Every Sunday when folks arrive at the double doors at Northwest Hills United Methodist Church, volunteers are there to greet them with hugs, handshakes, and chatter. Inside the doors, sits a special greeter in his wheelchair, armed with a smile and a firm handshake. I’ve grown to look forward to Lee Whetherhult’s greetings. He always says the same thing as he clasps my hand in his. “You brought that great smile with you today.”
The last few Sundays Lee hasn’t been in his usual spot. Unease crept into my heart. He never misses. I learned in Sunday school class last week that his cancer had progressed to the point that he had been moved to hospice. I can’t understand how this could happen so quickly. He was at church in December. He died on Sunday, Jan. 22.
There’s a phrase in Spanish that I’ve never been able to translate to my satisfaction. “No me pasa.” A teacher in one of my University of Costa Rica classes used it when a student passed away suddenly. It means the idea can’t get through your head. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s incomprehensible. That’s how I feel about Lee. I didn’t know him personally, but he had a tremendous impact on the members of the NWH congregation who knew his story.
His decline didn’t happen quickly. It only seemed that way to me. Lee had stage IV cancer. The doctors said they couldn’t do anymore for him. He made the choice to continue to come to church every Sunday, even though that meant taking a VIA Trans shuttle that delivered him very early, much earlier than necessary. He decided to use that time to make others feel welcome and comfortable. He became a fixture at that front door. He became the hands and feet of Christ even though he didn’t leave his wheelchair.
I know his presence meant a lot to everyone whose life he touched with this simple act of service. But its significance to me was profound. I too have a Stage IV cancer diagnosis, although mine is currently in remission. I came to that door, sick and tired from chemo, and after surgery. I continued to come to that door as my hair fell out, I wore scarves and hats, and then my hair started to grow back. I completed chemo and started to feel better. Lee was always there with that comforting smile through it all. He looked at me as if he understood what I was going through. Because he did.
Next Sunday he won’t be there. But the example he set is fixed in my heart. The light of his faith shone in him for all to see. It’s like that children’s song, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” Lee’s light shone with a brilliance that reminds me that he knew he would not walk that last hundred yards alone. No matter what the future brings, neither do any of us, if we adopt Lee’s faith and his courage.
Thank you and rest your sweet soul in peace, Mr. Lee.