[A time to weep and a time to laugh]
I received my answer to prayer the day before Christmas. The package that we’d dropped in the mail came back to us with the word “Deceased” written across the mailing label. I hadn’t anticipated that I’d react as strongly as I did, but as the tears immediately started to flow, Andrew came over and wrapped his arms around me.
When Robert stopped responding to my emails, I assumed that I’d offended him. Why? Because we weren’t in agreement on something and I’d sent him an email explaining why I saw things as I did. I have no way of knowing if he even saw this email. Because Robert wasn’t a healthy man, Andrew did suggest to me that he may not be with us anymore, so I knew his passing was a possibility, but I was obsessing. I really needed that answer—closure, as we call it.
I wasn’t certain if the address I had for him was current, though, with his health being what it was, I doubted that he had moved. When I checked the tracking on the package we’d sent, it read that my parcel had been rejected; it was on its way back to us. Of course being that I’m way too insecure, I wondered if he was the one who rejected my package, but as I prayed for an answer, I had a feeling (or maybe I just really hoped) that my parcel would tell me exactly what I needed to know. I’m thankful that it did.
It’s difficult for me to wrap my mind around the idea that he’s gone. Though I only knew Robert via email and messaging, he was never a virtual friend. He was just as real to me as any friend that you meet face to face. When you have health problems, as Andrew and I do, you’re stuck at home a fair bit, and when you don’t have any children to care for, your online community becomes your family, or at least that’s how it’s been for the two of us.
Robert Duval (Bud) Pipkin II
1951 – 2018
I met Robert on a Christian networking site in 2006. Though I’ve networked with quite a few brothers and sisters in Christ, Robert was a very dear friend; a real keeper. He once messaged me saying, “Do you think we’ll be friends 9 years from now?” (Why 9?) It’s a bit of a quirky question, but I liked that randomness. My response to Him was, “Hmmm…I don’t see why not.”
Robert was a simple man, but I mean this in the most wonderful way possible. He was down-to-earth; a regular guy who enjoyed his icecream, his acoustic guitar and loved on his two dogs: Carson and Max. He always gave me a hard time for never having ice cream in our freezer when he asked. He said it was because I never put it on my grocery list. It’s was those simple quirky things that always gave me a smile.
He was a follower of Christ; a writer; a father who dearly loved his daughter Melissa; and a grandfather who cherished his grandsons: Jeremiah and Brandon. Robert also enjoyed spending time looking for Bibles on eBay, and corresponding with all of his friends. He may have been a simple man, but to me, he was something extra special.
Though I’m sad because he’ll be dearly missed, I’m also happy that he can now rest in peace. In January 2017 his daughter Melissa passed away at only 38 years of age. I can’t imagine what it must be like to out live your child. He wrote that the only thing keeping him sane was his boys (his two dogs).
Being that he was a father and a grandfather, naturally, that fatherly advice spilled over into our interactions. I’m so glad that I held onto some of our correspondence.
Bud_man_can: Why do you let people drive you crazy?
Tina IsHappilyMarried: I don’t know, I just do. Maybe because I care, and I’m stubborn.
Bud_man_can: You need to stop it. You need people around you who can enlighten you and uplift and encourage you.
Tina IsHappilyMarried: I do have those people around me too. I know some people who are huge blessings.
Bud_man_can: But some of those people might be causing you to be depressed.
Tina IsHappilyMarried: Sometimes, yes, but like I said, I’m stubborn. I don’t give up on people very easily.
Bud_man_can: But some of those people have to know when they have to help themselves also.
Tina IsHappilyMarried: That is true.
Bud_man_can: That’s where the power of prayer comes in. We occasionally have to pray for ourselves, though it is better to pray for others.
I don’t know if I ever told Robert that he was one of those “huge blessings,” but he was. To tell you the truth, there was a period of time (I’m not exactly sure how long.) in which we stopped emailing each other. Then one day he was heavy on my heart. I missed him, so I hesitantly sent him an email. (It was Christmas 2017 that we reconnected again.)
I was worried that he wouldn’t reply to my email, or worse that he was no longer in the land of the living. However, my “Is anybody out there…out there…out there…? was replied to with Robert’s “Oh my gosh!! I wondered what happened to you. How are you?”
I tried to explain why I’d dropped off the face of the Earth: I guess I was trying to protect my heart. With Roberts health as it was, I was afraid to face that inevitable loss so I guess I drew back. However, I’m learning that avoidance truly only steals precious time. After I explained my absence, I gave Robert a hard time in return for not attempting to email me. “You could have just as easily emailed me.” I wrote him back. His response to me was this:
“Now that we’ve slapped each other around for not emailing, can we start over again? What if I had passed away while I was waiting for an email from you huh…huh? If I wasn’t in the land of the living I would be the first to tell ya.”
What a character, but what if he had passed away? To me, God putting Robert on my heart when he did, was a loving mercy. If we hadn’t reconnected, I wouldn’t have had a chance to speak with him once again before he passed away. Because I wasn’t in touch with him I wouldn’t have known that the emails had stopped. I would have never sent out that package that ended up giving me that confirmation, and I also wouldn’t be writing this tribute now. I’m glad that I was given this opportunity because I couldn’t find an obituary for Robert.
I did find an obituary for his daughter and even one for his mother, but it really bothered me that there was nothing for Robert. Something needed to be said about him. Somebody had to remember him. You can’t just leave this world without a proper send off! At least, I don’t want the ones that I care for to be dismissed so quickly without words of remembrance and appreciation.
Do you know what closure really is? It’s knowing the truth so that you can move forward (Some need to see it with their own two eyes.) For me, it was enough to see the word “Deceased.” Looking over old emails, and Robert’s short stories, as well as writing this piece also helped me to move forward without Him. (For now.)
It isn’t just about goodbyes because frankly I don’t enjoy that sort of finality. Some might say it’s about letting go, but let’s face it, when someone who means something to you departs this green earth they’ve been taken away. You don’t let them go. You don’t get a choice in the matter. While you understand that physically they’re gone, you also know that your heart will never forget them, thus, we experience grief and mourning at the realization that they will no longer be a presence in our lives. Thankfully, we have the reassurance that those who pass away knowing Jesus as Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3, Ephesians 1:13) have gone to be with the Lord.
“Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For then the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” –Ecclesiastes 12:6-7
“All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.” –Ecclesiastes 3:20
By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” –Genesis 3:19
Robert was one of the first people to encourage my writing. He spurred me on, and when I was struggling with it he told me not to write at night. I do most of my writing first thing in the morning now. Okay, I’ll be honest, I did start writing this piece at night, but in my defense, I just couldn’t sleep. It’s difficult to sleep while you’re weeping, but I’m in good company because Jesus too was moved to tears. However, He also showed us that our tears would only be temporary, and even wiped away (Revelation 21:4), for the dead in Christ, though we die, shall live again.
When Jesus good friend Lazarus died, Jesus said to Lazarus sister Martha “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25)
“When he saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:33-35)
Lazarus had been in the tomb for 4 days when Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:17, John 11:43) The dead man (Lazarus) came out of the tomb with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take the cloth off of him and let him go.” (John 11:44)
As I sat to my computer going through my files, I came across one of Roberts stories called “Baseball and Funerals.” Of course it had to be read. Have you ever laughed while crying? It’s strange. How can you do both at the same time? It’s grieves me to know that I’ll never send him another email, and I’ll never receive another one from him either, but I do have words to remember him by. Words that remind me exactly what it was that made Robert so special and dear to my heart.
When I was doubting myself, and had thanked Robert for always encouraging me, for sharing his short stories, and for being my friend…
“Tina, I’ve tried to be of encouragement to all my friends, even more so to those that I care about dearly. In the time I’ve known you, I’ve grown to love you deeply. My words are more than kind words, they are the truth as I see it even if you don’t. You have to remember that others on the outside can see us as we really are in a way that we can’t see ourselves.”
In an email after we’d reconnected in December 2017…
“God uses people we would not expect Him to use. We are all called to be a witness of Him, His coming kingdom and what Jesus did for us when he was crucified. We would all be lost if not for that. So when God calls, just say…”Here I am, send me”. At times I don’t feel like my faith is as strong as it should be. But I can pick up my Bible and study and be uplifted. I try to read the Word everyday. It keeps me sane and grounded.”
It feels appropriate to share a portion of what Robert wrote about funerals. It says so much about who he was: a practical ponderer who was, as I like to put it, quite a character. His take on closure gave me that laugher with my tears. Roberts emails and stories always made me smile because they were genuine and real; the good stuff. They were like sunshine to me. He was family to me. It really is the little things that mean the most. Like a simple, but good conversation. I’ll really miss those conversations, until we “start over again.”
Robert, on funerals…
“I just don’t understand the hoop-dee-do and expense involved. People will call it closure. They will say they need to express their last goodbyes. Like that dead person lying there is going to hear them…hello? It’s just a shell, a container the person’s spirit lived in. The spirit has left the container, gone on to a better place, or it’s in limbo still waiting to cross over. I’m not sure, but it’s definitely not in the lifeless body lying in that casket. So, what’s all the fuss about? Still, people will gaze down at the open casket and make comments like…
“Doesn’t he look natural?” said first mourner.
“He looks so peaceful,” said second mourner.
“He looks like he’s just sleeping,” said third mourner.
What? Natural, peaceful, sleeping? Well, maybe I’d agree somewhat with peaceful, but not natural and sleeping. How natural does every man look lying there in a suit? Maybe a church deacon or a business executive, but not the common man. The suit on a common man has probably been hanging in his closet for the last twenty years, the one he might have been married in, or it was just purchased for this occasion. That’s natural? I don’t think so. What was he wearing the last time you saw him alive? That’d be a natural looking outfit. When I die, if I must be buried in a casket, just dress me in a Dale Earnhardt t-shirt and an Atlanta Braves ball cap. Now that’d be natural.
As to the comment “He looks like he’s just sleeping.” When was the last time you saw someone sleeping In a position like that? Doesn’t look realistic to me. Dress him like I mentioned and place him on his side. Have one arm under the pillow and his mouth open with a bit of drool seeping out the corner. Maybe even imagine him snoring a little, and I say, that’s sleeping.”
Bud_man_can: Well hopefully we’ll be able to chat again soon.
Bud_man_can: Look for me
Bud_man_can: I’ll be there—-> Me
Tina IsHappilyMarried: He he, Ok
Bud_man_can: Love you!!
Tina IsHappilyMarried: Love you too!!!!!
Bud_man_can: Nite nite Tina…
Tina IsHappilyMarried: Nite nite Robert.
Tina IsHappilyMarried: Sweet dreams
Bud_man_can: You too
Bud_man_can: Will miss you until we talk again
Tina IsHappilyMarried: You too
Bud_man_can: and I’m out of here….
I’ll be looking for you Mister… (Yep, I’m crying again.)
“a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” –Ecclesiastes 3:4