January 19, 2020
Sunday, 10:30 p.m.
Letter #479: Celebrating a Life
Yesterday was the date we set for Daddy’s memorial service, once he finally moved up to be with the Lord. Knowing he was going to die soon, we’d discussed as a family in late November how we would have his service in early December, but God and Daddy were on a completely different time-table. We got to spend so many fun moments, beautiful moments, quality moments together as a family as Daddy lived a full month after doctors told him he was on borrowed time.
Daddy used his final days to live boldly for the Lord, which was nothing new. He’d had a thirty-three-year career at IBM as a buyer, and I recently came across an email he had printed out for me. After his electronic signature at the bottom of the email, my dad had listed the ways to reach him by phone. And at the very end of what he included in every email to clients, suppliers, managers—whomever—was Romans 6:23. Everyone knew by visiting his office, too, what Daddy believed.
All five of us brothers held a couple of planning sessions together by phone to determine responsibilities and roles, and we left Mommy out so she had nothing to worry about. My brothers coordinated everything, handling a myriad of details leading up to the service, while (gratefully!) I only had a couple of things to handle.
Our parents wanted more than anything for their boys to sing together again, and we’d taken the opportunity to sing for them while Daddy was in the hospital. However, the prison phones have a brutal delay of around two full seconds, which meant I always had to sing lead while the rest of the guys sang with my voice on speakerphone. Plus, reminders that these calls are being monitored and recorded kept interrupting my singing. I knew I had to do something different for the memorial service.
Gratefully, the prison has a bunch of recording equipment, which my buddy, Daniel, was really familiar with. We sat together in a quiet room on a few occasions, and I was able to lay down my high tenor vocal part to our song, “This Is My Father’s World/Canon in D.” For the fun of it, I also recorded a bunch of piano improvisational stuff, original songs I wrote for my parents, as well as the speech I’d planned to deliver over the phone during the service. Utilizing Super-Secret Squirrel methods, I was able to get the recordings to Brian, who then was able to utilize not-as-secret methods to make them useable.
Yesterday morning, I realized that, for all of my advance notices and requests and conversations with everyone from wardens to correctional counselors to chaplain, the prison was going to completely botch the idea of me getting to listen in to the service via phone in an office, like others had done before me. So, Brian arranged for his phone to be up in the sound booth in front of a monitor, and a dear friend of mine answered my 15-minute calls throughout the 90-minute service. The only problem? Count time happens here daily from 11:10 a.m. until count clears around 11:35, and the service started at 11:00 a.m. During count, I have to be on my bunk. But, thanks to God’s favor, I was allowed to stay on the phone until officers were about to walk past my bunk. Then, I’d scoot over to my bunk and right back over to the phones once they’d passed by. Thus, I missed maybe a minutes of the service. In twelve years, I have never seen any inmate allowed to move during count like I did. God is good!
Michael’s church hosted the service, David’s church gave him lots of time off to be with Daddy and fly back out for the service, Brian was MC and created the slideshow, video, and program, and Mark cooked the Mexican-themed meal for everyone along with his fellow Cost Guard culinary instructors. I’m so grateful that they all made sure I was included in everything from planning to content.
The service was live-streamed on our family website: www.denton.family so that dear friends in states as far away as Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, and Wyoming as well as a few foreign countries could be blessed by the celebration of God’s grace in my dad’s life too. If you haven’t yet seen it, the service can still be viewed there, and you can leave a comment for our family as well.
After the service, Brian let his phone be passed around so that people could say hello to me and give me love and condolences, an unbelievable blessing for me. I got to speak with a total of 36 people, most of whom I’d either never talked to before or had not spoken with in at least 12–16 years. A highlight was reconnecting with my cousin, Amanda, whom I hadn’t seen nor talked to in sixteen years. I hope to do a better job of staying in her life from now on.
Not everyone I know is real anxious to talk to me or write to me or visit me. I can certainly understand the various reasons for that choice, and I don’t hold it against them in any way. However, knowing that some people don’t want any contact with me only makes me even more grateful for those who do. I know that, but for God’s grace, I could be isolated with no family or friends to love on me and support me. Instead, I have so much! I have a loving family and so many friends and church members who love me in the way they each can.
Thank you for reading these letters. Thank you for supporting me with notes, reply emails, calls, visits, and most of all prayers. At times, I may feel overwhelmed with all that I believe God is leading me to do, because I know I could never get it all done on my own, in my own strength and capabilities. However, I feel your prayers uplifting me, and God uses you to help me take the next necessary steps to accomplish His will for my life. Not a whole lot even makes sense, but my job is to simply stay yielded, just like my dad did. I have big shoes to fill as his son, but my Heavenly Father is faithfully leading me, so I’m confident I’ll do alright.
Thank you for praying!