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The past six days are to me a blur, and the ordinary way of remembering days past seems not to apply. Anyone reading this who has passed through the days of death and parting from a loved one knows what I mean. A week ago today my father-in-law, Rev. Isaac Apol, fell suddenly ill late in the evening. Some hours later the doctors spied a blood clot in the main artery that supplies the gut region of the body and some hours after that the skilled vascular surgeon removed that clot and restored normal blood flow. But it was too late–last Thursday the general surgeon checked on things one last time to confirm what he frankly suspected the evening before–the intestines had died from lack of blood for too long, and life for my dear father-in-law could not continue. “It’s just not compatible with life,” the surgeon said.
My dad-in-law was 88–an age of sufficient decades and years that it tempts those who hear of his death to do what we all tend to do: we say or think, “Ohhh, wow, 88, hmmm” and what we mean by that is “Well, what did you expect? That’s an age at which people die so maybe we can blunt our sadness a bit.” I know I’ve thought that and so have resisted for some years asking too quickly “How old was your mom?” because I don’t want to cash out even a little of people’s deep grief. In the case of Dad Apol, he was indeed 88 but was independent, active, vibrant, and profoundly happy to be alive (as he had been basically every one of his 32,300-some days). Spiritually Dad was as ready to meet his Savior as any believer could be. Physically . . . well, as he said to me after a brief illness a couple of years ago, “If the Lord were to ask me, I’d say I’d like to order up ten more years if it would be all right!”
Somehow given who Dad Apol was, the surgeon’s words about his condition being “not compatible with life” struck me because for all of the nearly 27 years I have known him as first his daughter’s suitor and then her husband, Dad Apol has been profoundly compatible with life. You’d seldom meet someone who took joy in every oak leaf, thrilled to even the most common of birds at his feeders, and enjoyed his every meal with great good gusto and gratitude (and when it was my privilege to indulge my hobby of gourmet cooking and really whip up some good victuals for Dad, his reaction was identical to any kid in the ice cream shop being handed a cone: his eyes shined with delight and anticipation).
How can anyone like this end up in any way, shape, or form being “not compatible with life”? Well and of course, it happens to all of us physically eventually, even as through the cruelty of others it happened to our Savior on the cross. But if there is anything to those intuitions that so many people have had–the intuition that the uniqueness of human life itself argues for there being more than just the few fleeting years we spend on this earth–then that intuition was surely validated by someone like Ike Apol. He was exceedingly “compatible with life” every moment of his 88-and-a-half years and if his lower extremeties caused a surgeon to declare otherwise last Thursday morning, that says nothing about the soul or spirit of the man.
That soul or spirit is what, after all, had all along been so very, very compatible with life. God knows this. That’s why he had this plan called the Gospel. Through our grace-given compatibility with the Savior, we each of us remain deeply compatible with life even though we die, which is pretty much what Jesus said to Martha in John 11 at her brother’s tomb. “Those who believe in me will live, even if they die.”
That is the Word of the Lord, thanks be to God. And on this rainy and stormy April morning in Michigan the day after Dad’s funeral, it is the Word to which we cling in the sure and certain hope that our God-given compatibility with life goes on and on in our Father’s bright kingdom.