As William Rang lay dying, his grandson was just coming into the world. This is the story of how they met.
On May 10, 1968, my dad walked into the grade eight classroom of Emmanuel Christian School in Oshawa, Ontario, smoking a cigar. He put one leg of his plaid polyester suit up on a desk and told his students that he’d just had a son.
Years later, they still recall how he beamed.
My dad, William Rienk Rang, was a joyful man. He was the father of four beautiful girls and a son, a dedicated teacher and principal, a musician, a children’s author, and a preacher. At the end of every day, he thanked God for all God’s many blessings.
Sandy and I were expecting our first child. When the labor pains first struck, we were on the highway an hour away from the Oshawa hospital.
As I roared by the other drivers, Sandy sheepishly held up a handwritten sign that said “IN LABOR.”
We got to the hospital and checked in. As soon as Sandy was comfortable, I went to tell my dad we’d arrived.
It was 1995 and I was getting married. We were sitting on the couch when I asked my dad to be my best man.
He paused and said, “Thanks, son. But my place is with your mother.”
“That’s fine,” I said. “But as far as I’m concerned, there’s only one best man.”
Later that night, my dad read from the family Bible in that deep, rumbling, comforting voice of his. I always marveled at the way his strong, thick-veined hands held the Bible like a tiny, precious thing. Like a bird.
At our wedding, a good friend acted as my witness. My parents sat in the front pew, smiling.
I pounded my way up the stairs of the hospital to the eighth floor. I could feel my thighs burning as I took two steps at a time.
My dad was lying propped up on some pillows. My sisters were there with him. He hadn’t spoken or moved in two days.
But when I came into his room, he turned to me and said in a clear voice, “Where is your wife?”
I said, “She’s in labor. We’re going to have a baby soon. I have to go now, OK, Dad?”
His eyes lit up and he said, “OK! OK!”
For minutes afterwards, he kept repeating “Baby, baby!” to himself.
It was 1998. Sandy and I had been married for just over two years. We were visiting my mom and dad in Dunnville, and the evening meal had just ended.
My mom took the Bible down and handed it to Dad. He shook his head. My mom had tears in her eyes.
“He can’t read it,” Mom said. “He can’t remember how to read.”
My dad just shrugged and silently looked down.
When I was little, my dad would make up bedtime stories. I got to pick the main character, a setting, and a challenge facing the hero. Then, in the dark space beside my bed, I’d hear his voice rising and falling and racing with the action.
I could never sleep afterwards. At least not right away. His stories were too good.
At first, Dad’s Alzheimer’s progressed slowly. He’d lose things or forget names. But he was good at covering for his lapses. Then he took a rapid turn for the worse.
Dad was admitted into the Oshawa hospital in January 2004.That night, he swung his fist at my sister and swore at me. The nurses loaded him with sedatives, but he couldn’t calm down.
I walked back to my car sometime after midnight.
I thought about my dad—how he had spoken five languages, had written beautiful poetry, spent 35 years teaching young people to serve the Lord—and I cursed God for turning that man into an empty shell, my words echoing across the cold concrete parking garage and off into the cold night.
On March 1, 2004, the doctors said my dad had 24 hours to live.
The next day, Sandy’s labor began.
Our baby was born 30 hours later. Dad was still with us. I ran up the stairs to tell my family the good news.
My dad was wearing an oxygen mask and was breathing in slow, ragged gasps. His cheeks were sunken, and his eyes were glazed over. I couldn’t tell if he heard me.
Later that night, our nurse wheeled Sandy and my son into the elevator.
When the doors opened, we saw an honor guard of a dozen nurses waiting for us, flanking the hallway on the way to dad’s room. They were all crying.
My whole family was gathered by Dad’s bedside.
I picked up our baby and brought him to my father.
“Dad, there is someone here who wants to meet you. This is my son, William Cameron Rang, your grandson.”
I could barely get the words out.
My dad opened his eyes. My son opened his eyes. They looked at each other for a while—studying each other soundlessly, it seemed to me.
My dad tried to speak but couldn’t. His eyes welled up with tears, and his mouth pulled down as he cried.
Then he lifted his hand to touch his grandson. His hand was dry and thin, like paper.
I told my dad over and over that I loved him and that I would raise my son as he had raised me. That I would strive to be the kind of father that he had been.
Much later, we took William Cameron away, and I went home to sleep.
At just after 4 a.m. on March 4, my brother-in-law called with the news that Dad had died. Four days after being given 24 hours to live.
In late stages of Alzheimer’s, the brain slowly dies away. Eventually the victim cannot eat. Then drink. Then breathe. In my dad’s case, this was hastened by hundreds of small strokes. In the indelicate words of the neurologist, he had “very little brain left” in the last weeks of life.
So there was no medical reason why my dad should have been able to make new memories—to hang on to his life until his grandson was born. To know him when he met him. To speak to me so clearly. To raise his hand. To cry tears from parched eyes.
There is no earthly reason he should have been able to give me this one last, great bedside story.
A story about a man, seemingly robbed of all his gifts—who became a blinding beacon of the awesome power of a loving God.
The nurse put my newborn son in my arms.
I looked down at him.
I felt him small and warm and alive. A tiny, precious thing.
“I understand, Dad,” I said. “I understand.”