The morning I got word my friend Randy passed away, I wish someone had first told me to take a seat. I literally dropped to my knees in shock, regret and grief. It was one month to the day after my mom passed away and three days before Christmas. I hadn’t been by to see Randy in a week and a half and I had the strong urge to drop in the day before just to say hi from afar as I had been fighting a cold/cough. Busily, I put it off thinking I’d see him in a couple of days to wish him and his family Merry Christmas… regretfully unaware, Randy didn’t have a couple of days.
When I first met Randy, about nine months before, he was still standing. He leaned up against his chair like Mike did when he could no longer find his balance. Although Randy’s speech was affected, he was clearly understandable and I actually found comfort and joy in listening closely to his soft voice. He had that familiar look and sound when he laughed, a wide range of facial expressions and he got frustrated when he couldn’t communicate the way he really wanted to… classic signs of ALS.
When my oldest daughter Erin told me about a friend’s dad who had ALS, I thought it was most likely the same man my mom and dad had told me about – who lived close to us in our town of Maple Ridge. My parents, and Randy and his wife Blanca, had a mutual friend: Harry. Harry had worked with Randy pre-ALS and was hopeful I would go and befriend the couple. I told my parents I’d gladly go but I didn’t want to just show up unannounced. I thought maybe Harry could pass on my contact information or maybe even arrange a visit. As it turned out, I met Randy and his family through Erin – who became instant friends with them when they first met, just shortly before she introduced me.
My connection with Randy and Blanca was instant as well. During our first visit, I told them if they needed anything, not to hesitate to call or email me. Within days I had a message asking if I knew of any wheelchair vans for rent because they had an appointment in Chilliwack to see the ALS team. I called my friend Cynthia who I knew had a wheelchair van for her dad. Cynthia and family borrowed our wheelchair van when Mike was still alive to take her dad to church on Sundays and on other outings. Cynthia said we could use their van, no problem! I got back to Randy and Blanca and told them I had borrowed a van and then I happily offered to drive them. They gratefully accepted.
It was a difficult appointment for sure. I guess you could say every appointment with the ALS team is difficult because it’s about tracking the decline of health and preparing for the next stage of the illness. The ALS team is amazing – they are kind, compassionate and supportive of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that you or your loved one is dying, there is no cure, no hope of recovering outside of a miracle. Emotions ran high, but by the grace of God we got through it and I felt like the Lord used me and my experience to help in a substantial way. I was praising the Lord and lifting my two new friends up to Him, in-between conversation, all the way home.
We had a wonderful visit after the appointment that day and as I got up to leave, I could see Randy had something important he wanted to say… I sat back down and listened closely. We had touched slightly on the topic of faith earlier and he wanted me to know that he wasn’t a religious person and that he never went to church. He said these exact words, “I wasn’t a believer, but now I believe.” He explained that God made His existence and His love for Randy clear to him through the people he brought into his life, including Erin and me and his dear friend Harry.
It was an unforgettable moment when Randy committed his life to Christ. I prayed and he prayed along with me in his heart and when we were done, Randy looked up toward Heaven and said, “Thank you.” It was absolutely beautiful! The three of us, somewhat battered and beaten up by ALS, basked in the power and peace of our Saviour’s love and His healing touch. (And at the end of every prayer after that, he looked up and said, “Thank you.”)
There were many more appointments. When I’d introduce myself to the doctor or respirologist or occupational therapist or whoever, I’d introduce myself as “a friend.” Before I could finish, Randy would say, “BEST friend!” If Chris was along (my now husband) or my sister Elanna, then he would say, “BEST friends!”
There were lots of visits. Sometimes it was just the two of us, like the week I went over everyday to sit with Randy when his sister Terri went away. Terri stayed with Randy weekdays when Blanca still worked. Even though Blanca, who worked from home as a child care provider, could keep an ear open and check in on Randy, she really appreciated someone being with him at all times. She and Terri thought I was doing them a favour but it was the other way around.
Our families became very close and sometimes visits were like a party. There was lots of talking and laughing and sharing. There was also a growing sorrow knowing we were watching another loved one succumb to the dreadful ALS. Every time we said good bye, Randy would say, “Thank you!” and “I love you!” He would say it to everyone individually, and we each said it back. When he could no longer say the words, he mouthed them. When he could no longer mouth them, he gave us a certain look that we previously discussed that became his “Thank you!” and “I love you!”
I usually stood behind Randy and rubbed his head, neck and shoulders. He was once a man with broad shoulders able to bear the weight of the world. A man’s man, good with his hands, a hard-worker, a fisherman, a friend to everyone. I never knew the pre-ALS man, with skilled hands etc. I knew this man who taught himself to operate a motorized wheelchair with his head – extremely determined, sensitive, courageous and vulnerable. He was so caring and kind, a good listener and confidant, a BEST friend.
The regret of not going to see him the day before or a few days before he passed away has often been paralyzing. I’ve asked God why He didn’t make the pull to go over stronger, like He has at other times, many times throughout my life. I’ve had so much guilt as I’ve questioned what kind of best friend was I. Over the year, God has been slowly convincing me that I was the best friend I could be to Randy and I don’t know the rest but I have to trust that it was the way it was suppose to be and that it’s ok. Plus, Randy would want me to focus on the time we spent together and all the joy we shared, not on the time I wasn’t there and the accompanied grief and regret.
Ultimately we had an extraordinary friendship that has changed me forever and that I will always treasure.
I know some people were a little concerned about me diving right in with Randy…understandably. Could my heart take the inevitable pain – could it withstand more heart-break? I admit I thought about it too… for a few minutes and then that little bit of doubt was gone. And boy oh boy what I would have missed out on had I let fear keep me away. That would have been something to really regret!
Randy has left a legacy of faith! As a non-believer, when Randy was diagnosed with ALS he could have become bitter. His attitude could have been, “See, I knew it! Surely there is no God. And if there is a God, He’s definitely not a good God.” Instead, he looked further than that and found the compassionate heart of Jesus. He had little if any knowledge of God and no awareness of His love but in his despair, he recognized God was there, and that He cared deeply for Randy with an extravagant, unconditional and eternal love that would never fail him.
At the ALS walk in Abbotsford the spring before Randy died, he had a large team of supporters – mostly people from his work. Harry was there and I asked Randy if he wanted me to tell Harry that he had a huge influence on Randy’s decision to believe and receive Jesus into his life as his Lord and saviour and ultimate BEST friend. Without hesitation Randy said, “Yes!” Randy told me that Harry’s constant, dedicated walk with the Lord all the years he knew him spoke volumes. He said Harry didn’t say much, he just lived out his faith. (He said other Christian friends made impressions too)
Losing my mom a month before Randy, caused me to stuff a lot of my pain away. Writing this piece has forced me to open the door and face some of that grief. It has taken me a few months to get through it… and a million tears but the joy of remembering our extraordinary friend Randy and telling you about him is indescribable.
Speaking from all of us, we miss Randy so much! He taught us a lot! Our lives will be forever changed because of him.
Dear Randy, Thank you! I love you! And Merry Christmas!
“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9
In loving memory of Randy Walters – June 4, 1954 – Dec 22, 2016
Love and prayers to the family Randy adored: Wife Blanca, sons Chris and Cory and sister Terri – Thanks for sharing Randy with us!