I just ran across something my mother wrote, I believe in 2009, for my uncle’s funeral. This is the same uncle who wrote A Hatched Egg And A Planted Potato and who I wrote about in my post The House Of Mourning And Of Feasting. Ray Nickel was the oldest son of Ben and Doris Nickel, and when Ben died Ray took up the mantle of family patriarch. His death was unexpected and sudden and the siblings were forced to truly develop their own family trees, not just trees under the original canopy.
Here are her thoughts:
One of my most recent and fondest memories of my brother Ray took place this fall while I was visiting here in Valley Center, Kansas. Ray asked me to go with him to begin the project of building some steps. When we returned to Ray’s pickup I opened the back door to put some tools in. When I saw what had happened, I called out “Ray, Ray, there is white paint dripping all over the ground and it is all over your floorboard and on some of your toolboxes! Another co-worker had not put the lid on tight and the can had overturned. The paint had been dripping out for hours leaving a huge puddle of paint on the floor.
As is typical in our family we both jumped into swift action. Ray ran for a hose and I took the paint can and began to scoop what paint I could off the floor with a wide putty knife. I missed getting some of the paint into the can so we had paint on the driveway too! Ray emptied all the tools from the back seat and floor and quickly threw them into the back of the truck. Then Ray took the hose and started to scrub the floorboard with a brush and running water. While he was scrubbing, I would bail out the paint water so the floorboard wouldn’t get too full of water as we worked. We worked together like a well-oiled machine. Ray made sure that he got the paint off of his client’s driveway before he would consider the cleanup job finished. I realized then how much closer we had become during these past few months as we laughed together as we worked.
One Memorial Day, when I was about 12, the family went fishing on the island in Mt. Lake, MN. Ray called out, “Duck, duck.” just as he was about to cast his line. I stood up to see the duck and promptly got hit in the head with the sinker! Several stitches and a turban of gauze to wear to Cousin Carol’s graduation and that was the end of that family outing. Ray felt so bad but I assured him that I was looking for the wrong duck!
Ray and Anita used to go “grassing” in Illinois. Under the dark cover of night, we would all pile into his truck and pick up bags of grass clippings set out for the garbage to mulch his huge garden. Ray told me recently that he was excited to help with the Valley Creek community garden this next summer. He truly came to love the people of Valley Creek.
It was a joy to observe Ray and Anita deeply loving each other. Ray loved Stephanie and Court and their families so very much and spoke often of the joy he had when visiting with them in person or on the phone. Ray struggled so much about leaving California as that would mean moving away from Court and his family. Papa Ray loved spending time with JD on the putting green outside their condo in California. Papa Ray looked forward to reading stories to Sidney and told me he loved the way she held his hand in both of hers. Papa Ray delighted in the joy that Katie expressed when she ran to him. Lindsay’s face would beam as she looked up at her Papa Ray.
In the past year, Ray expressed his desire to reconnect with his extended family. Since he had two sisters living in the Kansas City area he couldn’t understand why God was leading him to Wichita. Ray soon realized that Valley Center, KS was exactly where God wanted Anita and him to live. Ray told me that despite their recent hardships and distress that he rejoiced to see Anita’s joy in finding new found friends and in deepening family relationships. Everybody in this room can be assured that Ray loved them dearly.
We would talk about the Lord and our own relationship with Him. Ray and I would often have deep conversations about life, world politics, books we were reading, and how we saw Bible prophecy advancing in our lifetime. I will always cherish the times that we have spent praying, crying and laughing together.
Ray had a close relationship with the Lord and was so looking forward to seeing Jesus face to face. Ray’s desire was that each of us know his Lord in the same way. I know that Ray has experienced the warm welcome from not only his Heavenly Father but also from his Dad and others who were waiting to greet him and show him his new home. Ray told me that he knew that when he arrived in heaven he would feel more at home than he had ever felt his entire life.
From “The Last Battle” by CS Lewis, with liberties taken by myself.
“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” The things that began to happen to Ray after he crossed into his true home were so great and beautiful that we cannot comprehend them. And for us, this is the end of Ray’s story in this age, and we can most truly say that Ray will live happily ever after. But for him, it is only the beginning of the real story. All of his life in this world and all of his adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now, at last, he has begun Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Ray, your journey is over. It is good to know that you are safely home! I can’t wait to see you, but I’ll be looking for Jesus first. You would want it that way.