My father died in my arms last Friday, May 2. It was a terrifically painful day for us all, as I sat next to him and fed him morphine every 25 minutes to ease his pain. He couldn't talk or open his eyes for very long, but he managed to hold on until he'd seen each of his children and grandchildren. The following are the words I spoke at his service yesterday:
As a young girl, there was nothing I ever wanted more than to please my father. He was the kind of man who wore his accomplishments like clothing. His lapel bore evidence of his involvement with Kiwanis and the city council, his car was always spit-shined and immaculate, his watch was set with military precision. He was the hardest working person I have ever come to know and it was so terribly important to him.
I think that was why people around him always rose to the occasion, too. Having him recognize your efforts and say he was proud of you meant so much. He held himself to such a high standard that it felt awesome to have him acknowledge how much work you put into something.
Having said that, I can recall so many moments where I was struck by his ability to relax, too. I remember one incredibly hot summer day in Klamath Falls where Mom had filled our plastic pool with the hose and set it under the shade of the cherry tree. Chris, Katy and I and were lounging in it to get some relief when Dad came home from work, changed into his jeans, grabbed a Coors Light from the fridge and pulled up a lawn chair. Rolling up his pant legs, he sat down and put his bare feet into the pool, nudging us off to the side, kicked back and popped the top on his beer. We were delighted to have him sharing our cool oasis.
Sometimes in the evenings we would sit around and listen to tapes of Bill Cosby. Dad had such a terrific laugh and a great sense of humor. We spent many hours curled up on the couch together cracking up at the stories of Fat Albert and Cosby’s imaginary conversations between God and Noah.
“Me, Noah, the Lord.”
“I want you to build an ark, Noah.”
“Right…..What’s an ark?”
“Get some wood. Build it 300 cubits by 80 cubits by 40 cubits.”
“Right….What’s a cubit?”
The thing is, my dad would have built that ark. And he would have done a dang good job of it. He was so committed to doing a job and doing it right. He never started something he didn’t finish. He probably would have been pretty impatient about it all, and most likely uttered some not-so-polite phrases in the process, but he would have done it. He never found anything he couldn’t master – sports, fixing his cars, working a budget, barbecuing a steak, being a grandfather. He’d just keep plugging away, faking it if he had to, until he’d made it into something he could be proud of. Giving up wasn’t something Dad understood.
He was a fighter all the way. He held on through the pain and disappointment of his illness, waiting until he’d had a chance to say goodbye to his children and grandchildren, and he’s still here. I will forever carry his tendencies for impatience and perfectionism. My daughters will carry on the legacy of the ‘pickle factory’ they laughed about every time they got together. Chris holds Dad’s passion for sports and everything competitive. Katy has the honor of having him exert himself one last time to wrap his arms around her.
We will find him in places unexpected and strangely appropriate. Every time the Ducks take the field at Autzen Stadium, whenever we see someone waxing their car in the sunshine on a Saturday, watching the planes take off at the Albany airport, hearing his voice in our heads reminding us to check the tire pressure and drive safely…
In so many ways he will remain, making us smile and shake our heads. It turns out he did build an ark – one that we are all on today, resisting this flood of sadness, sailing through together to a day in the future where we can walk a little taller and breathe a little easier, having found our way through the grief to a place where what remains is pure love and light and lessons learned from him. Thanks, Dad.