Dr. Joseph G. Holt
Ralph Holt's funeral
on January 24, 1993
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.
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 (left) with his father Ralph and brother Fred (right)
N. Holt Adams
When I was born
When I learned to walk
When I did well
When I fell in love
When I took a job
When I needed a friend
Through trial and hardship
Now I gaze at my hands
Charlie F. Aiken
A Tribute to Ralph Holt on the Occasion of his Funeral
The angels rejoice as they open Heaven’s gates.
Oma is seated in the chair,
February 10, 1992
Photographed at the reception
following the wedding of Cheryl Brannan to Steve Melton
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.
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.
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.