A Posthumous Blessing

Mitch Tapley was not your ordinary preacher. He was a burly man in his late sixties with massive, tattoo-covered arms, a stubbly, broad face and hair that always looked like he might have arrived by motorcycle. He smelled of cigarette smoke and his powerful baritone voice had a gravelly edge to it that reminded me of Johnny Cash.

He became my patient just a few months ago after he ended up in the hospital and almost died from a respiratory illness. Mitch had worked hard to get back in the pulpit and out among his congregation, and every time I had seen him he had spoken of trying to find a balance between helping others and taking care of his own health.

Our last visit, the day before yesterday, seemed particularly profound. He spoke of his walk with his Lord by his side, and a new level of clarity he had experienced since facing his own mortality, then interrupted himself and said:

“I don’t even know if you are a believer, but I think you know what I mean.”

I responded by telling him what my father had said about my choice of medicine as a career many years ago – that I could have been a lawyer but I was too honest, or a preacher but my faith was too weak.

He laughed heartily and said:

“God bless you, man, you are a healer and a friend.”

I asked him again about his smoking, and he said he was almost ready to quit.

Early this morning the shrill sound of an ambulance tore through our little village and the news reached me as I walked through the clinic door: Pastor Mitch had suffered a massive heart attack and died from cardiac arrest.

This afternoon I dialed his home number to give my condolences to his wife. The phone rang four or five times, then there was a click, followed by his familiar, powerful, resonant voice. A chill went up my spine as the recording played:

“I am not here to take your call,

Please try again later, and

May the Lord always be with you.

May He bless you and protect you.

May His face smile on you and be gracious to you.

May the Lord show you His favor and give you His peace.”

1 Response to “A Posthumous Blessing”

  1. 1 isaac January 29, 2010 at 2:41 am

    He seemed like a man who tried to live life on his terms. That’s admirable.

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