Harry Giles: Eulogy For A Friend

One rarely sees good in any day in which a loved one is surrendered to death.  Some people find it difficult to find good in most any day at all. 

Harry Giles was not such a person. 

How does one become a person who can see good in almost every day or, even harder in nearly every person?  For some it is undoubtedly the result of an innate positive-focused personality, of being able to generally see a glass as half-full instead of half-empty. For others it may be the blessing of generally having had favorable life experiences. Then there are those for whom a positive perspective on life is simply a decision, a choice to look for the good in life. That is the kind of person I found Harry to be.  He chose to look for something good in a day’s circumstances, in people, in life.

What sustains that kind of positive focus, especially when faced with physical challenges that make one’s movements slower and often more painful than others might know or experience? Such challenges might make one lean toward complaints or self-pity. 

But Harry was not such a person. 

Instead of complaints or seeking commiseration about inconvenience or difficulty, Harry was heard expressing gratitude, appreciation, empathy and encouragement.  That trait made him easy to talk to and easy to enjoy being with. 

We often talked about current events in the church, in our community, or in the world. When outcomes seemed uncertain or difficult Harry would look at me and say, “What are you gonna do?’ with a lift of an eyebrow and a shrug of a shoulder.  One might interpret a gesture like that as one of resignation to life’s circumstances by someone who saw resolution of difficult situations as unlikely or even impossible. Or perhaps as the cynical dismissal by one who was losing interest in the future.

But Harry was not such a person.

Harry expressed hope. He had interest in many things. He expressed a confident expectation about life. 

I began to suspect that his question, “What are you gonna do?” was not a simple rhetorical question that indicated resignation to something that seemed irresolvable.  Harry was a person who was purposeful, intentional, organized, who was deliberate about his plans and his time.  I began to hear his question with a different ear, a different perspective, as I got to know him. One morning recently, I was thinking about Harry, about some of our conversations, and in particular the one in which he had told me some time ago that he wanted me to do his funeral. I had looked at him with concern and asked if he was ill and if this was something we needed to address soon?  He assured he was not ill and that there was plenty of time to talk about it later.  So, as I thought about those conversations recently, it occurred to me that Harry’s question that I heard numerous times, “What are you gonna do?”, was more of a challenge from an older, wiser friend.  Instead of suggesting that nothing could be done, or telling me what he’d do, he was challenging me to think about what I would do.  Harry knew what he believed. He knew what was morally right.  He knew what he wanted. And he knew what he would do.  Harry had a moral compass that was set toward a specific direction.  He knew what that direction was and where it would take him.  Furthermore, Harry had known that God had a plan for him, for each of us, and for the world.  His reliance on his own judgment came from his reliance on his knowledge of God’s presence, goodness, sovereignty, and personal loving concern for each beloved child.

Harry was that kind of person…… a beloved child of God.  That fact gave him strength, security and significance. It also freed him from fear of the future and whatever the future might bring, even the final weeks of pain and loss of strength.  

After his fall in his home, I went to the emergency department at the hospital early the next morning and visited with him.  He was alert, but obviously uncomfortable from the spine fractures, broken rib and punctured lung, but even then, he was uncomplaining.  After I heard the details of his fall and transport to the hospital, he said to me, “All good things must come to an end.”  I asked him, “Do you feel that your injuries are serious enough that you might not recover?”  I saw the familiar lift of an eyebrow and slight shrug and although I don’t remember him saying the words at that time, I heard the familiar phrase in my mind, “What are you gonna do?”  What struck me was that even as he was contemplating the possibility that this might be the beginning of the end for him, he was calling life a “good” thing, even the life he had lived alone after the lengthy decline and death of his beloved wife Connie and with his physical limitations. Yes. Harry considered life a good thing, something that he believed might be coming to an end.

He reminded me of my own father who had experienced a serious fall at age 72 that led to a brain bleed.  In the ER my Father had said to me, “I’m not ready to give up.”  I assured him we would all be by his side to encourage and assist him in recovery.  Then my Father had a similar fall and brain bleed 12 years later in 2013 at age 84.  When I got to the ER after that second fall I asked him if he was ready to do the work of recovery again and I told him we’d be right there with him.  He looked at me with love and honesty and answered, “I don’t think I’m going to have a choice this time.”  My Dad’s experience and Harry’s experience as they considered their situations and what strength and appetite for the struggle each would face in recovery said to me that each had settled in his own mind how he would deal with the question of, “What are you gonna do?” And it seemed to me that the decision for each of them was “whatever God thinks is best.”

In talking to Harry’s children, they have seemed very aware of his determined spirit, his strength of personal will, his focus, and his planning and expectations. He left no loose ends, it seemed.  No uncrossed T’s or undotted I’s. No one had to ask what Dad would want or what would Daddy do. As the Apostle Paul said of himself in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, we could also say of Harry.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

From that morning in the emergency room Harry was clearly now ready, if God so willed, to hand the baton to the next generation and with it he presented to me and to all of us a challenge in this question, “WHAT are YOU gonna do?”