“Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:25-26
Dale Sheply died Saturday morning just after midnight. My nephew called me shortly after Dale passed to give me the sad news. He called as soon as he could, because Dale and I were more than friends. We treated each other as family.
Dale was what we would today call an “operator” in Viet Nam. He saw and did things that would scare the hell out of our nightmares. His medals – which he only showed me once when he was a bit tipsy – included a Bronze Star, topping an impressive salad bar. He never did tell any of us exactly what was behind it. He wasn’t quite that tipsy.
He refused to let any of that color his post-war life. Not only did he successfully leave those times behind, he literally became a personification of peace.
Dale Sheply was a natural Santa Claus. He grew his hair and beard long and bleached them a perfect Santa white. No padding. Dale lived life, and that included enjoying his food a bit overmuch. He had a custom Santa suit made. In full regalia, he was Santa Claus. He wasn’t some guy in costume. He was the absolute real deal.
He loved kids. Adored them in all shapes and sizes. His biggest thrills were thrilling kids as Santa.
He raised my three nephews from grade school up, since my sister and her husband were too self-absorbed to do it properly themselves. The boys needed parents and saw what real parents looked like when Dale and his wife came into their lives. They gravitated to his home and spent as much time with him as possible. To this day, they all him and Sandy “Dad” and “Mom.”
Dale is a Christian. I have no doubt he’s in glory with the angels in the presence of God. He lived the way life he did, because he believed in Jesus. He did good, because God showed him how and why.
Dale and I talked often. That’s how I know the man and love him as well as I do. When you’re half way across the country, it’s hard to visit in person as often as you’d like. So we burned up the phone lines often. We talked life, God, dealing with problems, and celebrating joys. He always had good advice when I found myself lost. I think I helped him too. He called me as much as I called him.
But today my friend is gone from this earth. It stings, even though I know he’s in eternal peace, where God Himself will wipe every tear from Dale’s eye. Dale suffered more than one bout with cancer as well as many other ailments in addition from his wounds from Viet Nam. His flesh finally failed him, though God is his portion forever.
I spoke with Dale just a few days before his death. He called just to chat, but he’d been having coughing spells, originally diagnosed as pneumonia. The docs soon realized it must be something else and helped him make an appointment with a lung specialist. The last time we spoke he sounded great, and I told him so. But he said when the coughing starts, it just wipes him out. I feared something bad was in the offing. I just didn’t really know how badly or how soon it would hurt him.
What have I been thinking about since 12:20 Saturday morning? His visit here last summer with one of my nephews. We took him to the best BBQ and Blues restaurant I know of. Between the food and the acoustic blues, he would just sit in his chair, eyes closed, swaying to the beat, and the biggest smile on his face. I enjoyed watching him more than the food or the music, which were both stellar.
That’s how I’m sure I’ll remember him for the rest of my life; Dale in ecstasy with his favorite music and food. I’m sure he looks something like and yet well beyond that right now. I’m hoping that smile will be one of those greeting me when my time comes.