I received an email from a reader of this blog a few weeks ago. Lois Uptigrove shared her eulogy for her friend Delane with me, and I asked her to edit it a little bit so you could enjoy this portrait of a life well lived as well.
Delane Ohlhauser was born in 1932 in the farming town of Carbon, Alberta, Canada, the 6th child of Jacob and Pauline Ohlhauser. He was an active healthy child until three years old when a bout of meningitis with a high fever left him with lifelong brain damage. Life then unfolded differently for Delane. Opportunities for education, social inclusion and employment were very limited in those times for people with disabilities. But work is natural for all people, and Scripture is clear that having purpose both builds up individuals and strengthens community: “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives” (Titus 3:14).
In 1968 Delane began work at the local Baptist church as the assistant custodian and for almost 30 years he found joy in his work. Many people with Delane’s challenges don’t have the opportunity to find a job that helps build dignity, but the church was able to stand in the gap to help Delane lead a happy and productive life. If the doors of the church were open then Delane was there. Setting up chairs, warming up the gym for floor hockey or finding the storage location of absolutely anything people could ask for – these were Delane’s specialties.
Sports was another passion for Delane and provided an emotional outlet and a strong community, even tribal, connection. Delane was truly the super-fan for the Calgary Flames hockey team and the Canadian Football League Stampeders. No one really minded if an evening service was going a bit long and Delane couldn’t help but call out for goals or touchdowns, depending on the season, as he listened to his transistor with an earphone. He could always pull scrap paper from his pocket where he had recorded the recent game scores to initiate celebration or commiseration with other fans.
Inclusion in school settings or employment is regularly debated in society, but in the Body of Christ there should be no debate, the only acceptable action is the unconditional acceptance and love we all share in Christ. Once Delane joined a church program he simply never left; his “agelessness” seemed to free him from the silos that characterize modern church programing. Delane cheered on generations of boys in Christian Service Brigade launching bottle rockets, had coffee with generations of youth and college and career, bowled with generations of seniors and it seems obvious that we could all learn a great deal from the way he drew people in with his quick smile and great memory for names.
My personal experience with Delane began the day I met my future husband. Barry invited me to coffee with huge group of other “20-somethings” after a Sunday night service. I soon learned that whatever social event Barry was at with the college and career Delane would be there too. So if it was coffee and a Rook game at someone’s house, or gathered tables at a local restaurant, Delane would be a quiet and happy member of the gang. As Barry and I started dating he explained to me that he was Delane’s ride and hence we would have a chaperone. Well, I highly recommend the opportunity to see the man you might consider marrying, showing care, loyalty and love to someone who thrived in simply being included. I treasure the many dates that Barry and Delane took me on! And I was greatly honored for Delane to be an usher at our wedding.
As we have walked through life with Delane we could look at him and see limitations in communication, independence and intellect; or we could choose to engage with Delane and quickly see that patience is the bridge to understanding, vulnerability is the key to community and that each of our gifts are unique and complimentary. Delane faced challenges, but he lived a beautiful simple faith that those of us with the handicaps of our own strength often struggle to rest in. Let’s rejoice in the impact of this shining teacher among us. Joni Erickson Tada puts it beautifully – “But if by faith you will offer a sacrifice of praise to God in the midst of your pain today, the resulting radiance will shine further than you could begin to imagine “
Lois Uptigrove is a layperson who loves serving through a church plant in the community centre in her neighbourhood in Calgary, Canada. She is the privileged and adored wife of 25 years of Barry, and the devoted mom of 3 teenage girls. She is pursuing certification in Mediation and hopes to engage in advocacy for the elderly and disabled.