In 2008 my father-in-law, Tillman Comstock, Jr., passed away on March 19, which happens also to be his youngest daughter’s birthday. At his memorial service, which happened to be on Easter weekend of that year, I offered the following tribute to a man whose faithful friendship to others so clearly expressed the heart of God.
Each year we experience joy in the constellation of Candace’s birthday, Junior’s passing, and the hope of Easter. May this tribute to a kind and faithful friend renew your hope also for our future gathering together.
Happy birthday, dear Candace!
Tillman Comstock, Jr., was a faithful friend of all who knew him, and a faithful friend of God.
The famous Oklahoman Will Rogers once said,
“I never met a man I didn’t like.”
Junior never met a man that he didn’t like, but always found something interesting in everyone. Jr. greeted everyone with a warm welcome and an unassuming friendliness. The children’s television host Mr. Rogers always said,
“I like you just the way you are.”
Junior was that way: you could always tell that he genuinely cared about you. Whenever and wherever he found himself, Junior treated all persons with respect and friendliness. Junior was a combination of Will Rogers and Mr. Rogers in this giant capacity for friendship.
As the photographs of Junior and Phyllis through the years show, he was a loving and devoted friend to his lovely bride of 60 years. Phyllis, you gave him joy and companionship throughout all those years, and cared for him lovingly through all the suffering he endured. Today we thank you and celebrate your love and life together.
As the photographs of Junior with his children and grandchildren show, he was a father whose love created a home rich in memories of fatherly care and lasting friendship. Cheryl, Craig and Candace, you have given him great joy and delight through all these years, and it is our honor to celebrate his life with you today.
Junior found a joy in life that could not be diminished. Junior welcomed life like he welcomed people. He enjoyed the outdoors. In my favorite photograph he is standing next to Beaver Lake in Colorado, on the Continental Divide. That is how I picture him now in heaven, standing beside the quiet waters, drinking in the fresh air and mountain scenery. Another photograph captures the day he taught my daughters to fish in the pond behind their home in the country. He loved boating, and passed on to his children a fierce love of water skiing. Other photographs tell of the joy he gave others through humorous acting, whether wearing a blond wig as Buck Owens, a black wig as Loretta Lynne, or posing as the apostle James in the Last Supper.
It is difficult to put into words the kind of friendship and joy in life that Junior gave to others, but the Hebrews had a word for it that is difficult to translate into English. In the Psalms and other places, the Bible speaks of God’s hesed, a special kind of friendship. Hesed friendship is a combination of goodness and kindness, expressed in loyal deeds of devotion. A hesed friendship is an unchanging love. Depending on your version of the Bible, Hesed may be translated as lovingkindness (NAS); steadfast love (ESV); unfailing love (NIV); or faithful love (NJB).
Hesed is the lovingkindness of God described In Psa. 23:6:
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
God’s friendship with us is a hesed friendship. Junior showed us that same kind of friendship. Junior was a hesed friend, and so he showed us what the friendship of God looks like that we so desperately need. I thank God that Junior is now in the house of the Lord, enjoying the steadfast love, the hesed friendship of the Lord, face to face.
Junior was a hesed friend to many, a loyal, faithful, devoted servant of others. He showed us what it looks like to accept others just as they are, to think of others’ needs before his own, to affirm others with warmth and caring, to help others whether they asked for it or not. I know that many people here can tell us how Junior rescued them from some kind of mess, without holding it against them, but with the loyalty of true friendship. Junior was a hesed friend. We who have known the hesed friendship of Junior Comstock have seen the steadfast love of God. The photographs tell a hundred stories, and each of us could tell many more.
Cheryl, Craig and Candace, you carry inside you this mark of your father, this capacity for hesed friendship. In Junior’s children, grandchildren, and other descendants I see the same determination to help others, to do good, to keep the faith in loyal friendship.
Psa. 31:7 describes hesed as God’s steadfast love:
“I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;”
Jr. has been no stranger to affliction since a farming accident confined him to a wheelchair in 1985. This affliction he carried quietly without giving in, day after day, year after year, for 23 years. As someone said yesterday, “What a spirit that man had!”
Jr. never complained about his own situation in my presence, and many others have told me the same. Over the last few days I have heard this same comment repeated more frequently than any other: that Jr. never complained about his condition or his pain. He only spoke up to help others. In the midst of all his affliction, he found the amazing quiet strength to make the best of any circumstance, to find joy in ordinary life, to look out for the welfare of other people, to make the world a better place, wherever he was.
Jr. was patient, and he didn’t blame God or become bitter about lost opportunities in this life. In all his affliction, he never ceased rejoicing in life and bringing joy to others (2 Co 7:4). In this way Jr. shared in the sufferings of Christ, and suffered for Christ’s sake (Col 1:24). Just as the sufferings of Christ flowed over into his life, so he was able to comfort and inspire us because of his patient endurance (2 Co 1:5-6). Jr. knew how to get along whether in good times or bad; in any and every circumstance (Phil 4:12). Junior’s 23 years of affliction prepared for him an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Co 4:16).
This is the man we celebrate, honor and admire together today.
A year after the accident in 1986, Jr. walked Candace down the aisle in our wedding. Thereafter Jr. and Phyllis made 11 trips to Oklahoma in their RV, camping out behind our apartment and spending time with our young daughters. Jr. would read books to them until all would fall asleep. He would watch them dance and ask them all about the things that were most important to them. He would take them and their friends on trips around the block with his 3-wheeler. Or he would give them wheel-chair rides. I am so glad that my daughters will treasure warm memories of their grandpa Jr. for the rest of their lives, and there are 10 other grandchildren who I’m sure can say the same.
Whether in the family, farm, church, or even more recently at the Scotland County Care Center, Tillman Comstock, Jr., was a faithful friend of all who knew him, and a faithful friend of God.
God is not ashamed to be called his God (Heb 11:16).
On Jr’s homecoming March 19th, angels stood up to cheer and welcome this friend of God as he strode into heaven. And he definitely walks now, free of all affliction.
The words of the prophet have come true for him:
“Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:30-31)
March 19th is Candace’s birthday. In future years our celebration of this day will be doubled. What we have known as a celebration of life and birth, will now double as a celebration of re-birth, re-creation, of Junior’s re-birthday.
An old Scottish song speaks of the parting of a friend:
You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,
and you’ll be in Scotland before me.
Jr. has taken the high road. We’re still on the low road. He’s now in heaven, he’s gone on ahead of us. We are blessed, but heaven is better. Heaven is more like home than ever now.