Forty-Two and Five

                Forty-two years ago on August 8, my father, 62, died at about 9:50 p.m. (CDT). He drowned in his own lung fluid after a nasty fight against large cell lung cancer.When he was diagnosed, he was given two months to live without treatment and six months with if he went to M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Hospital in Houston. After the fact, my mother, widowed at 53, said she wished they had not sought treatment but had opted for a final romantic cruise. They had met and fallen in love on an army hospital ship during World War II. After they secretly married on Christmas Eve home leave, my brother was conceived in Dad’s quarters while his roommate was on duty. Dad was chief radio operator on the ship. Mom outranked him as an Army nurse. Sarge was nine years her senior, but she was a first lieutenant.

Five years ago on August 17, my mother, 90, died about 5 p.m. (CDT) at a state veterans’ home in our small town in Texas. She never married again, although she, briefly, had a suitor when she went to her 50th high school reunion in Moorestown NJ. The romance was short-lived, because Mama wouldn’t leave kids and grandkids in Texas and didn’t want to face harsh winters after so many years in Texas. She was worried what her kids thought. I told her the living should keep on living, and, if she thought he was a good man, I would be happy for her. As Barney Fife used to say, Mom nipped it in the bud, and I often wondered if she regretted her decision. She said wistfully, from time to time, that it would have been nice to have had someone with whom she could have gone out for supper and dancing. Instead Mom attended greatly to grandchildren and even great-grandchildren until Alzheimer’s stole her last years.

Dad occasionally said, when particularly exasperated,  all Mama and he had in common were four kids and a bunch of bills. It wasn’t true. They loved God. They loved music. They loved the wonders of God’s creation and were generous in their care for others. But Dad was an upstanding drunk, which means he was well thought of in our community and never missed a day of work, and Mom was an enabler of his alcoholism and even more of my brother’s. Only after my brother died in May 1992 at age 46 did Mom finally listen to my urging that she go to Alanon.The meetings helped give her some peace, but she never got to a healthy place. She enabled the alcoholism that continues to plague more generations of our family. Even the day of her funeral turned into a commercial for the family disease. Father Bill, the retired Episcopal priest who co-officiated her funeral, just shook his head at the debacle.

On the day of Mama’s funeral, our Lord’s lovely promise to make all things new was read from Revelation 21:1-7. Biblically-illiterate and hugely dysfunctional relatives covered their ears, because, in their minds, any words from the last book in the grand metanarrative of Scripture were too horrible to hear. Ironically, they at one time thought a song based on the same text, Eric Clapton’s “No More Tears in Heaven,” was sadly beautiful. Context is everything, and they missed our Lord’s amazing promise.

In the resurrection on the last day, there will be no more alcoholism, no more cancer, no more Alzheimer’s, no more bitterness, no more tears, no more dying. The former things will have passed away, and our Lord will make all things new. That is the promise given by our Baptism into His death and resurrection. We are indeed marked with His cross, and nothing can separate us from His love.

Mama and Daddy looked so happy holding their firstborn. I always love to look at old pictures as just a hint of what they will look like on that day when, they and all the baptized dead, are raised in imperishable bodies to praise the one true God (Father, Son, & Holy Spirit) forever.

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt


The Rev. Dr. Samuel Zumwalt has worked in churches for 42 years and in May 2018 celebrated the 37th anniversary of his ordination to the holy ministry. He is a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity ( In 2004, Pr. Zumwalt moved with his family to Wilmington from Texas, where he served for 23 years as pastor of small, midsize, and large congregations.