on the street he was also known as Skillet (he loved to cook and feed people, and everyone knew it) or Green Mile (he sorta resembled the main character in the movie by the same name, at least in size, and in gentleness).
as i write this post, he is close to breathing his last breaths, as he will be disconnected from life support any minute now. it was only last week that he was walking among us, his oxygen tank trailing reluctantly behind him, but his face still full of life and humor. he was always the first one to jump at the chance for the open mic, and he had a few numbers that he performed regularly at our weekly LoveFeasts, while all the crowd clapped their hands and grooved along. He was proud of his big, deep voice, and i loved to hear it. i can hear it still.
yesterday in the early morning hours he suffered a stroke. but it was worse than just that. there was also systemic infection, blood clot in brain, and internal bleeding with unknown source. when i went to the hospital to see him, his gentle giant body was perfectly still, tangled up in an impossible number of wires and tubes and machines. every once and a while his eyes would open, but it wasn’t clear how much he was registering. i sat with his fiance and made her eat some dinner i’d fetched from the cafeteria. in that uniquely self-conscious way that accompanies speaking to someone who is not cognizant, i went to his side, laid my hand on his large black one, and talked to him about the days when he lived in the boiler room and cooked so many terribly greasy things in the deep frier, then turned around and teased me for cooking so much “healthy stuff” when it was my own turn behind the stove. i told him how much i liked hearing him sing at Love Feast. i told him that i’ve actually come to like bacon grease a lot recently, and could he believe that? i blamed it on the pregnancy, the pregnancy that he so boldly and unapologetically inquired about before i was really even telling anyone the news. he wasn’t the king of subtly. 🙂
before i went, i prayed with him and his fiance, through tears i did not expect, both mine and hers. they came when i told him how loved he was, what a valuable member of our family and our church he had become, and how hard it was to see him suffering. i wanted to pray for God to grant him new life on the other side of this, to bring him through singing and dancing once more (he is only about 50 years old, afterall), but in my bones, i knew he would be leaving us. so i prayed mostly for a release of the shalom and presence of Christ in that room, and over Derek’s body. and in my own heart, i pleaded that even now, in this late hour of altered consciousness, that Holy Spirit would show Derek how to believe in Christ for his salvation. because i’m sorry to say this — almost ashamed — but after 6 years of knowing this man, i have never directly asked him where he stood with Jesus. and suddenly, this mattered so very much, but was too late to discuss. God, have mercy.
and now today. my husband is sitting with him and his gathered friends and his family who had to make the hard, hard call that no one ever wants to have to make: to pull the plug. and he will be gone before this afternoon has ended. which means that i will never get those gentle hugs or kindly teasing from that giant brother again.
but he will be finished — for i am casting my vote on my Papa’s love and mercy — finished with chronic sickness, with the temptation and ensnarement of addictions, and with the hardships of poverty.