Hushed voices from beyond still ‘speak’ volumes

Column by Jim Bishop

vernon-bishop.gifI’m thinking a lot these days about my dad, J. Vernon Bishop of Doylestown, Pa.:

* Maybe it’s because we just marked the 10th anniversary of his death. On Feb. 26, 1998, at 8:45 a.m., Dad took a series of quick, deep breaths and departed this life peacefully at home with Mom and three of us siblings at his side. He was too young to die at age 76, I thought at the time, and still do, but I’m thankful he only had to deal with a life-threatening illness (myeloproliferative disorder) for a brief time. He contracted pneumonia on a Monday and died on Thursday the same week.

* Maybe it’s because Dad influenced and shaped my life more than any other human person, and I only wish for a chance to sit and have a quality talk with him one more time. It won’t happen, but I still fantasize on occasion, and a good feeling resonates in my soul.

* Maybe it’s because sometimes, in quiet settings and even amid much activity, I think I hear his voice, and I respond, in my mind if in public and audibly if in solitude. Persons might think I’m hallucinating, but I don’t believe I am. It’s just that Dad spoke often to me, more by his example than by things he said, during the years I was privileged to know this remarkable man.

Dad’s physical absence prompts me to reflect on some other significant people whom I also sorely miss.

I miss hearing radio personalities like Joe Niagara, Hy Lit and Tom Donahue on WIBG, the Philadelphia radio station that I listen to for decades. They seemed like close friends to young people like me, offering animated chatter between platters with discernible lyrics and catchy melodies.

They’ve all gone to that great broadcast station in the sky, WGOD, Amen and FM, but the sound of their distinctive voices continues to vibrate down the cobwebbed corridors of my mind with frequency. The station WIBG (“Wibbage”), radio 99, is gone, too.

I think of others who inspired me in life and continue to speak to me in death – former EMU President Richard C. Detweiler, writer-speaker Robert J. Baker, actor-playwright Lee Eshleman, grandmothers Rhoda Yoder Dayton and Priscilla Bergey (Nana) Bishop, bishop/churchman J. Fred Erb.

These and others I could name lived exemplary lives and offered me free counsel, although I didn’t always heed their advice. I respected them and felt their support.

Then, there are those who became close friends when they lived in Harrisonburg but have moved far away – Bob and Betty Lou Buckwalter in Alaska, Ross and Allison Collingwood in Oregon, Ken and Kass Seitz in Beirut, Lebanon; brother- and sister-in-law Dale and Kathy Mast in Pichilemu, Chile.

We stay connected through the magic of e-mail, but it’s not quite the same as being able to talk with, laugh and reflect face-to-face on what’s most important in life.

How important it is to cherish the moments that we have with those closest to us, because we don’t know just when situations can abruptly change and we’re torn asunder.

As difficult as it was to let go and move on, the grieving process for Dad is largely past, but the sense of loss, the large void in the family circle, remains, especially for Mom, now 86.

Yet, Dad lives on in spirit. I ask myself frequently in situations, What Would Dad Do?

More often than not, I think I know. Thanks, Dad.

Jm Bishop is public-information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be contacted at bishopj@emu.edu.


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