Yesterday we laid Harold Foley to rest. I wouldn't call Harold one of my friends, but he was a well-known member of my church and he loved our worship band and my wife and I would make sure we gave him a hearty greeting every Sunday he was able to be present. Yesterday I had the privilege to play with an "unplugged" version of our band at Harold's funeral. A few days earlier - the day after he passed away - we heard this story from the family that I just had to share with you.
We first got to know Harold about three decades ago when his son, Al Foley - one of our peers at Calvary Church when we first began attending - was in the final stages of cancer. Al passed away far too young. It hit Harold hard but he had come to be in a relationship with Jesus Christ through his son's testimony and witness, and so he was able to endure the loss. Harold was a large man, standing well over six feet tall, but his love for Jesus turned him into a "gentle giant" and he gladdened the hearts of all who knew him.
Eight years ago Harold was also diagnosed with cancer. The doctors gave him two years to live, but his faith and determination were strong and he well surpassed that estimate. During the last couple of years of his life, he was pretty much confined to an easy chair in his living room, with several professional caregivers coming in to provide care, housekeeping, and medical support. With each one, as soon as they'd arrive, Harold would take them by the hand, converse and chat for a bit, and then pray with them. And so his faith continued to influence those around him.
Whenever Harold needed some kind of attention from one of his caregivers, he had a small bell on the table next to his chair that he would ring. One of the caregivers would come running from whatever task they had at hand to see to his needs.
One of his favorite's was a woman named Carla. Carla had three children of her own, as well as two foster children, and worked two jobs to make ends meet. She was a person of great compassion (as most caregivers are), and through Harold's testimony, patience, and faith, Carla's spiritual life experienced a new awakening and she returned to the church, bringing her children with her.
A few weeks ago Harold confided in another caregiver that he was tired, and ready for the journey home to heaven. Last week the family could tell that he was near the end ... but his vital signs were still strong, and it was clear to all that Harold still had several days left. Last Wednesday Carla finished her shift with Harold and went home, exhausted from another very long day of working those two jobs, watched as her husband stoked the fire up in the family fireplace, and fell into a hard, deep sleep. A few hours later, as Wednesday turned into Thursday, Harold's wife held his hand in his chair as he fell asleep. He did that often, now. And in the blink of an eye, Harold was gone.
Carla, sound asleep in her bed, was having a dream. A very vivid dream, of Harold standing at the foot of her bed - sound, hale and whole - ringing his little bell for all he was worth, calling out to her, "Carla, you've got to get up." Carla refused, saying in her dream, "No, Harold, go away."
But dream Harold refused to be denied. He kept ringing that bell, saying "Carla, you've got to get up, now." Again Carla refused, "No, Harold, my shift is over. I'm tired, I'm not getting up." Again Harold tried and again Carla refused, but at last she could not suffer Harold's insistence as he just kept ringing that darn bell. Finally, she awoke with the vivid memory of a healthy Harold ringing his bell at the foot of her bed.
It was then that she noticed the smoke permeating the house. An errant spark from the fireplace had set their home on fire. The family escaped safely, and the fire department did their work. When Carla and Harold's wife later compared notes, they realized that Carla's dream had happened shortly after Harold passed away.
Did Harold give up his last few days to save the life of one he loved? No one this side of heaven will ever know for sure. But I have a feeling that when you get close to death, the veil between the two becomes more and more transparent, and you get a glimpse of the bigger picture, with larger perceptions and understandings.
I do know that Harold was a believer, that he had found new life and faith through Jesus, and that he understood John 15:13 - "There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends."
Rest in peace, Harold Foley.
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