children, but to all those who needed him, for welcoming in-laws into the circle of his love and concern.

We thank You for the rich legacy of faith he left his grandchildren that showed his deep devotion to You.

We thank you, O God, for his honesty by which he dealt with us fairly; for his patience that endured hard times and provided a way to cope and persevere; for his sense of humor and unfading smile.

We thank You for his being a true Christian friend, a faithful witness for his Lord and for his church. We thank You for the gift of his teaching in Sunday School, in the work place, or among his family.

Lord, Ralph was a man of integrity, devotion, and faith, and we thank You for the gift he was to each of us. He brought happiness into our lives, and now, as he leaves to return unto You, he leaves us with happiness and joy.

We thank You for him, now, all pain and sorrow is ended. Receive him into the joy of his reward, into the blessedness of life in Your eternal kingdom.

In the Name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.


Ralph Holt 1984

Death and the Grown-up Child
Joseph G. Holt

As I flew home, I wondered what it would be like to see Dad in the state of semiconsciousness, in bed, and depending completely upon people to care for his every need. He was always such a strong, self-reliant person. I have seen many people in that state through years of ministry, but none of these were by dad.

My brother, Fred, met me at the airport. Fred was kind to prepare me for what I was to see and experience. He told me Dad did not look like himself. He said he had to look at a picture of Dad hanging on the wall by the bed to remind him this person in the bed was his father. His legs had shriveled up to nothing. But, Fred said, He still eats well and when you put the spoon to his lips, he snaps at the food like a bird.

We were greeted at home by my sister, Nancy. Nancy had moved in with mother and was the primary care giver. She believed God had prepared her for this moment and she felt honored to be able to care for Dad in this way. She was so totally focused upon her calling that I wondered if she would find it hard to readjust following his death.

Nancy and I went to the bedroom where Dad was resting. His bed had been removed and replaced with a hospital bed. His request had been to remain at home. He wanted no heroic efforts made to keep his body alive.

I walked around the bed fully expecting to see a stranger; but when I saw him, he was my dad, sleeping peacefully like a baby. I took his hand and told him I was home. I told him I loved him very much. He never stirred. That was the hardest part for me. I knew then that I could never have him respond to me again, or say a word of encouragement and support.

Mother was asleep. She awakened around 12:30 each night to take her turn by Dad’s side. Nancy worked like a nurse taking his blood sugar, giving an insulin shot, talking to him the whole time, describing each thing she did. She sat him up in bed and fed him some cut up apple. He just sat there, with his eyes closed, took his bites, chewed it up, and swallowed. Never said a word.

He had a bowel movement and Nancy and I cleaned up. We gave him a bath, cared for a bed sore and made him comfortable. It was difficult to see him hurt. He was completely helpless and couldn’t tell us how to care for him. This left me with a feeling of uncertainty about what to do; but I decided it was much like caring for any of my children when first born, so that is how I approached caring for him.

Mother and I hugged deeply when she awoke. These two people had been there for me for so many years; now, it was my turn to be there for them. She was tired from the long ordeal. Nancy was the one in charge. I was surprised Mother let her have such command. She is the one who takes charge. It was refreshing for me to experience my mother in this way. It allowed us children to grow and be accepted for adults in a way that I had never experienced before.

During those last few days, Dad never spoke a word except to his sister, Helen, when she came to visit. He was most alert at noontime and would keep his eyes open. He was blind and would stare at you. He responded to the sound of voices. When Helen came in she said, Hi, Honey. Dad replied, Hi Sugar. This was the way they had always greeted each other. It was good to hear him speak. I wondered why he would not speak to me. Wasn’t my, Hi Dad familiar enough? I will never know the answer to that question, but it doesn’t trouble me greatly. That same day, Nancy asked him if he didn’t know his son Joe was here. I stood at the head of the bed and said again, Hi Dad, it’s me, Joe. He turned his head and looked toward me, but that was it. I feel satisfied he knew I was there.

That night, Dad began to eat less and refused to take nourishment. Nancy said it was like he decided enough was enough and stopped trying to keep that cancer-ridden body alive any longer. She said, Maybe he knows it’s all right to die now that you are here. Who knows? But from that moment on, it was clear his body began to shut down. His hands became less responsive to movement, he seemed to relax into a comfortable position, and wait for that last breath. He pursed his lips tightly shut so that we could not get anything down him. He was dehydrating.

Mother called the doctor and asked him for his advice. He simply described our choices: the hospital where they would feed him IV’s and keep his lungs clear, which would keep his body alive for a bit. Or, we could keep him at home, make him as comfortable as possible, and watch him die. We decided to change our caring from keeping his body alive to assisting it to die. That is not an easy choice, but a caring one. We dedicated ourselves to carry this through to the end. It was Wednesday night.

Thursday morning it was clear Dad was moving quickly to his final breath. We notified the family and everyone gathered to spend the day with Dad and one another. We shared as we sat around the bed. I hope Dad heard the conversation. I learned a lot about him that day from his brother and sister. There was a closeness between us that I will never forget.

Dad’s breathing became more labored and the rattling in his lungs became more pronounced. There was no place to go in the house to escape the sounds of final life from his body, or is it the sounds of approaching death? Mother was in the bedroom next to Dad’s. She didn’t want to see him suffer. Every once in a while she would stick her head around the door to peek in, especially when he sounded as though it was the end. I went in and sat next to her for a while and we talked about their life together. I was able to give her back some of the comfort she had given me as a child.

Several times that night Dad stopped breathing and we would think that this was it. But then he would start again. I remember after one of these episodes saying aloud, Dad, you don’t have to hold on for us. It’s OK to let go. We’ll be all right.

Around 12:45 AM we joined hands around the bed and held tightly to one another as the death-rattle became stronger. We prayed the Lord’s prayer together. As we said Amen, Dad breathed his last breath of life and died. We waited a moment in silence thinking he would start one more time. There was no sign of life. We felt for his pulse and there was none. His strong heart had finally stopped.

We ceased holding on to him and started holding on to each other. We hugged and cried. I felt weak in the knees for this man who had been such a strong part of my life. This feeling lasted for a while until I felt his strength for me. For that I am thankful to God for the gift my dad was to me.

Joe Holt with his father Ralph

Joe Holt (right) with his father Ralph and brother Fred (left)

Joe Holt (left) with his father Ralph and brother Fred (right)

His Hands
N. Holt Adams

When I was born
His hands welcomed
When I cried in the night
His hands comforted

When I learned to walk
His hands steadied
When I misbehaved
His hands disciplined

When I did well
His hands applauded
When I graduated
His hands congratulated

When I fell in love
His hands counseled
When my heart broke in two
His hands consoled

When I took a job
His hands advised
When I married
His hands gave me away

When I needed a friend
His hands reached out
When my dreams faded
His hands encouraged

Through trial and hardship
His hands uplifted
Until one day
His hands were gone

Now I gaze at my hands
Seeing his in their place
The hands I have passed to another
Who reflects his grandfather's face

Ralph Watson
Son of Nancy H. Adams and D. R. Watson, Jr.

O Happy Day
Charlie F. Aiken

A Tribute to Ralph Holt on the Occasion of his Funeral

The angels rejoice as they open Heaven’s gates.
He walks in
And the joy of the place is so great . . .
So peaceful . . .
What beauty surrounds him!

He looks about in awe;
Never has he seen such a marvelous gathering.
So many of his relatives and old friends approach him
Carrying precious jewels which they place in his crown.
“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

He looks back
And for a brief moment
he sees the loved ones he must leave on Earth:
. . . “and the glory, forever . . . Amen.”
As the music fades, a shining robe of peace surrounds him

He turns his face to the light.
Patiently he will anticipate their joyful reunion.
And he’ll be so proud to show them around
this place called Heaven.
So much for all this nonsense!

Time to go to work!
He straps on his work belt and begins
building and creating and exploring;
Never to grow weary . . . yes, Pop--you have arrived.
O Happy Day!

Oma Holt at Home with Grandchildren After Ralph's Funeral

Oma is seated in the chair,
Laurie Brannan Aiken on her right, Jim Adams on her left
Behind Jim is Andy Holt
Behind Andy (from left to right) Ellen Holt Posey,
Nikki Holt Faulk, Steve Watson, Ralph Watson,
Cheryl Brannan Melton, Eric Holt
Back row (standing left to right) Rick Brannan, Joey Holt, David Holt
Grandchildren not pictured: Amy Holt Spear, Stevan Holt, Berit and Louisa Soli-Holt

Ralph W. Holt and daughter Nancy H. Adams
February 10, 1992

Photographed at the reception
following the wedding of Cheryl Brannan to Steve Melton

Daddy's Legacy
Nancy H. Adams

CANCER! That dreaded word we tend to avoid because the mere mention of it makes us cringe in hopeless despair. We dance around it by substituting other words like tumor, growth, diseased tissue, or malignancy, all the while dreading the music’s end. We placate our fears by painting beautiful mental pictures splashed with victorious sunrises while we secretly yearn to validate the canvas with harsh strokes of stormy desolation.

If we accept the reality of life, acknowledging our feeble mortality while trusting in our Creator, the music of our final dance will echo sweetly in remembrance and no streaks of gloomy black will mar our beautiful painting. I lost my father to cancer, but the memory of our waltz lingers, and I will forever cherish the priceless portrait he painted.

Daddy was one of those men Abraham Lincoln referred to when he spoke of the Lord loving the common man. He was honest, hard working, dependable, generous, practical, steadfast, even-tempered, and a devoted Christian who embraced his faith quietly, instilling the love of God in our home. He had always enjoyed good health, sailing into his sixties before experiencing his first major illness.

A blocked artery landed him in the hospital where an emergency bypass saved him the trauma of an amputated leg. He bounced back quickly and right into diabetes, learning how to live with all the changes that entailed.

Gall stones came next, and it was back to the hospital for another operation. Daddy seemed to take it all in stride and his recovery was again marked with success. Then prostate cancer flared its ugly head.

Back to the hospital for seed implantation followed by a total recovery for which we were extremely grateful. But there was something different about Daddy after that.

Never an openly affectionate person, he began to show his love freely. It was strangely wonderful for him to greet me with a bear hug, his arms so strong and reassuring. I didn’t realize it then, but in retrospect, I think that’s when Daddy started tying up the loose ends of his life which now amounted to seventy-plus years.

In January, 1992 he complained of a strange sensation in his stomach. A trip to the doctor confirmed Daddy’s secret fear--colon cancer. Daddy didn’t want surgery and asked us to let him go, but we couldn’t. There was a chance he would pull through, so we ignored his plea.

The colon cancer was successfully removed, but the doctor discovered spots on Daddy’s lungs. None of us voiced our secret speculations about losing Daddy to cancer, didn’t even speak at first--just stood there trying to look normal, unable to hide our despair as our hearts started unraveling at the seams.

When he regained consciousness, Daddy told me he was afraid to be alone in the dark. Whether he had always lived with that fear or whether he was referring to being alone in his battle with cancer I’m not certain. I only know he revealed his fear to me and I promised to stay with him, not able to bear the thought of his being alone when he had always been there for me.

Night after night I sat at his bedside aware of the hushed murmuring sounds so much a part of hospital routine. Sometimes he slept. Sometimes we talked. Often we just held hands quietly. He shared so much with me during those long nightly vigils, revealing things about himself I’d never known, and I began to see him not only as my father, but as a person composed of strengths and weaknesses, of dreams and realizations, of tenderness and tenacity.

For instance, I never realized Daddy was so fastidious about his personal hygiene. And I was completely amazed when he turned an about-face, transforming from the no-nonsense Daddy I knew into a sentimental romantic, easily reciting long passages from Byron and Wordsworth I never dreamed he knew.

The weeks following his operation did not bless Daddy with the full recovery we had hoped for. When I encouraged him to fight to regain his health, he assured me that his time on earth was short but that he was not afraid of death. Our conversations were never morbid confessions accompanied by tears, but calm assurances of love and thankfulness for a life fully lived, punctuated with the peaceful acceptance of the final beginning as spirit shed flesh to dwell forever in the beauty of God’s light.

The spots on Daddy’s lungs were a constant threat, but he elected not to undergo chemotherapy, preferring to keep the robe of dignity tightly drawn. He made valiant efforts to resume a normal life, but lacked the physical vitality he was so accustomed to. Summer passed slowly and his health withered along with it.

September brought a new setback. He began to lose his balance for no apparent reason and we feared he’d suffered a stroke. A flurry of doctor visits and tests resulted in the fatal diagnosis--brain cancer! We were in such a state of shock we rushed Daddy right into radiation without pause, gathering strength from the “family” we became a part of at the treatment center. Throughout the treatments Daddy never complained.

It was difficult for him to maneuver the steps, getting in and out of the car, up and down off the radiation table, but he endured it because he knew it gave us hope. He began to experience lapses of memory and became confused easily, sometimes even unaware of who he was which was especially heartbreaking to me because it meant he was alone even in the presence of the family and friends who loved him so much.

The medication prescribed to reduce pressure in his brain caused Daddy’s blood sugar to soar erratically which required constant monitoring and fluctuating doses of insulin. Mother and I felt we should relinquish his care to a hospital staff, but Daddy wanted to be at home so I moved back into the house where I’d been born and had grown up, determined to keep my promise to Daddy that he would never be alone in the dark.

We quickly established a routine, charting Daddy’s progress, checking in with his doctors for instructions, learning how to monitor his blood sugar and give insulin shots, getting him to the therapy center for his radiation treatments, and scheduling our sleep so that one of us was always at his bedside.

By mid-November, Daddy was almost completely bedridden, so we arranged for support from health services. By Christmas Daddy’s will to live, already weakened by his immobility, decreased as he slipped into incontinence. His moments of confusion increased rapidly and he slept much of the time. By the middle of January the only time he would open his eyes was when we rolled up his bed in preparation for a meal. He continued to exist in this comatose-like state until the day before his death, holding my hand assuringly as we silently communicated our love while listening to his favorite songs on tape.

Up until this point Daddy had experienced no pain, and we were comforted by that. But we had been told that when the end was near, excruciating headaches and convulsions were likely to occur. The pain came the night before he died making its presence known in tightly drawn lines spread across his forehead. Even then Daddy remained calm and uncomplaining, bearing his pain stoically, refusing further food or drink.

We wanted to rush him to the hospital hoping there was something the doctors and nurses could do for him, but we’d promised him his dignity--no tubes or uncomfortable procedures to prolong his suffering. Painfully we called in the family.

All through his last day we gathered, surrounding Daddy with all the love our hearts held for him, unwilling to let him go, but not wanting to see him suffer. Convulsions gathered us to his bedside just before midnight. Forming a loving circle around him, taking his hands in ours, realizing it would be the last time the circle would be unbroken, we voiced our farewells and prayed the Lord’s Prayer, Daddy’s trusting spirit rising on the wings of our trembling amen. Tears came then, the tears I had refused to shed in his presence, tears of respect, tears reserved for my loss, not his gain.

I pictured Daddy’s parents waiting on the other side with open arms. There was some comfort in knowing he was no longer suffering and disoriented, no longer alone in the dark, but I suddenly felt like I had been cut adrift in uncharted waters. I wanted to call him back and ask him how I was supposed to sail through my remaining years without him--without my father, my anchor.

But then I thought about all the things he’s told me over the years, all the advice he’s offered, all the encouragement he’s provided, and I realized he had already answered my question. Daddy had given me a strong religious background, a practical and lasting approach to life, and an enduring love to sustain me. He’d taught me to work through my problems, to seek help when I needed it, to take responsibility for my actions, to be true to my beliefs, to be proud of my name, and to love without reservation.

I still long to feel Daddy’s arms around me, to hear his voice, to see his smile again, to know he’s happy and whole on the other side. Sometimes I look up at the stars and wonder if he’s alone in the dark, and the part of him that lives on in me says, "Bear up! Move on! Make the best of it!" And I come away feeling stronger, knowing neither of us is alone.

Yes, I’ve lost my anchor, but Daddy made sure I had a whale of a lifeline. Thank you, Daddy.

Christmas Tree Joy
Nancy H. Adams

Sometimes Christmas has a way of bestowing the most precious gifts when you least expect them. Last Christmas was one of those times.
     I had decided to forego the usual poinsettia arrangement on Daddy’s grave in lieu of a Christmas tree because Mama said he always wanted to put one on his own parents’ graves. The trick was to find just the right tree. A live one suited me, but I couldn’t find one small enough. A tree constructed from trimmed spruce branches offered possibilities, but turned out poorly shaped. An artificial tree just didn’t seem right.
      Cherished memories of childhood Christmases filled my head. I always wanted tall, bushy spruce trees. But providing Christmas cheer for five children demanded cutting back on expenses somewhere, so Daddy usually traipsed through the woods and cut down a cedar tree or a small pine.
      I always enjoyed those trips to the country with Daddy. We would wander about enjoying the crisp weather and chilling wind while trying to locate just the right tree. Sometimes we’d luck up on a few hickory nuts the squirrels had overlooked and feast on them. Sometimes we’d startle a deer or a rabbit and our hearts soared as they gracefully scurried away. It might be a hawk that blessed our sight. You never knew what you might see, but I loved those silent glimpses of Nature in the winter.
      Shoving such nostalgic thoughts aside, I was determined to provide a beautiful Christmas tree for Daddy. Time grew short and I was beginning to think I’d have to abandon the whole idea. Then I saw a beautiful artificial tree in a florist shop. It was perfect--already decorated with wooden animals and a plaid ribbon, large, bushy, elegant, a fitting tribute, indeed. But a little voice inside said, It’s not real. He deserves a real tree. I shouldn’t have listened to that voice. It led me away from the florist shop and into a fruitless search.
      Time ran out. Still empty handed, I returned to the florist shop to buy the artificial tree. To my horror it was gone. I was defeated, felt miserable, like a total failure. An employee approached me. “Can I help you?”
      “What happened to that Christmas tree with the wooden animals on it?”
      He shook his head. “Sold it yesterday.”
      I silently cursed myself for being a day late. “Do you have another one like that?”
      “Afraid not. Only have one tree left.”
      Hopefully, I scanned the shop. “Where?”
      “In the back. It’s’s not decorated.”
      My heart leaped for joy. “Can you decorate it with animals and plaid ribbon like the other one?”
      He rubbed his chin. “I can come close, but those were special ornaments. I still have some plaid ribbon though.”
      “Well, go ahead,” I sighed. “I’ll wait.”
      It was a long wait in lieu of my disappointment. With Christmas carols playing in the background, I strolled through the shop admiring an array of Christmas decorations, my depressed spirit rising in anticipation. I picked out several tree ornaments sure to please my son, but put them back on the shelf. Who could afford such expensive decorations? I wondered if Daddy had felt the same way when he brought home a scraggly cedar or pine instead of an expensive Christmas tree. I hoped not. After all, in spite of my preference for big spruce trees, I couldn’t recall a single Christmas growing up where I had not been totally overjoyed and thoroughly saturated with excitement.
      “Here ya go,” the employee said bringing me out of my reverie.
      I turned and gasped. The tree was awful, absolutely pitiful with tiny little ornaments better suited for a child than a father. I was horrified, didn’t know what to say, but didn’t want to insult the man; he had tried so hard to please me.
      “Thank you,” I managed, pulling out my checkbook. I paid for the tree and dashed out of the shop before he could see the tears welling up in my eyes. How could I possibly put such a dinky little tree on Daddy’s grave? And it seemed to be missing a few branches, wasn’t full at all, but straight up like an arrow.
      I drove to the cemetery and pulled the tree out of the trunk. When I wedged it into the vase and stepped back, I knew without a doubt I would not be able to walk away and leave that pitiful tree there. It just wasn’t good enough. By now, I was almost out of money. I only had one choice left.
      I drove to the country and traipsed through the woods as Daddy and I had so often done hoping against hope I could find a small cedar tree. Maybe it was the wind singing through the bare branches of towering trees and whispering through the pines. Maybe it was the hickory nuts sprinkled among red and gold leaves, or the lacy symmetry of wispy clouds against a winter clear sky. Maybe it was the regal hawk that swooped down and perched nearby. “Red-tailed,” I could almost hear Daddy saying. Maybe it was the elegance of the buck lowering his majestic head to drink from the creek. Whatever it was, my spirit rose and a wonderful peace entered my soul. I sat down and calmly assessed the situation, not missing an opportunity to munch on a few hickory nuts. Why the big deal over a Christmas tree anyhow? As soon as Christmas is over, they’re forgotten. But I knew I’d never forget those annual trips to the woods with Daddy to cut down a Christmas tree. Or the laughter and fun I shared with my brothers and sister stringing popcorn and cranberries into garlands as decorations. Finishing off a hickory nut, I continued my search with a song in my heart.
      I’d like to say I found a perfect tree that day, but I didn’t even come close. I did come upon a beautiful pine tree, tall and straight, standing alone, green as emeralds among bare oaks and hickories, I whipped out a smile and my trusty clippers, and gathered fresh pine boughs from the woods Daddy loved so much, relishing their spicy redolence all the way back to town.
      Instead of buying new ornaments, I gleaned through my old ones, carefully selecting some with special memories attached to them. Smiling now, confident I would have a perfect tree for Daddy at last, I hurried back to the cemetery.
      Long shadows were already blanketing the ground when I arrived, but my contented smile remained brighter than a rainbow. After working the pine boughs into the artificial tree, I began attaching the ornaments, feeling rather silly to be humming Christmas carols as I worked. I was afraid the person I could hear behind me would think I had lost my mind. Christmas carols in a cemetery? She must be crazy!
      All finished, I stood back to oversee my work. The rainbow smile vanished instantly. No matter how hard I had tried to make the pine boughs blend in with the artificial tree, they didn’t, looked more like an afterthought than anything of beauty. And the sentimental old ornaments looked tired and faded against the brilliance of the setting sun. Tears stung my eyes.
      “You are the most pitiful excuse for a tree I have ever seen!” I blurted angrily.
      “I kinda like it,” the person behind me said.
      I could just picture someone with a beautiful arrangement of poinsettias laughing at my pitiful tree. Embarrassed as I was, I prepared a stiff, but polite, smile and turned in acknowledgement. Suddenly my composure collapsed. I could neither move nor speak, yet desperately wanted to do both.
      I knew that voice! Fear and elation waged a mighty war within me for one long eternal second, body trembling, nerves on fire.
      Leaning against my car, arms folded across his chest, ball cap perched on his head, wearing his favorite flannel shirt and brown corduroy pants, smiling the biggest smile I have ever seen...Daddy!
      I’m sure my heart stopped. At the very least the world stood still as the glowing sun suspended its descent. I wanted to run to him, throw my arms around him, tell him how much I’ve missed him, ask him a million questions.
      He vanished before I could manage to move or utter a single syllable. Just like that!
      I was alone again in the stark winter twilight; me and that pitiful tree...a million happy memories streaming down my face in grateful appreciation for a father’s Christmas love.

Postscript: As you might imagine, the incident I have written about above was quite emotional and I was unable to share the experience with anyone for a while. Then one day, my sister Susan, told me about an experience she had the same Christmas, and I first shared this with her. As for her experience, it’s hers to tell, but I hope she will write it down and share it with all of you.

Also, The next year I prepared well in advance by lining up an artificial tree much larger and grander than that first pitiful tree. I went overboard, using large ornaments and bright colors. That tree continued to be placed on Daddy’s grave until the Christmas of 1999. When I went back to retrieve it, someone had taken it away. I guess I should have kept the pitiful tree because only Daddy liked that one.