Last Saturday I officiated at the memorial service for my father-in-law, Bill Swedberg. He died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 84, a victim of Parkinson’s Syndrome. The service was held at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, where Bill’s wife is buried (and also my father and my maternal grandparents).
Bill was able to die at home, thanks to the commitment of his children, most of all his daughter, Debbie, who cared for him for years and oversaw and contributed to his professional care in the last, difficult months. Debbie gave her dad a huge gift. I know she received much in return from this dear man.
Bill’s last act on this earth was watching on television as his beloved L.A. Dodgers won the final game of the National League Division series, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals. I expect that Bill died a happy man. And, by God’s grace, he did not have to witness the debacle of the Dodgers versus the Phillies in the National League Championship Series. (I’m assuming that, in Heaven, you don’t get to watch your favorite teams mess up big time.)
But Bill was a happy man for much more important reasons. He grew up in Wisconsin, then in Glendale, California. He fought in World War II, in Patton’s army, where he experienced the horrors of war as well as the trial of sleeping in a foxhole in sub-zero winter temperatures. Yet such trials didn’t break Bill’s spirit. Rather, they gave him the ability to appreciate life’s gifts and never to be upset by the pains of ordinary life. It if wasn’t World War II, it wasn’t worth getting too upset about. (Like many of his generation, Bill rarely spoke of his experiences in World War II. When I asked him some detailed questions, though, he was glad to share. He served in a reconnaissance unit in Patton’s army, regularly going behind enemy lines to report on their actions and configurations. Obviously, his life was often in danger, and he saw many fellow soldiers lose their lives.)
Bill’s greatest joy in life was his family, his wife, Marion, who beat him to Heaven by a couple of decades, his four children (including my wife, Linda), and his many grandchildren. He was also an extraordinarily faithful son and son-in-law, caring for his mother until her death at 100 and his mother-in-law during her last years. (Photo: Bill with his four children and one dog.)
Bill worked as an insurance agent, but he was never much of a salesman. What he loved was being with and caring for people. Selling insurance was simply a way to support his family while he served the people in his “book” of clients.
Bill was a faithful Christian. Late in life, as his body began to fail him, he talked with great anticipation of going to Heaven to be with the Lord (and his dear wife). In fact, I have never known someone more eager to leave this life behind because of his confidence in Christ.
Bill was an exceedingly kind man. He was always good to me, beginning with our first meeting. He graciously gave his consent to my wish to marry his daughter, and became a supportive father-in-law and loving grandfather. He always showed an interest in me and my work. He even tolerated my driving, which he considered to be way too fast. (I tend to drive a little faster than the speed limit. Bill may never have hit a speed limit in his driving life.) He would often say, “Pastors always are speeders.”
As I think about Bill’s life, I’m reminded of a passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col 3:12). Bill Swedberg lived out these virtues more consistently than anyone I’ve known. This isn’t just a grieving son-in-law speaking or a preacher with a tendency to exaggerate. These words – “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” – describe Bill to a T. I can’t think of a better tribute to offer him.
We who loved Bill will miss him. In truth, we began missing him a couple of years ago, when his disease slowly took him away from us. But we give thanks to God for his life well lived, as well as for his life everlasting with God.