Delivered at the memorial service for David F. Bleifield, February 6, 2017.
My husband Terry and I first met Dave and Carol about 17 years ago in a Presbyterian Church. That may give you a clue that I am a Presbyterian minister, but at that time I was not serving a church, only attending. You can imagine that Dave and Carol made us feel right at home in our new surroundings. We came to know Dave to have a great sense of humor – in fact, while Carol was toiling away inside the building, Dave could sometimes be found just outside the front door with another church member who shall go unnamed (Helen) where the two of them would be sharing dirty jokes.
And church is a good place for me to put Dave in context. There’s no doubt that Dave, like all of us, had his foibles, but there is no doubt that Dave loved God and loved Christ. The Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, were essential to the kind of person he was. He was a man of honesty and integrity, traits he learned not only from his parents but in the context of the church. He was comfortable being himself. There was no guile about him. He had nothing to cover up. His life and the way he conducted it was an open book.
It was in this light, then, the light of honesty and integrity, that so many of us knew Dave and admired him. We never had to wonder where Dave came down on an issue or even his views on our behavior. It wasn’t a matter of judgment on Dave’s part. I never felt judged by him even on those rare occasions when he gave me a gentle what for about something in my life. But what was so great about that was that I could vehemently disagree with Dave about his opinions on me or a host of political topics, and I was always certain that our friendship would only be the stronger for those disagreements. We could respect one another whether we agreed or agreed to disagree. And what a great basis for a friendship that was.
As I moved on and served several Presbyterian churches in an interim capacity, it always made me feel so great, so supported when Dave and Carol would come to worship in those churches. But Dave being Dave, there was always a bit of the devil that came with him. Now, for you to completely “get” this story, you need to know that the next level of government in the Presbyterian Church beyond the local church is called the Presbytery. I distinctly recall one Sunday when worship time was approaching and I was up near the pulpit getting things in place. Suddenly, I saw one of my devoted church members come barreling down the aisle toward me with a very concerned look on his face. I moved toward him as he quietly called my name. “What’s wrong?” I said. He responded, “There’s a man in fellowship hall who says he’s from the Presbytery and he’s here to get to the bottom of what’s going on in this place!” As I could see Fellowship Hall from my position at the pulpit, I had only to look up and see that it was Dave Bleifield circulating through the crowd, putting sheer terror into the hearts of people who were working really hard to be the kind of people God wanted them to be. During the announcements, I took the liberty of settling the concerns of the congregation as ripples of angst had moved through the pews. “That’s my friend, Dave,” I recall saying. “And he’s not from the Presbytery.”
And so it was that I began to search my congregations each Sunday to see if Dave and Carol happened to be present.
But it wasn’t only in the church that we shared a relationship. We were friends. And we were such friends that there were times, especially in the last few years, when I wasn’t quite certain if I had been invited into the house or out for dinner as a friend or as a pastor.
I preferred the friend attribution. Now, others may have experienced this as well, but for some reason, I found myself on several occasions the recipient of a phone call that Dave had inadvertently butt-dialed. When it happened, I would listen for a while, figure out who it was, call out his name, and then, when I got no response, just hang up. But there was one occasion where I just couldn’t bring myself to hang up. It was too much fun to listen. Dave was haranguing Carol about something. I think he was out working on the sailboat. The two of them were having a good old-fashioned husband-and-wife set to. I couldn’t hear Carol except for indecipherable exasperations in the background, but I could hear Dave. Later, when I was laughingly telling him about it, he put on a false defense: “You listened? You knew it was a butt call and you listened?” “Sure,” I said, “it was too juicy not to listen to, plus I thought I might have to call either law enforcement or an ambulance and maybe both.”
But that’s the beauty of this marriage. Dave and Carol could have a good and healthy fight because they loved each other and respected each other so much. I don’t think I ever saw them together, whether they had been disagreeing on something or not, when at some point Dave would nod toward Carol and say, “Look at her. She’s beautiful.” He bragged about Carol being the most beautiful woman at the class reunion or on one of the cruises they took or just getting together with friends. He only had eyes for his wife.
His pride extended to his children and grandchildren. And while bragging on one’s offspring can get a little tiresome for folks who have to listen to it, I never felt that way when Dave spoke of his family. I got to hear about each one at different times – not all lumped together. And that’s the way he viewed his children and grandchildren too – they weren’t just a group of young adults or growing children. He singled out each one’s talents and goodness. Each one was the apple of their father or grandfather’s eye.
Dave loved life and was grateful to God for his. As his health began to deteriorate, I was impressed by Dave’s courage in the face of so many unknowns. But he never doubted God. He questioned God a lot. But he never doubted God or God’s love for him. Dave did not “go gentle in to that good night,” as the poet said. He “raged against the dying of the light” on several occasions. It was that he had so much to live for, he knew he had been blessed so completely, he wasn’t going to give it up any sooner than he had to. From that, we can all take a lesson. Dave used reason, logic, credible information and combined that with prayer and with what was in his heart. He knew when he should keep on living.
But we can also learn from Dave’s gracious acceptance of his approaching death. When it was time to stop the treatments and accept the appointment of hospice, Dave was willing to consent to what was ahead. He reconciled himself through the grace of Jesus Christ.
But wait. There’s one more piece. Even though Dave had fully accepted that his life was ending, he showed an impatience that I hadn’t seen in him before. He began asking the question, “OK, I’m wiling to die, but why do I have to wait for it? Why is it taking so long?”
Dave, you see, was simply human like all the rest of us. He never doubted that God loved him, but even Dave wanted to seize control as any of us might. And, yet, he ultimately settled into the arms of Christ and let God be God, allowing God to make the decision when Dave’s life with us would end. He had “fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7)Share here: