What should have been the last moments of Bill Habing’s life
were as dramatic to him as fifth period physics.
I said, this is what everybody told me was going to happen,
Habing said recently.
It was a fact, and it wasn’t any big deal.
What should have been the last moments of Bill Habing’s life were as dramatic to him as fifth period physics.
“I said, this is what everybody told me was going to happen,” Habing said recently. “It was a fact, and it wasn’t any big deal.”
Habing, flying down Uvas Road, west of Gilroy, at about 55 miles per hour, smacked his motorcycle head on into a pick-up truck, planted against the grill and then flew 120 feet in the opposite direction. Before he lost consciousness, he asked a bystander to remove his helmet and was refused. He asked to be put back on his bike so he could get home. “You’re not going anywhere, buddy,” was his reply.
Habing said he knew he was dead, but it didn’t work out that way. He was rushed to a San Jose hospital. He spent two weeks in a coma. His kidneys failed.
“It was an awful time for us,” Habing’s mother, Ruth, said. “It’s a miracle that he’s alive.”
Habing estimates that he was on the verge of death seven times while he was in a coma.
“I went through seven scenarios of dying,” he said, “but in the coma I could hear people praying. I would imagine it, dream it, but I knew they were there. I would be about to die, and then I would hear someone call my name, and I would come back. I know it was those people who kept me alive.”
“We thought we were going to lose him,” Habing’s younger brother, Jim, said. “He’s dodged a bullet a few times before, but he’s always been good at coming back. He’s like a cat, and I think we’re seeing his seventh or eighth life. It was a miracle.”
Habing spent four months in three different medical facilities. After his release around Thanksgiving 2002, he spent several more months in physical therapy recovering from multiple compound fractures. His recovery was complicated by his Parkinson’s disease and the deteriorating side effects of various pain medications. At different times, Habing was on darvaset, oxycontin and methadone, at doses more than twice those of an addict trying to kick heroin.
He did his best to put on a happy face for his wife, Gloria, and his grandchildren, but he spent 2004, “faking it.”
“I found out why people commit suicide,” he said. “There was nothing happy about my life. The whole year was terrible, but I knew God was with me.”
And as he had many times since becoming an evangelical Christian in 1981, Habing turned to God. It was the night of Jan. 3, 2005. Habing was on the floor, crying. Two-and-a-half years after his accident he still couldn’t walk without terrible pain. He still couldn’t sleep in his own bed.
His wife asked what she could do. Nothing, was his reply. The first half of his life was happy, he thought, maybe it was his time to learn about sorrow. Habing prayed.
“I said to God, if you don’t heal me, I don’t have any reason to live,” Habing remembered about the day he decided to stop taking his pain medication. “I got my life back that day.”
And since that day, Habing is back in his bed, sleeping better than he has in years. He’s resigned himself to walking on crutches when he has to, but gets around mostly in a wheelchair. He gave up his electric scooter to try and stay in shape.
His body is wracked with scars of his accidents and surgeries. His left leg juts out at an angle that would making walking difficult even if his slowly advancing Parkinson’s wasn’t taking away control of his feet. He plays the drums to exercise his legs.
Habing, 53, was born and raised in Gilroy and lived here for most of his life. His brothers Jim and Steve run Habing Family Funeral Home, the city’s only mortuary. Bill Habing has worked there off and on over the years, but in his younger days he preferred the construction business because it was a better fit for his lifestyle.
Before turning to Christianity, he lived something of a wild life. In the late 1960s he was married to Paula Jones, the mother of his oldest son, Michael, for three days. Almost immediately afterward he married Wendy, with whom he had three more children, Sheila, Ben and Don. But Habing wasn’t exactly a family man.
“I wasn’t a drug addict, but I was a user. I was a drunk. I liked to party and it got me in trouble,” he said.
Habing was arrested several times for drug and alcohol-related offenses. When he was 18 he was arrested for transporting a minor across state lines (it was his 15-year-old girlfriend). One day in court, a judge told him that he was “a burr in the saddle of society.”
Then in January 1981, shortly after he got out of rehab, Habing was persuaded to go to Gilroy’s First Baptist Church. He resisted but was intrigued by a preacher rumored to have memorized the entire Bible.
“He told me that my problem was sin and the answer was God,” Habing remembered. “I thought, I’m going to do whatever these people tell me to do and then maybe I’ll get better. I haven’t been the same since. Of course, nobody’s been the same since 1981.”
Habing helped start a ministry in Hollister called the Church on San Juan Road.
“It wasn’t really a normal church,” he said. “We let homeless farm workers sleep in the pews. We had some buildings out back where we had about 40 parolees living.”
And whether it’s an ex-con or someone who’s just landed on the street, Habing’s quick to offer a roof to someone who needs it.
“He’ll give you the shirt off his back and the food from his table,” Jim Habing said. “Just go to his home and you’ll see that.”
When he began his ministry, Habing was still married to Wendy, but that was about to end. At first she was thrilled that he had cleaned up. He wasn’t coming home drunk anymore, tearing up the house. But she didn’t share his commitment to his new way of life. There was soon another woman in his life. Habing met Gloria in church. After they had been out a few times he asked her to marry him and she said yes. Gloria Habing now teaches kindergarten at Eliot Elementary School.
The marriage is the real miracle
“She’s a remarkable person. I have the best marriage anybody can have,” Habing said. “The miracle of my life is that I married Gloria.”
The Hollister church lasted about a decade (I’ve never been good with dates,” Habing said, “and then I got hit in the head”). Habing wanted to start a church in Gilroy, but was soon afflicted with Parkinson’s. He returned to the construction field and worked at times at Habing Funeral Home, which is owned by his brothers Jim and Steve.
Despite his disease, he kept riding dirt bikes and motorcycles, working with children and waiting for the right time to start a new ministry. His life was interrupted, and for a while, he hoped he would die. Then God came back into his life. Now Habing is working to open a youth center in Gilroy.
“He does everything 110 percent,” Jim Habing said. “He’s definitely got Jesus Christ in his life, and he wants to spread that. Hopefully, he can use his accident as a tool to guide our youth.”
Barring a cure for Parkinson’s, Habing will slowly lose control of his nervous system until the disease kills him, but he believes he’ll live long enough to do what God sent him here to do.
“As soon as God touched my life,” he said. “I got my vision back, my drive, my will to live. Now I know it won’t be over until God is done with me.”