Just before the New Year, a dear family friend, a man I've known all my life, Ed Aiken, died of cancer. He was truly a good man and I'll miss him.
I thought about writing my own eulogy for him here, but both my parents spoke at his memorial service and said everything I wanted to say better than I could've. So, instead of my words, here are theirs (Mom's first and Dad's second):
When Greg and I walked into Northridge Hospital/Medical Center on Dec. 27, we stopped to get the requisite visitor’s badges. We said we were there to visit a patient, Ed Aiken. The guard looked quizzical. “Do you mean Gilbert Edgar Aiken?” Oh, yeah, I forgot. “Gilbert Edgar” has always been, simply, “Ed.” A simple, direct name for a man who always looked directly at you. Ed was interested always in what you had to say, even in the most mundane of topics. Ed was interested in YOU. Everyone who knew him felt that interest. In a world of distraction, Ed’s attention to and concern for the people around him was ever apparent.
With my notebook, I wanted to be a scribe for Ed’s words. Here are some of them: “First of all,” he said, “The Lord may take me home in a matter of days. He has a place for me in heaven. I don’t mind. The transition may be difficult, but I’ll be home forever. I love Diana so much, and my sons. We’ve had some tough times—got through them by the grace of God.”
He paused and the normal activity—phone calls, nurses’ aides checking—swirled quietly around. “I love my church family—love to have seen our church family grow in grace. I love that so many individuals have shown their love for Christ and for us.” He paused, “Marching orders for Doug—photo scanning.” And then, again, Ed said, “I’m trusting in the Lord that He has a home for me.”
When Pastor Thor announced Ed’s passing last Sunday morning—his only announcement—the few who still had not heard the news reacted as one with an audible, abrupt gasp. Not OUR Ed, they seemed to say. And he was OUR Ed. We, each one of us here, had a proprietary interest. Ed belonged to us. Well, of course, first to Diana, the love of his life. Ed knew her so well that, with only a few hours left, he could, even with his eyes closed, admonish her to quit staring at him! The spark that was Ed was still there, in his sardonic grin, his Ed look. The gift of Ed was his attention, his laughter—even your weakest jokes elicited Ed’s laugh. He could even joke about cancer. Our Ed.
Especially in the last few months, Ed shared with us how concerned he was for some of you who are here today. You were particularly on his heart and he prayed for you. He wanted to be a witness for Jesus to you. He wanted to make sure he let those around him know by his life and his words that the only salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ. He so loved you and so wanted you to have what he had—that his Lord Jesus would become yours.
I’m humbled and honored to have been given the privilege to speak about our friend, and brother in Christ, Ed.
Of course all of us here have had different experiences with Ed, and therefore our perspectives on who Ed was may vary a bit. However, I think it is fair to say that to understand Ed you have to first know that his faith in Jesus Christ was critical to who he was, and how he lived his life.
I’m not sure when it came to me, but God gave me a verse that I think reveals a fundamental quality of Ed’s character.
In the first chapter of the book of John there is an account of the disciples who first meet Jesus, and it’s verse 47 that makes me think of Ed.
Verse 47 reads like this…Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”
So last Saturday morning as Ed was leaving us, I pictured Jesus saying to those in heaven, "I see Ed coming, behold, a man indeed, in whom there is no deceit!"
Not only was there no deceit in Ed, he had many of the qualities a Christian should have. He was a kind man, humble (never bragging), without arrogance, never pretentious.
Ed was one of those people who genuinely cared about other people, be they a friend, or a stranger. Ed was a gentleman. He was sincere and genuine, what you saw and heard was the real Ed. I think Carol Augustein said it best when she told me last Sunday that when Ed spoke to her “he always made her feel important.”
I’ve know Ed for over 20 years and I don’t think I’d ever heard Ed swear.
About the worst I ever heard from him was “you dog!” I know on at least one occasion he called me that, because I had been making a silly joke about him being bald. Ed laughed easily. I teased him about being bald on many occasions—and he would always laugh. If he hadn’t kept laughing at my jokes I would have stopped. Don’t worry Doug, Greg, and Jeff, I know better than to tease you guys about baldness – You’ve got me out numbered 3 to 1.
Months early when Ed was getting ready to start the experimental drug trials I came to admire his attitude towards his disease. Ed expressed to me one evening while we were at Starbucks with our wives, talking about his illness, that he was not bitter, or angry with God. What impressed me was what he said next “I hope I am up to the opportunity that God has given me.” I’m thinking Wow! He knows he’s terminally ill, needing a miracle, and his thought is…I hope I can be the kind of example that God wants me to be.
While at the hospital and seeing Ed here, for the last time, the doctor monitoring his care asked Ed if he needed anything else. All he said was “no, I have all I need right here.” Ed loved his family dearly. And they were all the comfort he needed in those final hours.
I’m honored to have know Ed and proud to have been able to call him a brother in Christ and a friend.
I mentioned earlier how Ed laughed easily. He smiled easily too. Whenever you saw Ed he would greet you with a big grin. And now that he’s gone, the way that I choose to picture him in my minds eye, is with that big friendly smile.
Because Ed liked to sing I like what my wife Angela said after we first heard of Ed’s passing, “He’s singing with the angels now, but we still miss him.”