As they are happening, some days you know you will never forget. My brother-in-law, Jimmy Dunaway, passed away today (April 20). We all knew his time was short, but kept hoping that maybe his passing could be yet delayed.
His three sons, David, Dan, and Matt, were at his bedside and two of their wives. I, and my brother and his wife were there. And Carole, his wife of 50 years, my sister, was there. Patty, our long time friend, and Steven, both Methodist ministers, were there, and, together, we read scripture and sang gospel songs. One big theme in Jimmy's ministry has been the power and reality of unconditional love. I was on the verge of suggesting we read to Jim the great thoughts in Corinthians about love, and was awe-struck when Patty began to read Psalm 22: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" At one point the Psalm says, "I am poured out like water, and all of my bones are out of joint ... my strength is dried up ... But be not far from me, O Lord, hasten to help me."
The last to arrive was Danny, Jimmy’s middle son, and it seemed after Danny got there, Jimmy acknowledged him and became more relaxed. Carole later said Jim was waiting for Dan. Jimmy’s breathing grew ever weaker and he passed away while we were singing, “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.” He left us quietly, reverently. He was at rest. We were all in tears. I think we all had a profound sense of gratitude that it should all end in such a way. It was a feeling that, on the day Jimmy went home, God had granted us all a great favor by allowing things to come together as they had.
Jimmy was a Methodist minister for over 50 years. He started preaching when he was still a student at Asbury College. For the last two and one half years he has been battling cancer that started in his prostate. In the last month he contracted pneumonia and he was at a rehab center trying to regain some strength. But, instead, he seemed to get steadily weaker. He very much wanted to go home and April 20th was the day scheduled for him to go home from the rehab center. Hospice was set to give him care at his and Carole's home.
It had been a rainy day, but eventually the sun began to peek through. We got back to Carole’s house in south Dayton in the early afternoon, and Becky, David’s wife, returned to Columbus. Becky telephoned several hours later and said that over their house in Columbus was a beautiful complete rainbow. She said it was like Papa was smiling at them. And we went outside and sure enough in Dayton there was also a beautiful rainbow. We were all amazed.
I stole the rainbow pictures off the internet -- but the one in Dayton today was very spectacular. My niece, who lives in Lexington, knew nothing about the rainbows in Dayton and Columbus. But she later sent a text message and said that in Lexington there had been a beautiful rainbow. It was like Jimmy was smiling at her, she said.
Jimmy is smiling. His is a life well lived. He fought a good fight, he finished the course, he kept the faith.
In June, 2008, I wrote Thoughts Occasioned By the Death of Tim Russert. I know it was Jimmy I was thinking about. Jimmy has been a big part of my life for the last 50 years. He is a great friend, and I am going to miss him very very much.