3 Years in Heaven for Don Knowlton

14 Mar

Tomorrow it will be three years ago that Dad went to heaven.  It was one week short of his 86th birthday.  I miss him. 

The end came pretty quickly.  He fell in the fall of 2008, and suddenly our world was turned upside down.  Mom has Alzheimer’s and Dad was her caregiver.  Suddenly the “junior Knowltons” were her caregivers, and those 19 days living with Mom (until we got her to assisted living) while Dad had moved to the hospital/nursing home were tough.  I stayed with her in their apartment, and got so low that I took to having the kids stay overnight with me while we managed her medications and life.  Dad had been doing that for years.  What an amazing man.  I wish I had helped him more.   

As a little boy, I remember thinking that my dad was the most handsome man around.  Maybe that seems to you like a strange thing to think, let alone to admit to thinking, but I don’t think so.  He was a good-looking guy, but I’m sure my thoughts had more to do with my admiration of him than his chiseled features.


Around age 5, I asked Dad if I was going to heaven.  He said I was the best candidate he knew.  His theology stunk…but his love was over the top.  After I became a Christian at age 18, I was burdened that Dad would know the grace of God that had transformed me. I’ll never forget the Thanksgiving weekend where he and I sat down to talk about the gospel.  I had asked him if he would mind me telling him about what I had learned at West Point.  He was wonderfully gracious.  In a bedroom at my aunt’s house in Decatur, Illinois, I drew out the bridge diagram on a piece of paper, showing two cliffs facing one another, man on one side, God on the other, a chasm of sin between them…and a bridge made of a cross.  I so wanted him to trust in Christ, but he wasn’t ready.  However, I’ll never forget what he said and did. He took the paper, folded it up, and said he would carry it in his wallet and think about it.  Ever after that he would occasionally mention to me: “Son, I’ve still got that diagram you showed me in my wallet.  I’m still thinking.”


Mom had come to Christ also, and was putting in a few good words for the Savior herself.  One Sunday evening as a junior at the University of Illinois, I called them for our weekly chat.  Dad started, “Son, I told you if I ever did this, you would be the first to know, and today…I asked Jesus to be the Lord of my life.”  The biggest prayer I had ever prayed had just been answered.

Dad was the real deal too.  He used to slip me 20 bucks and say, “Don’t tell your mother.”  But one day after his conversion, he said, “Son, if you’re wondering why I haven’t been passing along the cash like before, it’s because the Lord convicted me that your mother and I are one, and I shouldn’t be doing that behind her back.” Never was I so happy not to get money.

Dad took off in his faith.  We all attended Willow Creek Church for a time, and I would be in one section of the large auditorium with the single adult group, and my folks would be in their same seating section across the way every week.  I would watch from afar with joy as Dad served as an usher and communion server.  He and Mom got in a small group, served in Willow’s tape ministry and helped with various Willow conferences.

They moved to Waupun 7 or 8 years ago as we thought it might be wise to have them close in case of health emergencies.  That was prescient.

Though still alive, Mom is in some ways gone too, though not nearly as happy as Dad is right now.  I dropped by to visit her at the Christian Homestead at the start of the day yesterday.  “Who are you?” she asked, without apology, not trying to fake recognition as she has before. “I’m your son,” I said, and she hugged me like she believed it.  Alzheimer’s turns out to be bittersweet.  On the one hand, she doesn’t remember her only child.  On the other hand, she doesn’t have to mourn that she was once married to the handsomest man in town, gone now, but in a far, far better place.


Posted by on March 14, 2012 in Uncategorized


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20 responses to “3 Years in Heaven for Don Knowlton

  1. Wenda Lehman

    March 14, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    so enjoyed the video of pictures (remember it from his funeral) – both of your parents were/are very attractive – what an incredible gift memories are – you sure have a boat load of happy ones and the thing that struck me after watching the video was that your dad seemed to be a happy man – but then he had the things that make for happiness . . .the eternal things . . .


    • rogerknowlton

      March 14, 2012 at 7:23 pm

      Thanks so much, Wenda. Dad’s philosophy was, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” And he lived that out, though he did struggle with depression while caring for Mom in those later years. Old age, as they say, is not for sissies.


  2. Stacey Mathison

    March 14, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    What a beautiful blessing to read your blog today. Thank you for sharing.


    • rogerknowlton

      March 14, 2012 at 7:23 pm

      Thanks so much, Stacey. We really enjoyed our afternoon with you guys the other day. Thanks again, and God bless!


  3. JoAnn Karls

    March 14, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    What an absolutely beautiful tribute to your father. When he held on to that piece of paper til the time was right was like watching a miracle unfold. It’s so unfortunate that your Mom has to live with alzheimer, it’s such a selfish disease. When you wrote about your Mom not remembering her only son, the kleenex box came out and when the video & music started I just about finished off the rest of the box. Thank you for sharing such a story from the heart.


    • rogerknowlton

      March 14, 2012 at 10:13 pm

      Thanks for your kind words, JoAnn. He was quite a guy, and Mom, well, she’s still quite a hoot. She has a sense about me, and sometimes remembers, but the forgetting is more common now. Meanwhile, we wait for the ultimate family reunion.


  4. Marlou VanDeList

    March 14, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    Thinking of you and your dad today Roger. Thanks for sharing those special memories. I remember when you sang “You are My Sunshine” at your dad’s service. It was very emotional for all. I sing that song to Jack at night. I know he’ll always remember that. God bless you and your family!


    • rogerknowlton

      March 15, 2012 at 8:42 am

      So good to hear from you, Marlou! Jack WILL remember that! Say hey to Mark.


  5. Tom Winscher

    March 15, 2012 at 12:18 am

    That was tender. Thank you for sharing!


  6. James Schwindt

    March 15, 2012 at 5:50 am

    I keep wiping the tears away but they keep coming back…

    I think i’m going to take some time to write my dad today.

    Thanks Roger, What a blessing.


    • rogerknowlton

      March 15, 2012 at 8:41 am

      Thanks James. Good to see you this past weekend, brother!


      • James Schwindt

        March 15, 2012 at 7:56 pm

        Not to make light of a touching and excellent topic but I’m going to have to give you a hard time for the short shorts picture. Classic! (We all have those classics…)

        You don’t seem to have changed a bit…..


      • rogerknowlton

        March 15, 2012 at 7:57 pm



  7. Evie Skidmore

    March 15, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Oh Roger you made me cry. The tribute to your Dad was just beautiful. Then the video brought back such memories of all the good times we had all those years in Antioch. Your Dad was probably the most caring and compassionate man I knew. What can I say about your Mom. We had so much fun together and when we were together we would just giggle and have the best of times. Shirley, myself and your Mom would go out and I remember things that were said and done and I still get a big kick out of it. Memories are wonderful. Not only did you have great parents but they have a wonderful son who followered his dreams.


    • rogerknowlton

      March 15, 2012 at 6:12 pm

      Thank you – so great to hear from you! And Mom sure loved being with you gals! Say hello to Don!


  8. Meggan Knox

    March 16, 2012 at 4:19 am

    Thank you so much for sharing your memories of your father and current situation with your mother. I am still pondering your earlier post on death as well.
    You know that song that says “Whom have I in heaven but you? There is nothing on earth I desire besides you…”? I think it’s “God is the strength of my heart” or something. We sing that quite a bit here. Lots of 80s/90s worship music from the States has been translated here. Anyways, I always feel a little weird singing that because for those of us with loved ones with the Lord, there IS someone else. But, I think that’s okay. Without the Lord, that reunion would be impossible. So, as long as we keep the Lord in his rightful place.
    Okay – time to get Andy some breakfast!


    • rogerknowlton

      March 16, 2012 at 7:05 am

      Hey Meggan,
      Yeah, that’s an interesting thought from Psalm 73, not unlike David’s confession in Psalm 51: “Against Thee, Thee alone have I sinned.” You want to say, “Really, what about Uriah and Uriah’s mom and a host of others?” But, ultimately, God weighs out in the balance infinitely more than all others.
      See ya,


  9. David Dahl

    March 18, 2012 at 11:10 pm

    Don was a remarkable man and a trusted friend. Your stories touched my soul. Your father had a smile that matched any grandslam batter.

    Thanks for sharing your dad’s belief in Jesus as his Savior!



    • rogerknowlton

      March 19, 2012 at 9:03 am

      Thanks for your kind thoughts, David. You have been an immense blessing to my family.



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