Ronald Ray Cox, a friend from the time of my birth, passed from life on Earth to life in eternity at about 8:32 a.m. (EST), October 19, 2013. Knowing that, it’s likely for you to think that I’m writing this to honor my friend and to tell you wonderful stories from a relationship that stretched out over nearly 70 years. Though I do want to honor my old friend, since there was a gap in our relationship from the time we finished college until about five months prior to Ron’s passing, when he was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, I don’t have those nearly 70 years’ worth of stories to share. Thankfully, I do have the story to share of how I was blessed in reconnecting with Ron at the end of his life and getting to witness how he and his Wife, Kim, embraced God and each other through their final season together.
STAND BY ME
When I do look back on the experiences Ron and I shared in our youth, the movie Stand By Me immediately comes to mind. Its story featured the close friendship of four boys who were on the cusp of their adolescence, during the summer of 1959, the summer between their Sixth Grade year in elementary school and their Seventh Grade year in junior high school. Those aspects of the story mapped exactly to the life experience that Ron and I shared with our buddies.
Although the personalities in our foursome weren’t identical to the characters in the movie, there were many similarities. Ron was probably most like Gordie Lachance. Dale Andrews, a friend from Kindergarten through high school, was more like Chris Chambers. Denny Kramer, who really became part of our group during that summer, was most comparable to Teddy Duchamp. I suppose I’d be most closely identified with Vern Tessio, though I didn’t spend that summer digging holes in the crawl space under my house, looking for a jar of pennies I’d buried. And, occasionally, we found ourselves being bullied by guys who were the age of our older brothers. That included young thugs like Kiefer Sutherland’s character, Ace Merrill. Thankfully, none of our group’s older brothers were like that but, if Denny had had an older brother, undoubtedly, he would have been like Ace, with a cigarette pack rolled up in the short sleeve of his shirt.
Slightly less than a month before Ron passed away; I got to thinking about Stand By Me and the close parallels between its story and ours. That led to my suggesting that Kim and Ron watch it together, if they hadn’t already done so, in order for them to enjoy sharing more of Ron’s memories. It turned out that they had seen the movie together. According to Kim, Ron agreed with my view that its story was very much like our story during that time.
BEYOND THAT SUMMER
While that story offers a very rich and interesting view of a brief time in my relationship with Ron, it only provides a snapshot of a summer we shared long ago. As mentioned earlier, Ron was my friend from the time of my birth. I believe, when Ron and I came along in 1947 (he in the summer and I in the fall), we were bound to become each other’s first-friend outside our own families. Our homes were only two blocks apart and our mothers, who had known each other previously, became friends when they were in the hospital together to give birth to our older brothers.
Ron and I were in the same class at the same schools all the way through college. In fact, in elementary school, I think we were in the same rooms with the same teachers every year. My memories of that time include me walking to school by way of Ron’s house, so we could go on to school together. Along the way, we would meet up with Dale Andrews and we would join in with the other kids on the playground until the first bell rang. Although we both made good grades, most of my memories are of things that took place outside of class. Participating in evening events at school, Safety Patrol, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Little League Baseball, sports programs at several local venues, as well as playing all sorts of games with other kids in the neighborhood and attending junior high and high school team sport events.
When we went on to junior high and high school ourselves, our activities reflected more mature interests, especially our interest in the opposite sex. There were mixers and dances at school. Then there were dances at other venues, as well as parties and dating. We, also, became members of formal social groups at school. And, we became members of the sports teams. During one of our last visits (via Skype) Ron and I reminisced about our favorite memory of team sports. It was our 1963 high school football season. Ron was a starting Running Back on the varsity team and I was a starting Defensive Guard. That season, we were undefeated and we were ranked 3rd in the State of Indiana. While reminiscing, we compared some “battle scars” that had continued with us from that season. I reminded Ron that one of mine is a left pinky that has a bit of a curve to it. It was broken during a practice scrimmage between our starting offense and our starting defense, when Ron tried to run the ball through my part of the line. He didn’t get through but my fingers and the top of his helmet had an encounter that left me in a lot of pain from a broken left pinky.
In college, our paths began to diverge a bit. Looking back, I think a major contributing factor here was the fact that Ron’s two-parent home had remained intact while mine had become a single-parent home when I was three. That difference in stability made Ron and many of our other friends more certain about the direction of their lives than I was. So, our academics were different and our social circles became significantly different when we pledged to different fraternities, he to Alpha Tau Omega and I to Sigma Phi Epsilon. However, since we were both “townies”, when out-of-town students went home during breaks from school, we would get together. I won’t go into detail here but, frankly, our activities during these times would best be described as debauchery. Sad as that is, it was even sadder due to the fact that, for the next 45 years or so, that would be what I thought of as our last times together.
THE YEARS APART
Over the next 45 years or so, I really didn’t hear much about Ron and I wasn’t happy about what I did hear. I heard that he had moved to Florida and was living in the same city where his older brother had set up his practice in dentistry. I, also, heard that he was working as a bartender and that he had become an alcoholic. Meanwhile, Southern California had become my home and though alcoholism wasn’t a factor with me, I’m sure Ron wouldn’t have been happy to hear of some of my life’s shortcomings. There were times that I thought about trying to locate Ron, to reconnect, but that didn’t happen. The last time I saw Ron in person was at a high school class reunion around 20 years ago. I was excited to hear he was there so I went to the registration table as he signed in. I smiled, gave him a hug and said a few words of greeting. He seemed a bit befuddled and embarrassed. I don’t know if he was actually drunk or if I jumped to that conclusion, due to what I’d heard about his alcoholism, but he seemed drunk to me. Regardless, we ended up not sharing any of the rest of that evening with each other.
On May 28, 2013, I got the following message from one of Ron’s fraternity brothers, who has been our mutual friend since junior high school:
“I just received a note from Kim Cox Ron’s wife on Facebook telling of Ron being diagnosed with liver cancer. They have set up an information and support page on Caring Bridge. The online address is http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/roncox If you visit the site you can read the details and Kim’s requests.”
Of course, getting this message would not have been included on my list of preferred ways for reconnecting with my old friend. But, it was the way we were given and it resulted in a reunion that was a great blessing to me. I’m providing the following overview of my contact with Ron during his last few months of life in order to share my blessing with you. As you’ll see, it’s presented as sort of a diary, including: CaringBridge Journal (CBJ) and Guestbook (CGB) Entries, Skype visits and Email. Where you see gaps between entry dates, that doesn’t indicate that there was no contact during those times. In fact, the richly blessed contact that I am including here continued during those times. To get more of those details, as well as to be blessed by the loving contact of Ron and Kim with other friends and family, visit http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/roncox.
After getting the message from our mutual friend, I followed the link he had provided for Ron’s CaringBridge page. When I did that, I found that the page wasn’t entitled Ron Cox, rather it was entitled For God’s Glory and that you’re greeted by a pop-up quoting Psalm 28:7 – The Lord is my strength and my shield, in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to Him. These and every other aspect of this page made it apparent that there had been a very significant change in my old friend’s life since I last saw him. The same was true of me and though I had begun to grieve over the state of Ron’s health, I suddenly found myself rejoicing in the knowledge that we had both become men striving to be like King David … men after God’s own heart.
After my initial overview of Ron’s CaringBridge page, I began to read the journal entries, mostly written by Kim. That was really the beginning of my dialog with her and Ron.
CBJ – May 24 – Ron and Kim are shown Ron’s CT scan, showing the “masses” in his liver. As she recounts this, Kim reminds herself:
“Thinking about the fact that God knew before Ron was born that this would happen and it is for our good and His glory…”
Then she tells of Ron asking, “How long?” and of the Oncologist looking at him and gently saying, “Will I tell you that you will be here in five years? No … One, maybe two.”
CBJ – May 29 – Kim noted how, after a difficult day, The Lord ministered to them at church in the evening as they sang the old hymn He Hideth My Soul. She said, “It was like God was giving us both a spiritual hug.” And, she went on to say, “That song is very precious to us both because it speaks of God’s love to us and His protection. It speaks of His desire to meet our need for Him especially in the midst of trials! So, we both wept as we sang knowing that no matter what we go through, no matter what any of His children go through, it’s not too difficult for our Great God! We left, maybe still physically tired, but spiritually lifted by our Great God and the body of Christ in our brothers and sisters.”
CBJ – June 1 – Kim starts this off by saying, “This is the most difficult entry.” but, before she says why, her comments include: “First praises to our Great God and Savior …”, “What an awesome God we serve” and “… no matter what goes on in our lives, God is great and good and to be praised”. Then, she tells us, “Ron has stage IV non-small cell lung cancer which has also gone into his liver. It cannot be cured according to the doctor. His options are to take chemo for about the next 8 months or so. The doctor said that if he responds well it would give him about a year or so.” And, she goes on to report, “Ron asked him what would happen if he did not take the chemo. Dr. Favis told him that he would have about three or four…months.”
It seems only natural for us to not want to accept this sort of news about a loved one. Kim opened up about how she dealt with that a bit later by telling us, “I argued with the Lord on the way to Walmart this morning. Ron was asleep and my goal was to get to the store and back before he awoke. So, as I drove to the store, I argued with the Lord. How do you argue with the Creator of the universe? You lose every time. Because he is right and just and good. He is the God of Abraham, faithful and true. Holy, Holy, Holy! When I came home, … I sat in the computer room with (a) song blasting, singing, crying, and, yes, still arguing with the Lord. I don’t want him to take my husband away from me. And how selfish is that? He’s tired, he’s weak, he’s frail. There are angels waiting to whisk his soul into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, … I sang and talked to the Lord. He finally brought me to a place where I can say, ‘Your will, Lord.’ If Ron does NOT want the treatment, it’s up to him. If he does, it’s still up to him.”
Kim winds up this entry by reporting that, after they had something to eat that night, Ron asked, “Why should we delay the inevitable?” Then, Kim went on to comment how typical this was for Ron, even noting, that when he was six years old, on his First Grade Report Card, his Teacher wrote, “Ronnie is such a serious little boy. Always wants to get at the business at hand and no fooling around about it.” and, Kim said, “We laughed about that – because he is that way in EVERYTHING. Including his own passing into glory!! And then I reminded him how I am. I’m the story-teller. And I didn’t want his story to end so soon. At least not this side of eternity. But…….”.
The entry concludes with Kim relating lessons from the Book of Job and praying for: “Wisdom…guidance….continuing to trust in the Most Holy and High God…that we would stay focused on Him and not our own selfishness. As the Lord calls us to come out of the boat and come to Him on the water, help us to stay focused on him and not the storm and the waves!”
CBJ – June 2 – This entry includes Kim reporting that: “(Ron) just wants to glorify God through this and continues to ask for prayers for just that. God has given him this ‘gift of cancer’ and he wants to appreciate the time and people and not waste anything. As we prayed yesterday, he thanked the Lord for this ‘gift’. I found it hard to hear those words but know that if we trust in the Lord Jesus, and He loves us, and if we believe that ‘all things work together for good to those who love God, to those are the called according to His purpose’, then the cancer is a ‘gift.’ And we do trust Him and love Him.”
CBJ – June 5 – In this entry, Kim reports: “Ron called Dr. Favis yesterday and … told him that he will not be taking the chemo. … We have an appointment with Hospice tomorrow evening.” She concludes this day’s report saying, “Our Great God and Savior will sustain us – He does this continually!”
CGB – June 5 – The message I posted in response to the entry immediately above said, “Continuing to pray with you and planning to see you at home, regardless of who gets there first.” I got the following reply:
I want to thank you for joining our Caringbridge family and always talking about our great God through your prayers and song and verses. You have no idea what an encouragement you have been to me through Jesus Christ. You really brought back to my memory the “days of old” on First Avenue which are remarkable memories and bless you for speaking so highly of mom and dad. You epitomize what God revealed in His word about the Body of Christ, to love and care and encourage, etc. OK getting tired now. Will send more later.
In His Hands,
Kim here, … We were wondering if you have a Skype account? We do and … if you … want to talk to Ron we can set up a date and time. He won’t be able to talk very long, but at least you can talk and see each other.
You have been an encouragement to both of us. I echo Ron’s sentiments. Thank you so much for being there for him.
S.D.G. (Soli Deo Gloria)
My message in response said, “OK … Warn Ron, when we do connect, I think there’s something wrong with the camera in my iPhone. It makes me look like a bald-headed old man.”
Skype Visit – June 9 – I went into this call eager to visit with my old friend but, based on Kim’s invitation, I expected it to be brief. However, according to Skype, we connected for 51 minutes. Perhaps I just caught Ron at a good moment or maybe it was the result of our mutual excitement to reconnect. I don’t know but I was thankful we got to share that generous amount of time.
We covered a lot of ground in that visit, touching on many of the memories I outlined in the section above, entitled Beyond That Summer. And, we took time to catch each other up on family and what we knew about other old friends. Our priority, though, was discussing our shared faith, as followers of Jesus Christ. We, also, compared notes on “hitting bottom” in life, being restored by The Lord and walking with Him ever since. In the process, I learned that it was true Ron had been a bartender but that he had gone beyond that to work as a project executive in one of GE’s military divisions. And, I learned that alcoholism had nearly taken his life about 20 years before. As I recall, Ron said that it led to him becoming so mentally and physically debilitated that he had to be admitted to a nursing home, where he had to relearn how to talk, how to walk, etc.
We, also, filled each other in on more recent aspects of our lives. And, thanks to Skype, I got to meet Ron’s Wife, Kim; he got to meet my Wife, Ruth and they even got to meet our dog, Figgins. Skype, also let me see for myself how Ron was doing. No doubt, we both noticed that we were showing our age and it was apparent to me that Ron was dealing with the effects of some really serious health issues. But, he didn’t strike me as being in such a state that it was highly unlikely we would never get a chance to visit again. With that said, the status of Ron’s health was “the elephant in the room” so I broached that subject by saying, “I’m thankful to know that we’re all going to get to go home to be with Jesus but, from what I hear, it sounds like you may get there first. I have to admit that I’m a bit jealous but what you’re going through right now must be very difficult. How are you guys doing?” I really can’t recall all the details of their response but I can tell you that it was the strongest Christian witness I’ve ever experienced. Of course, their circumstances weren’t what they would have chosen but they fully accepted it as part of God’s plan for them and that, thus, it was good. They were thankful to have each other and especially so, for what was apparently their final time together here on Earth. Beyond that, they both truly rejoiced in anticipation of Ron getting to be home with The Lord. As we discussed what that would be like, I told them that Ruth and I have a plan for meeting when we get to Heaven … we plan to meet by the Glassy Sea. Later, I would find out that knowing this touched them in a special way.
The image that stands out most in my memory of this visit was when I let Ron know how blessed I was to know of his salvation, of how steadfast he was in his faith and that we would share eternal life. With that, Ron looked me in the eye, wagged his index finger and said, “I’m thankful to know the same about you. You, keep going that way!”
Not long after that Skype call, I got a message from Kim that said, in part:
… Really enjoyed speaking with you and meeting you and your wife. Ron didn’t realize that we were on the phone for almost 50 minutes. : ) He really enjoyed speaking with you. It makes such a difference knowing where we are all going when the Lord takes us home. Looking forward to speaking with you again…here or at the glassy sea!! : )
Something about Kim’s message reminded me of a Christian song that had ministered to us the previous year, when Ruth’s baby brother, David, passed away. When that happened, we had received a call that he was on life support in a Newport Beach hospital. Ruth flew down to be with other family at his bedside. David was held, he was prayed over and worship songs were sung. I got to join in via iPhone. One day, I came across the Christian song, Fly To Jesus and I sent a YouTube link for it to Ruth. That was played in the hospital room and all were tearfully blessed. So, I sent that link, the following video, to Kim:
Kim’s response was:
“Wow, you hit all the right songs!! I love the song you posted on CB and this one is awesome, too. Our Pastor’s daughter sang this and it is wonderful. What a story about Ruth’s brother. So sad! We all need the Lord!“
Skype Visit – September 25 – Prior to this call, I had been hearing that Ron’s stamina had been greatly diminished so, just as with our first Skype visit, I expected that our time together might be very brief. But, again, I was pleasantly surprised. According to Skype, we were on this call for 42 minutes.
Not surprisingly, we revisited shared memories from many years ago and we took time to catch up further on family and other old friends. However, once again, our priority was discussing our shared faith, as followers of Jesus Christ.
Although I was pleasantly surprised with Ron being able to stay on our call longer than I expected, the effects of his health problems were much more evident. I have to admit that it was bittersweet for me to hear Ron say that he wanted us to keep up our contact via Skype while I was thinking this was very likely our last face-to-face contact here on Earth.
For me, the highlight of this call was the same as it had been with our first Skype visit. That is, the blessing of experiencing Ron’s and Kim’s Christian witness. Included in this blessing was that they let me know how hearing of Ruth and I planning to meet by the Glassy Sea, when we get to Heaven, had touched them in a special way. As a result, they had made their plan to meet by the Tree of Life.
Revelation 15:2 – And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.
Revelation 22:2 – In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, [was there] the tree of life, which bare twelve [manner of] fruits, [and] yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree [were] for the healing of the nations.
One humorous part of our visit involved my fat fingers. Ron and Kim were in their computer room, in front of their PC Monitor and a webcam for the Skype call. I was just using my iPhone while seated on a bar stool at the island in our kitchen. In order to frame my image better, the iPhone was on an easel but I had to raise it a bit, manually, so they could see more than just the top half of my face. During the call, my fingers slipped and the iPhone fell over backwards. That frightened Ron and Kim at first because they got the impression I had fallen over backwards. When I told them what had happened, we all had a good laugh. It was great to get to share that with my old friend.
CBJ – October 16 – Considering how Ron looked during our Skype visit, just three weeks prior, I was not surprised that this entry had Kim reporting, “Ron is now on a medication ‘Schedule.’ For those not familiar with Hospice’s practices, this basically means that he will remain in a ‘safe’ place of a drug induced state until the Lord sends His ministering angels to gather his soul and take him before His throne.” By now, though I was even less surprised by their attitude about this. This was exemplified by Kim going on to say, “He really isn’t showing any fear of death and has several times over the last day told me he was going ‘Home.’ … At one point yesterday he said to me, after waking, ‘Am I home?’ And of course, I said, ‘Yes’, without thinking. Then I realized that he meant heaven. And I said, ‘Oh, not yet.’ Yes, he did look disappointed.”
CBJ – Friday, October 18 – With this entry, Kim shares that, “He is ready to go Home. I am ready for him to go Home. I had about two and a half hours alone with him this afternoon. I sang to him as we listened to his favorite songs. I talked to him and told him what a wonderful husband he is and has been for me. I told him what a wonderful spiritual leader of our family (he) was and is….and how much I dearly love him. Then the next thing I knew, I woke up at the side of his bed, holding both of his hands. I had fallen asleep at his side. There are several indicators that tell me he will be Home with Jesus before this Lord’s Day. But only the LORD knows when He will take him. I miss him already – but know that one day we will meet again in heaven. A friend of Ron’s shared with us that he and his wife will meet at the Glassy Sea when they each make their journey to Heaven. I asked Ron if we could meet at the Tree of Live – with the leaves for the healing of the nations. With this sin sick, fallen corrupt world around us – the concept of the healing of the nations is so prominent on my mind lately. He said ok – we could do that. And one day we will.”
FAREWELL OLD FRIEND
CBJ – Saturday, October 19 – Kim was right about Ron being “Home with Jesus before this Lord’s Day.” Her entry this day told us:
My husband of 13 precious years of marriage has been lifted up to His Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by the ministering angels. At 8:32 a.m. this morning, as we ‘waited at the celestial bus stop’, he was taken into the loving arms of His Savior, Jesus Christ. … At Ron’s bedside about 6:30 am this morning, I prayed for Him to take my husband’s soul and leave his ‘body of death’ behind. (That’s what the Bible calls our bodies) At 8:32 am, He answered my prayer. A friend, who lost her husband earlier this year, told me that I would feel an incredible peace after Jesus took Ron home. I do. I know that He is in Heaven with His Lord. And as another friend told me, she imagined Ron dancing at the feet of Jesus. Please don’t weep for Ron. He is with His Lord…dancing and worshiping and singing! But if you don’t know Ron’s and my Lord Jesus, I have one suggestion. Start reading where Ron and I did in the Bible in the Book of John. One day, Ron and I will meet at the Tree of Life – We hope to see you there, too.
Email – October 20 – I wrote:
Hi Kim. If I knew the perfect words to take the pain from your heart, they would be in your ear right now. Thankfully, we can know that Ron has heard the perfect words of our Lord and Savior, as we will some day, when we get to join them. Until then, we comfort each other with that knowledge and in recalling the blessings we had through Ron’s life here. … Unlike God’s perfect plan, my plan would have had a much healthier Ron still with you. But, in God’s perfect plan, I got to get a bit reacquainted with Ron and to get to know you a bit. Also, along with many others, Ruth and I have been richly blessed by the faithful witness of you two to God and to each other. … I hope we can stay connected. …
From Ruth and myself,
With HIS Love,
SHARING THE BLESSING
At the outset, I told you that my purpose in writing this article was to share how I was blessed in reconnecting with my old friend, Ron, at the end of his life and getting to witness how he and his Wife, Kim, embraced God and each other through their final season together. When I said “share”, I didn’t just mean that I wanted to tell you about my blessing. I meant that there is a blessing in this for you too.
If you are a fellow Christian, the blessing for you is getting a great example of what the Apostle Paul alludes to in 2 Timothy 4:6-8 as “finishing well”. In this case, you don’t just get an example of how God gives His children what they need to face the reality of bodily death, with the promise of eternal life beyond. You, also, get a great illustration of how to set an example for those who don’t have Jesus in their life.
However, the greatest blessing here is for you, if you don’t have Jesus in your life. It’s God’s gracious gift of salvation. I’ve heard countless excuses for not accepting this blessing but I’ve never heard a good reason. Although many excuses can sound like good reasons, when you look more closely, that’s because they have a basis in misunderstanding. Most often, it’s a misunderstanding about the difference between justice and mercy and grace. The justice that both Ron and I deserved for our debauchery was death and damnation. God’s mercy allowed us to repent of our sins and to avoid the Justice we deserved. But it was God’s grace that gave us what we did not deserve, eternal life with Him in Heaven. Salvation is God’s gracious gift to you, through Jesus Christ. All you have to do is receive it.
Without The Lord in your life, I don’t know how you could do anything but dread death and go through dying miserably, with no hope beyond. Chuck Smith, our Pastor when we lived in Southern California, who also recently went home to be with The Lord, used to say,”The statistics on death are pretty impressive, 100 out of 100.” In other words, you don’t have a choice whether or not to face death. You only get to choose how you’ll face it. As you consider that choice, let me join Kim in her suggestion that, “… if you don’t know Ron’s and my Lord Jesus, … start reading where Ron and I did in the Bible in the Book of John.” And, I’ll add the suggestion that you find a Bible teaching church in your area, with a body of believers who will lovingly come alongside you with the hope Kim expressed in saying, “One day, Ron and I will meet at the Tree of Life – We hope to see you there, too.”