Willis Bradley, was a man of great humor and deep thought, as with me, his son, there was an ocean of imagination waiting to be tapped. I realized that not so much from his words, but rather from his actions. My patriarchal father was a very fair man. He made tons of mistakes with us kids, and we deserved them all. Yet, my father taught me two very power lessons in my life. He taught me how to say, ‘I’m sorry’ and to forgive even when pardon was not sought. Willis Bradley was the most common great man I have ever known.
I read somewhere once that you know you are not a child anymore when you realize that one day, you are going to die. One of the most wonderful things about childhood is that everything is lived for the future. Children generally never look back and always look forward. They think about the next day off school, the next holiday and the upcoming summer vacation.
I had lived in the rough and tumble world of Middle East Asia and Africa where death was a constant reminder of one’s mortality. So, with death and fighting and war and all that goes along with such societies, death became, for me, something that touched others and left me alone. That make-believe idea that everything would always be good and that those I loved would always be there was shattered on June 16, 1997.
My father, Willis Bradley, was a man of great humor and deep thought, as with me, his son, there was an ocean of imagination waiting to be tapped. I realized that not so much from his words, but rather from his actions. My patriarchal father was a very fair man. He made tons of mistakes with us kids, and we deserved them all. Yet, my father taught me two very power lessons in my life. He taught me how to say, ‘I’m sorry’ and to forgive even when pardon was not sought. Willis Bradley was the most common great man I have ever known.
The only thing that I wish my father had done, in his life, was to share more of what made this serious, jovial, loving, very strong tempered and completely merciful man who he was. My dad suffered from a serious inability to see how much god had used him. He was my greatest example of a great man seeking forgiveness and giving it to others so freely. Willis Bradley was the greatest man I have ever known.
Since his first heart attack in 1981, he had suffered several heart related problems and medical procedures. In 1987, while I was living in France, my father suffered another very serious heart attack. I was forced to fly home. My daughter, Amber, wouldn’t speak to me all day, when she knew I was leaving. I swear I tried to hug that girl at least ten times that day, and she just would not respond. That night, I was leaving home to take a train to Paris and then board a plane to Chicago, where my very sick father was going to have bypass on his heart. I will never forget how when I picked up my bags to walk out to my taxi, Amber ran to me and jumped in my arms and hugged me and told me four times, “You’re my daddy.” It was an unforgettable moment.
My dad was about to have his heart stopped and have new veins attached to his heart and implanted with a defibrillator and have his heart restarted when his heart began to flutter and get of rhythm. This wasn’t the first time he had been hospitalized, but it was definitely the worst one. Every child our father had raised stood around his bed. He knew we loved him and cherished him, and no matter what happened, we were there with him. I recall my dad looking into each of our faces and said, “I want you all to forgive me. I am sorry for my mistakes. I love you all.” We all cried, of course, and I looked at my brother Gary. “It should be us who asked his forgiveness.” Of course Gary agreed. We all watched him disappear into the operating room, and we saw him when he came out. That was a strong old man and I was proud to be his son. That operation helped my father live more than ten years longer.
In 1997, my father’s heart was just tired. He had fought the good fight with his uncooperative body and now simply put, he was weary. His defibrillator, which normally would erupt in his chest about once a month, was now going off at least four to five times a day. He was as terrified of the large dose of electrical current, which had always kept the beat of his heart steady. He told me he feared that jolt with painful increasing frequency and almost as much as actual death.
By the time Nuran had left for Turkey, for two months, in May of 1997, it was obvious that my father was tired and weakened beyond the point of recovery. I am thankful for the chance I had to stay with him for almost five weeks before his heart gave way for the last time. For me, there it is nothing short of amazing to see how God cares for even the smallest of details. I had already driven three hundred miles to bring my children up to my mom’s and dad’s house and they had been able to get to know their grandfather and to spend Father’s Day with me and their grandfather.
I recall my father’s face, on what would be his last father’s day. He looked gaunt, weak and worn. His frazzled look spelled only one thing in my mind, my seventy-five year old father was going to die very soon. He really did his best to be strong and seemed to love his day with the family he knew loved him, but it was easy to see that his time was short and I wanted to live it all with him.
I can still see and hear my conversation outside with my sister Diann and her husband, John. I just could see it all in my head and the most amazing realization of my dad’s soon passing filled my mind and was as clear as the sun that was shinning. I looked at my sister and brother in law and spoke what I knew would come true.
“You all should be here tomorrow, because Dad’s going to die tomorrow.”
Neither of them responded, but they looked at me with expressions of slight disbelief. I cannot say I had a vision or a bright light. It was just a point of understanding that had fixed itself firmly in my mind. My whole family gathered around our father for what would become an amazing family portrait that would become his last one with all of us together. I wished Nuran was there. She loved my dad and indeed he loved her back. I knew the whole situation would have torn her up, so I didn’t say too much to her, since she was so far away. My children seemed oblivious to the whole sad situation, and I was glad. Death does not mean much to children since they have their whole lives out ahead of them.
On June 16, 1997, my father was having a very bad day. He had felt dizzy all day, and in the afternoon I heard him fall to the floor. I rushed to his room and lifted him to his knees and there, at the side of his bed, with my arm wrapped around his shoulder, my father prayed to Jesus to take him home. He told his Lord that he was tired and that he was ready, but I certainly was not.
Over the past five weeks, I don’t think I had left my father’s side once except to run to the store for my mom. It would be my oldest daughter, Crystal’s thirteenth birthday, in a few days and I wanted to do something special for her. I took all three of them to the park and we had a wonderful time together. I found it to be a very difficult juggling act to be daddy and son to an expiring father at the same time. We spent about three hours together to celebrate Crystal’s birthday and returned home.
I noticed immediately that there were several cars parked in my parents’ driveway and several people outside. I parked my car and knew something terrible had happened. I recall distinctly looking at the front door when my brother’s pastor walked out and saw me, he shook his head to the left and right and the expression on his face had said it all. I had not left my dear dad’s side for several weeks and I took the chance to spend some time with my children and he had died while I was gone.
I truly cannot remember all that happened to me, at that very moment, but simple took off running and fell to the ground in disbelieve and sat there and wept a million tears. I had so wanted to spend his last moments with him, when he passed, but had missed it. My children gathered around me and comforted me and I was so glad they were there to live that awful moment with me. When I saw my mother, who had just lost her husband of almost fifty-four years, was stricken and broken and sat in her chair with tears streaming down her face.
When my father had collapsed onto the living room floor, she called my brother Gary and then she got down on the floor with my father and cradled his head in her arms. She told him she loved him and hugged him. She told me he opened his eyes once and smiled at her and then looked up and smiled, and he was gone. Gary came and did CPR on him but it was to no avail. My dear, godly and beautiful father had met the one who had given him life in the first place. I knew where he was, but I wanted him back. Instead, one day I shall go to meet him in a place much better than the one he left.
The whole very terrible situation was very difficult for my beautiful wife, Nuran. My dad and she had developed a very close relationship, and she loved my dad very much. For the past two years almost, my father had picked her up at work and brought her home and she loved his personality and his character. When I called Nuran in Turkey and told her that dad was gone, she couldn’t even speak. She asked me if we could talk later and before we hung up, I heard her start to sob and her heart broke. I will never forget the love Nuran showed my parents, at all times, even when it was not easy. She rests in my heart as one of my heroes because of her love and concern for the special people in my life.
Willis Bradley was not wealthy. He had only attended school until the fourth grade. He was loved and respected, but he had done nothing that would put him into history books. Yet, in my eyes and in the eyes of anyone who knew him, he was a giant. He had a heart full of love, wittiness, compassion and faith in his God. There is no one who stands in my mind today as the perfect example of Christ more than Willis Bradley, my father. I find that I am more like him than I had ever thought, and it is a wonderful complement every time someone compares me to him. Willis Bradley left behind two daughters, three sons, a house full of grandkids and hearts that truly admired and loved him. His was not just the death of a man. To us, and to anyone who knew him, his was the passing of a giant.
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