All who knew him called my father Jack, including me, at his request. He died in early 2006 at Johnson City Medical Center.
I am going to describe how Jack died. It may bring tears to your eyes or give you chills. If you are a Christian, it will strengthen your faith. All I can say is that it is real, it really happened; my mother and I both witnessed it, as did our internist at the time.
The day Jack died was cold and snowy, a beautiful, wet snow lying on the ground and trees, but not on the sidewalks or streets. The cause of death was an aggressive form of pulmonary fibrosis. He had been in the hospital for a month and a day.
I returned from running some essential errands and eating a bite of lunch about 12:45; my mother, who had stayed with Jack the night before, was waiting for our internist, Dr. Thomas Schnell, to make his rounds for the day. After that, she planned to go home, sleep a bit, and return for the night.
When I came in, I asked Jack how he was feeling. He said, “About like usual — OK.” He turned over and resumed sleeping.
About 1:20, Jack started moving around in bed, and saying, “Loose … loose … loose!”
One of Jack’s worst fears was being restrained; he asked Mama and me to promise that we would not let that happen. I thought he might feel he was being restrained, so I asked him if he felt that he was. He said, “Yes.”
I then put my hand on his for maybe 10 seconds. I told him I had touched his hand, but I wasn’t anymore; in fact, no one was touching him. Still, he kept saying, “Loose ... loose … loose.” About 1:30, Dr. Schnell came in.
Dr. Schnell asked Jack if he could open his eyes. Jack did not. He asked Jack to take a couple of deep breaths; again, Jack did not. Dr. Schnell pulled my mother and me to the side and said, “I have a feeling this is it.” Mama and I both agreed.
Jack resumed the “loose … loose … loose …” conversation. I asked again if he felt he was being restrained. He said he was. I asked him how he felt he was being restrained, and he said, “Jesus is holding me.” Jack opened his eyes. They had the most unusual expression in them; I really cannot explain it. When Jack died, he did so with his eyes open and that same, unusual expression in them.
Mama and I told Jack that he did not want Jesus to let loose of him, and Jesus would not let go of him. That seemed to settle him down for a couple of minutes.
(After Jack’s death, Dr. Schnell said he felt Jack was telling his soul to leave his body when he was saying, “Loose … loose … loose.” A good friend of mine, Joy Fields Miller, who would be on my executive committee if I had one, said maybe Jack was telling my mother and me to symbolically turn him loose to go to Heaven. I think both explanations have great merit and validity.)
Dr. Schnell returned to Jack’s bedside, stood there, and just held his hand for several minutes. Jack started reaching for the top of his bed, near his IV pole. I asked him if he was reaching for something, and he said, “Yeah.”
“What are you reaching for?” I asked. Jack replied he was “reaching for Jesus.”
I asked Jack if he could see Jesus and he replied, “Yes,” with a tone that suggested obviously the rest of us in the room were somewhat lacking in good sense for not being also able to see Jesus.
Jack was continuing to try to reach toward the top of his bed, so my mother and I, almost simultaneously and using almost identical words, told Jack to reach as far as he could, and Jesus would reach down as far as He needed to in order to take Jack to Heaven. Jack then said, “Oh, OK.”
Dr. Schnell pronounced him dead about three or four minutes later. What a peaceful passing! As Dr. Schnell said, “This has been a religious experience.”
My grandfather, Jack’s father, donated his body to the University of Tennessee Medical School upon his death in 1967. For years, Jack had often said, “One of these days, I need to go out to the College (Quillen College of Medicine) and sign papers to donate my body when I die. Maybe somebody can learn something from it.”
There was absolutely no question in neither Mama’s mind, nor mine, that was Jack’s intention, so upon his death, we signed the necessary paperwork for that learning experience to occur for medical students. Jack’s final act.