It’s very hard to encapsulate fully what my father meant to me, what he meant to my sisters and to my mother, to his family and his friends.
Watching someone suffer with illness is never easy. And it is certainly never fair. With dad, we had ten years to try to come to terms with reality. And even though we have been planning this event for several months, the fact that this day is here, that his journey in this life is truly over, is breathtakingly hard.
I could share my memories about my father with all of you all day long. Like the way my sisters and I would run across the drive way with bare feet when we saw his truck pulling down the lane, his oldies music blaring loudly even though the windows were rolled up, and we were all sure that one day he would go deaf prematurely. He was always glad to see us.
The way he and my mother danced to Eric Clapton in the living room, with the gas logs burning in the background, and the Christmas tree that he had cut down stationed in the corner.
The way he was always found in the furthest corners of the yard, clearing something, tilling something, growing something, a calming presence as steady as the sun, in his element for sure.
My favorite memory of him is actually a collection of sorts. Nearly all of them seem to point back to the same things: his almost endless patience, and his gentle goodness.
Sunday afternoon naps were sacred for my father when he worked as a golf course superintendent. He would toil away for eighty hours a week during the warmest months of the year and in the cooler planting season in the fall.
His one respite sometimes was that he could come home early on a Sunday afternoon (after he had already been at work since 5 a.m.), and take a nap.
Usually, it was one of us girls would wake him up asking ridiculous questions, probably in a veiled effort to keep tabs on him. He was the lone man in a house of four women. And we made it our sacred duty to mind every single thing he did. It was a tiring operation. Little did we know what a production it would become as the years went on.
On this particular Sunday, it was one of my dozen or so chickens that woke him from his nap with crowing outside of his window.
None of us girls were home at this point, so my dad rashly decided to take matters into his own hands, which usually had a fifty-fifty shot of turning out poorly. He stomped out on to our back deck, near to where the chickens were, his rifle stuffed in the crook of his arm. He had decided to fire a flare into the air in a bid to scare every last chicken away.
Unfortunately for him, one of the pieces of the flare splintered off as he fired, striking the offending chicken square in the chest, blowing his head clear off.
My dad stood on the deck in his slippers, totally speechless, and was not long after joined by my mother who had since returned home. Together they cleaned up the mess, his nap affectively ruined, and concocted a story about the now missing chicken to tell my sisters and me.
For dad, there was hardly ever peace. But he always seemed to welcome such interruptions, and calamity, knowing that it was the price you paid for living a full life, full of people you love. He always let us be ourselves while we were in his orbit, usually content with who we were, amused by our going’s on, content to quietly watch.
I thought that the day my dad died would be the worst day of my life.
Not long after he passed, I slowly began to realize that it was actually the days ahead that would be the worst. When the phone stopped ringing on Tuesday afternoons, and my dad’s voice wasn’t on the other line just calling to chat. It’s been him not being there for French toast (his favorite) on Christmas morning. It’s knowing that chocolate is now safe at my mother’s house, and how it won’t go missing within three hours because my dad just had to have one more bite. It’s not being able to remark about the weather to him on a perfect day.
It’s knowing that us girls and my mom will move on with our lives, and that we can’t share it all with him.
I have seen it written, and believe it is true, that grief is just love. Pent up love, frustratingly and achingly, with nowhere to go. The current of which you have to painfully redirect elsewhere.
One of the worst parts is quite simply not being able to tell him how much we all miss him. It’s figuring out what to do with all of that love we had, the immense love that we maybe didn’t even realize how strongly we felt until now.
In every setback, every medical emergency, every day that his body grew just a touch more fragile, dad always seemed to have the remedy. Because there was always more hope than pessimism for dad.
He never believed the end would come so soon, because in his mind, there was always still more work to do. In his mind, he would be eighty, watching his grandchild graduate high school, still giving my mother a hard time.
Dad in his abundant patience knew to keep cultivating. To keep going, even with the ground was unforgiving, even when it didn’t rain and drought had set in. He knew to keep tending to his work, until something would give. Until something new would come of it.
Dad hardly ever seemed encumbered by the portion that God gave Him. A cup full of peace and easy-going contentment, but also at times marred with sorrow and depression, anger and resentment. And when he was tossed about, what spilled out of him was usually the best that he had to offer.
Dad made it look easy to have that much faith. It was almost annoying at times.
Dad was always preoccupied with worry for others, with taking care of others. When he was badly burned in an accident in our backyard one late August afternoon, I remember him on the stretcher, being carried out by paramedics, an oxygen mask over his face. He pulled down the mask and turned to us girls and asked if we were alright. When I was sick as a little girl, I remembered my dad telling me how he wished he could trade places with me, to take my misery on himself.
I know that if he were here, he would still be worried for each of us. He would want for us to be okay. And, maybe even more importantly, he would want for us to know that it was okay.
I know that this is harder on us now than it is on my father. I know that we all see as in a mirror dimly lit, incomplete and impartially. He would tell us that God brings about redemption in each one of our shortcomings, turning something useless into something restored and usable. Maybe just not in the ways that we expect.
He would tell us that as the suffering sets in, that we can still find the goodness in this life. It’s just buried deep now. Waiting to emerge, little by little, to find its way to the sun. Hard times and sorrow are very real. But even more so is goodness. And hope. And it is hope that will win the day, every single time.
Hope is what sustained my father. Hope in healing in this life, or hope in complete restoration in the life to follow. He chose hope, happily. He seemed to have figured out that we are more than the cheap shots that life occasionally takes at us. We are more than bodies that wither. Goodness outlasts the bad ten fold, long after each of us is gone. Our choice then becomes how much goodness we will choose to take to heart and live out, and to believe in while we are here. We cannot choose our portion, but we can choose to make peace with it.
Now I see my dad in places I never did before. In a perfect fall day. In every chocolate milkshake I have enjoyed since August. In the oldies song on the radio, on days where I can roll the car windows down and walk barefoot outside.
His hope has become my hope, more than ever.
His work is now all our work. In our lives, there is hope. May we plant it deep.
And let it be.