It was February 2002. I was perusing the Class of
’62 on the Classmates.com web site.Our 40-year reunion was coming
up soon. Paul Williams had entered a new profile. We had classes
together, but had not been close friends in school. I clicked on his
profile and was struck that our lives seemed to have paralleled along
many of the same paths. I sent him an email to that effect, not really
expecting him to answer. To my surprise, he answered right back saying
he remembered me and appreciated the email. He was happy to reconnect
with old friends and classmates.
In the email, he said that his wife had been in
the hospital since the first of the year diagnosed with leukemia. It
wasn’t going well, and his discouragement was evident. Since he
said they were Christians, I began sending them encouraging Scriptures
from the Bible. I would send prayers online for them both. We chatted
on instant messenger occasionally, and he would talk about
Debbie’s current circumstances. Sometimes he would pour out his
heart in sadness, sometimes he was angry. I tried to listen gently and
just be there. I will never forget the night of her death. He had not
been online for a couple of days, and I knew she must be worse. The
chemo had not brought a remission, and she was deteriorating quickly.
It was about 3 a.m. on May 22. I was awake and writing on the computer
when I saw him sign on. I sent an IM. “Is everything
alright?” “No, Debbie passed away at 12:30 this
Although I had never met Debbie and I really
wasn’t surprised to hear the news, I felt as if the breath had
been jerked from my lungs. I knew he was devastated. I had been
concerned that he might try to take his life when the end came as he
had threatened to do on a particularly painful day. I breathed a prayer
and asked God to send His Comforter to be with Dallas and to give me
the right words—His words of comfort and peace. (Uncle Sam
insisted on using Paul’s first name, Dallas, and it had stuck.)
He talked about all that had happened the last couple of days and how
he had held Debbie in his arms as she slipped away. He shared how her
family had left the hospital soon after, leaving him alone to collect
all of her belongings as he left Mission-St. Joseph’s that
morning, alone, for the final time. All I could do was
"listen" and just be there for him to vent his emotions.
Our 40-year high school reunion was scheduled for
the middle of June. I was planning to go, and Debbie had urged him to
go on. It would be the first time we had seen each other in 40 years.
Arriving at the restaurant on Friday evening where
many of our classmates were meeting for a pre-reunion dinner, we
introduced ourselves with a friendly hug and chatted off and on during
the evening. The next morning, we had separate events to attend but
spent a little time together in the afternoon, mostly traveling to and
from reunion events.
I felt a bit out of place with him. I had never
been around someone who was in so much grief and pain. I could feel the
anger that was seething just under the surface of his emotions. He
spoke few words. I sincerely wanted to support him and be the friend
that I believed I had become, but I was beginning to interpret his
demeanor as his preferring that I wasn’t there. I made my excuses
not to go with him and the group that was attending church with one of
our classmates on Sunday morning. When I got home to Atlanta after
spending a couple of days with my dad, I had several emails from him
wondering where I was and if I had made it home okay. I must admit that
I was surprised to hear from him!
In July, I went to northwest Tennessee to visit a
girlfriend. I stayed there three months helping her work on her house.
Dallas had planned a trip to South Dakota in August, so he plotted his
route to come through Tennessee for a couple of days. He seemed to be
in somewhat better spirits than when I had seen him two months prior,
although he still didn’t say much. We went sightseeing, and he
took us out to dinner at a very nice restaurant. I realized that he was
grasping for hope as we talked about the Lord. He was still grieving
Dallas later recounts that, after arriving in
South Dakota, he had a profound encounter with God, complete with a
wide-awake vision. His trip was to include a visit to a church in
Custer that he had pastored for a short time in 1966-67 when he was at
Ellsworth AFB. After visiting the church and seeing the sights in South
Dakota (the Black Hills, the Needles, Mt. Rushmore, and the Badlands),
he decided to come back through Tennessee to share his experience with
us. The trip had become a kind of “Bethel” to him.
As is typical after a great spiritual event, the
enemy attacked him in force so that by the time he got to my
friend’s house, he was in tremendous pain. He had been diagnosed
some time back with rheumatoid arthritis, and it had reared its ugly
head with a vengeance. He stayed three days, most of the time wrapped
up in a blanket in the recliner.
By the time he got home to Asheville, NC, he was
worse. His health continued to deteriorate. By October, he
couldn’t get down the stairs of his condo and couldn’t
drive his truck with a clutch. Dressing himself and preparing meals had
become nearly impossible. He had to have help. And that’s when he
called me to ask if I would consider coming to Asheville to help him.
To read the rest of the story and how Dallas was
healed of lymphoma, click here.