Jan. 18, 2011 — Have you ever felt like turning around and heading back in time to the most idyllic time you can remember? I know I can’t really do that. Those times really only exist in my dreams, but I must say 2011 has not started off the way I’d prefer. The truth is the longer I am on this planet, the more death I see and have to process. Death is the juxtaposition to living, but for the first four days of the New Year I had a friend or acquaintance die.
On Jan. 1, a dear old friend of 88 died. He had been living in a nursing home for the past few years, and his health had been declining. We called him Grandpa Vern because he and his lovely wife Lila willingly would watch my youngest when we had youth pastoring events to go on. He was always smiling, and I know if he could he would say, “I’m home with Jesus; rejoice!”
Several days later friend called to let me know his nephew who went to Lassen High School died from complications of diabetes, and he was hoping I could get the word out to classmates. Sean Flores was all of 20. Barely enough time to live. He died Jan. 3.
On Jan. 4 one of my dearest friends, Karen, said goodbye to her father who needed special care for years. Her grief is palatable, but at the same time she is so relieved that her dad is no longer suffering. Life was hard on this man, and now he is at peace.
The hardest death and the most puzzling to me happened on Jan. 2 when Robert McElrath was found on the Bizz Johnson Trail. I spent the week, as patiently as I could, waiting for the Lassen County Sheriff’s Department to issue a press release on how Officer McElrath died. Getting the press release made his death real. But after four days of rumors, I did not hear one negative thing about Rob. That is such a strong testament to who he was and how he will be remembered. Besides being a Susanville police officer of great integrity, he was a man that everyone liked.
I am so glad I had the privilege to know Rob within the parameters of his job, and when he was not working. He liked to smile. He was proud of his children. He comes from a loving family. He was caring and compassionate.
In the next few weeks, many of us will fondly recall stories of Rob, and I would like to share one with you.
In 2007 we moved my mother-in-law to Susanville because of her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. As the disease got worse, she liked to wander from her home and often the police needed to intervene so she would not hurt herself. If Rob was on duty and heard her name coming from the dispatch center, he would take the call because he knew Jon and me. He got to know Jon’s mom, and she got to the point that she recognized his face at different events. That was comforting.
This coming week, more information will be released on circumstances surrounding Rob’s death. There will also be more speculation on why and how.
Today I send my thoughts and prayers to the McElrath and Beckett families. Also to the Susanville police officers and the LCSO deputies, I send my condolences.
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