Gone on before: Charles Harmon’s heavenly message | Opinion

“Rest in peace Uncle. It’s OK. You’re just going to be gone on before.” Those were my last words to an uncle that was like a second dad to my brother and me growing up. Until Uncle Charlie’s funeral service on Feb. 25, the words “Gone on Before” from Larry Cordle’s 2017 song were mere words that embellished my thoughts for my eventual departure message from this world. On that day they echoed an Easter-like message of hope that left me in awe and amazed to alter my original celebration remarks with a much simpler opening, “God is great.”

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To understand this divine event, let us turn the clock back from Feb. 25 to fall 2020. Starting in October, Charles (aka “Bugs” to his oldest friends) was placed in a local transitional care unit after minor surgery and becoming COVID-19 positive. While in transitional care, he developed bed sores and was losing weight.

In talking on the telephone with Charles, I could sense his desperation and discontent. His stepson, Edwin, agreed something needed to be done. Charles’ oldest step-granddaughter, an executive for a health care conglomerate in Birmingham, Alabama, encouraged her dad to move him to one of her facilities in Rome, Georgia. After a few days, Charles was greeted as the very first patient at this facility with a parade of staff. He was treated like a king during his time there. His bed sores reversed course and he gained weight. Over the next weeks Charles cited, “Page saved my live” even though he grew lonely from being remote from everyone he knew. He especially missed home, however.

As one can imagine, the difficult discussions involving assisted care intensified. After much contemplation and prayer, Charles realized he needed home health care if he were to live at home, and he returned Feb. 11. With his agreement to accept assistance he triumphantly returned home on Feb. 11. He certainly was a site for sore eyes when I saw and hugged him. His smile that day reminded me of the story he had told me several times over the past two years since his wife’s passing when he was far from home and homesick as a young man. He cited many times my mom (his sister) and dad saved his life and brought him home. He was happy to be home then and this time again.

The next day Charles’ doctor ordered home health services. On Sunday, a nurse visited. A different nurse arrived on Monday while I was with him. She explained the proper usage for two types of insulin. She said she would be back on Tuesday to set up the diabetes monitor that needed to charge overnight. Typically, she would not be back until Wednesday.

On Feb. 15, his case manager stopped by for a visit. Uncle Charlie had a lighthearted and comical chat with him. All was good as Uncle Charlie confirmed to the manager that he accepted various services either provided for seniors or by private pay.

Upon the case manager’s departure, Uncle Charlie said, “I didn’t realize I was so bad off.” I reassured him that he was not really that bad off, but everyone needs assistance to regain their strength. He seemed comforted in those words, but I think after being treated like a king for a few months he did not realize all the things required to live at home when he was not strong enough to drive. To some degree his idea of home was shattered, which elevated the thought of being bad off. I made him some oats and toast with a banana and glass of chocolate milk for supper. He ate every bite and said, “I really appreciate you” as I was about to leave. I again reassured him all would be fine with home health services. As usual, I told him that I loved him, and I would see him tomorrow.

At 12:57 p.m. Feb.16, the heartbreaking text arrived from Edwin: “Dad found unresponsive. Breathing. On the way to emergency room.” Thankfully, the home health nurse found him. Charles had fallen 12 feet from exactly where his wife fell two years earlier. The ER prognosis was possibly hours to live when I arrived around 3:15 p.m. Massive inoperable hemorrhage in both brain hemispheres possibly due to a stroke or having not been found for an undetermined number of hours. He was moved to the comfort care unit and granted unlimited visitation free of COVID restrictions.

Feb. 18, at about 4 p.m., the nurse started him on a morphine drip and ended injections. Listening to him gasp and gurgle for air over a few days made me think about how happy he was to be home even for a short time. He was dying where he wanted. Around 5:30 p.m. I departed with the words that started this message. Five hours later he went on before.

Graveside services were arranged per Charles’ wishes. I and my brother were told we could make a few remarks. In preparation for the service, many of his friends were contacted.

Among his friends contacted was Denny Johnson, who lived in Illinois and performed music in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg during the summers. Charles and his wife had become friends with him and went to watch him sing often. They spoke of him, but I never remembered his name. Unbeknownst to me, Mr. Johnson said he was coming to the graveside service to sing a song. I discovered later he lived 400 miles from Blount County.

Stepson Edwin opened by proclaiming that we would celebrate Charles’ life and that of Jesus. Mr. Johnson sang one of Charles’ and his wife’s favorite songs: “Smoky Mountain Girl,” I believe was the title. It was an original by Mr. Johnson. Then a few other family members spoke. Then Mr. Johnson sang with a little variation “Gone on Before.” Wow! It hit me and nobody else could understand the significance. Then it was my turn to speak.

My entire planned remarks were reduced to “God is Great” as I shared the improbable odds that Mr. Johnson sang that song to celebrate Charles and Jesus. The very song I had downloaded and intended to play. There was no need as it was live, raw and a divine message. Unbeknownst to anyone until now, it was Uncle Charlie’s message back to me that he heard my last words to him.

Believe or not, but the astronomical odds cannot be denied that two people, hundreds of miles apart, out of the thousands of gospel songs, could have picked the same one when they did not know about each other. A relatively new and unknown song compared to hundreds of traditional hymns.

Without a doubt Uncle Charlie died happy. His flesh lost the battle to gravity, but his eternal life rose to be with the Father. Thank you, Larry Cordle and the writers because Charles Harmon’s heavenly message “Gone on Before” reinforces Jesus’ Easter resurrection for hope that I will see him again one day. Rest in peace Uncle, you’ve just gone on before. I will see you again one day.

Maryville resident Alan DeBusk did tours in the U.S. Army and at Ford Aerospace Corporation. He is a retired banker from First Horizon and currently manages his consulting business and supports Maryville City Schools’ special education behavior management program.

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