On December 4th, 2009 my Dad passed away. It has been 3 years yet I can still remember that day so clearly. It’s amazing how distinctly I can remember certain things, while what I did last Saturday is a haze. How one life can forever change in an instant. Yet by the same token, seemingly mundane memories…Dad buying all the bake sale cookies made with Pam (we were out of butter) so that I wouldn’t make the neighbors sick, flying for the first time and asking if we’d see God in the clouds (his response, God lives on a much higher cloud than these), learning how to play cribbage…these are so much more acute now that he’s gone. Perhaps because I realize I need to hold on to the memories I have, knowing I can create no more.
Many of my friends today didn’t know my Dad. Didn’t know what a wonderfully talented, amazing and caring person he was. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe how awesome my Dad was, nor how I felt about him. But perhaps this video which was put together by a dear family friend, Kate Booth, can show you just a hint of the love he had of life, and the love that those around him felt for him.
If you’re still around after that, I will share with you the eulogy I prepared for my Dad’s memorial service. It’s long but if you’ve made it through the video, you can read my parting words to my Dad below.
A tribute to my Dad
As a child I was a true Daddy’s girl and that continued into adulthood. How could I not be? He was a kind, loving, caring man who truly loved life, his family and friends. I thought long and hard about what I could share with you today about my Dad. How could I express what he meant to my brother and I, as well as the rest of our family? But the more I thought about it the more I realize that there are just certain things you can’t put into words. So I thought I’d share with you a few stories I remember about him in hopes that they will bring smiles, tears and perhaps make you remember a story about him that was buried in your sub-conscious that you can hold on to during this time of remembrance.
My first memories of my Dad were ones of adoration. But also of doing anything I could to NOT disappoint him. I remember when I was about 4 years old and in a hardware supply store with my Mom. I believe my Mom was having a key made. I stood by a stand that had padlocks on it and for some reason I wanted one…I imagined it sitting on my dresser with all my other knick knacks. Who knows what I would do with it. I just wanted it. And so being a silly child, I took it off the rack and put it in my pocket. Well, of course my Mom noticed it and made me put it back and apologize to the person who worked at the store. But the worst part about it all was as we were driving home she told me that I had to tell my Dad what I had done. I knew how disappointed he would be in me. As I walked into our house, sobbing and falling to the floor (yes, some of you may have experienced my dramatic flair…) I told him what I had done. While I knew he was disappointed, my Dad was able to forgive me. He had forgiveness.
A few years later around age 8 or 9 I recall a Saturday morning where I was dusting. It was one of my weekly chores to dust the living room and as I was dusting, the television was on and I was watching a Lassie movie. I got so enthralled with it I stopped my dusting to watch it. I recall Lassie going into a burning building to save the people who were stuck inside and Lassie not getting out. I was so upset not knowing if she had been able to escape the fire or if she had died. My Dad silently walked up behind me, grabbed the dusting cloth and wiped the tears from my eyes and said, ‘don’t worry, it’s just a movie.’ My Dad had compassion.
My Dad was also a character. He loved jokes and he loved to make people laugh. Usually whenever he’d tell a joke it was one that made me roll my eyes, but always smile at the end. I recall getting several emails when I was away at college with funny stories and jokes. They were always very dry and slap-shticky, but that was my Dad. For those of you who knew him in the musical theatre capacity, you remember his fun vocal exercises of “rubber-baby-buggy-bumpers” and “she-sells-sea-shells-by-the-sea-shore”. My Dad always tried to make everything he did fun. My Dad had joy.
My Dad loved music. From a young age it was no doubt apparent that he was going to be a great singer. He sang in USO shows in Okinawa, he did professional musical theatre here in the bay area and he sang in various choirs and men’s groups. My Dad had a great sensitivity to music and he loved sharing it with people. Whether it was singing at your wedding, or having the patience to work with you to get you to sing a song in a show, he wanted to be a part of that. I’ve heard from many people that he sang The Lord’s Prayer better than anyone. I’ve also heard from people who have worked with my Dad over the years who speak of what an influence he was in their musical lives…whether it was in setting them on the path to music or giving them the courage to get up in front of a group to sing, my Dad was a teacher in the greatest sense. His soul was filled with music.
My Dad had a strong faith in God. He was a member of this church for 20+ years; involved in the choir, volunteering with the church at the Garlic Festival as well as being a part of the men’s group. His faith was quiet but strong. When he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in the mid-90’s I believe he put a lot of trust in God. He had the love and support not only from his family and friends, but from his church. My Dad had faith.
We last saw my Dad in August of last year. Our family was having a large reunion with people coming from as far away as Sweden. My Aunts, brother and I knew it was something my Dad had to attend and so we flew him out as a birthday surprise. Although the Parkinson’s had begun to severely affect his body, he was still able to walk out and sit amongst his cousins, sisters, kids, nieces and nephews, and feel the love we had for him. Everyone came up to him to talk with him as you saw in some of the pictures in the video. He was loved by everyone. As we all were sitting there I decided I wanted to sing for him. Most of you know my Dad passed on his gift of music to me and it’s something that has been a huge part of my life. I don’t know what made me decide to sing that day. As much as I love to sing, I’m not one to “break into song” without being prepared. But something told me that I should sing for him. A lot of the family gathered around and I sang a song by Stephen Schwartz called The Meadowlark from the musical, The Baker’s Wife. It’s a song I’ve never performed but always loved. As I finished singing, I looked over at my Dad and there were tears in his eyes. I could see the love there and how proud he was of me. That is an image that will stick with me forever. That was the last time he heard me sing.
Through the last years of his life I got into the habit of playing a little game with him where I’d say, “Daddy, guess what?” He’d ask what and I’d say, “I love you”. He quickly caught on and so whenever I’d say, “Daddy, guess what?” he’d reply back, “I love you”. And so I started saying, yes, that’s right. While my Dad’s life was short, it was very full. I can only imagine that he is looking down on us now from heaven with the rest of his family and friends who are there and basking in the love that is resonating from this church today. My Dad knew how much he was loved. And while he is physically gone from us, he is not truly gone. I was at a memorial service for a friend a few weekends ago who was sadly taken from us too soon. He was a part of my choir and his best friend (and our director) made a good point to remind us that every time we sing, he is a part of the light and resonance that exists around us. That is how I feel about my Dad. Every time I sing I will feel his presence around me and I endeavor you to feel the same way. He loved all his family and friends dearly and that love will be a part of us for the rest of our lives.
So I end with sharing a poem that gives me hope and faith through all of this and I hope you will take solace in it as well.
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I do not die.
Okay, if you’ve made it this far, bless you. I realize this is a long post. And I’ll end with this:
Three years gone and I still miss you, Dad. I pass by your picture every day and I wonder if you would be proud of the woman I’ve become. I imagine you cheering my successes, and comforting me in my sadness. Every time I harmonize with the radio, I think of you. When I make a corny joke, it is inspired in some way by you. I’d like to think you are proud of me Dad because you see, so much of who I am is a reflection of you. I love you.