Posted on Apr 1, 2016 in Blog |
I think I knew Dad wasn’t going to survive on the second day of his hospitalization. He was having so much trouble breathing. I was rubbing his head and trying to comfort him. The most frequent question we asked was, “What do you need Dad?” And this one time he replied with, “I just need to REST.” The finality of his statement loomed heavily in the room that night.
I started this eulogy two weeks ago when we first learned of Dad’s terminal diagnosis. It started out as “Dad’s Words” – some things Dad wanted to make sure were said in a particular, articulate manner.
I believe that if he had the energy to prepare for his Judgment Day with God, Dad probably would have written his own eulogy. It wasn’t about bragging on himself. Rather, it was important for Dad to make certain that each of you understand why he did what he did in life. And he asked me to explain it for him.
There is nothing quite like having to a write a eulogy for someone as superstar as my father. And, when he asked me to read him my rough draft just 24 hours after being given the assignment, I was intimidated.
The best way I know to honor my father on this day, is to not only relay the words he wanted me to share with you, but to also tell you how he responded at certain points when I read him his own eulogy.
Just two months prior to his death he was parasailing in Turks and Caicos with two of his granddaughters. Mom and Dad had gifted all 17 family members with the vacation of a lifetime, which was a life changing, healing event for everyone.
When Dad was initially pondering the safety and sanity of parasailing at age 86, Heather responded, “Granddaddy, if you died while parasailing, that would make you such a badass.” To which he chuckled and agreed and said, “Let’s do it.”
On Monday, February 29th, our lives changed forever. Dad was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit for pneumonia and sepsis. Dad fought with every cell in his body to beat the disease. But at week three, doctors told us this was terminal. We were shocked. Dumbfounded. I think we still are.
Some of the physicians said, “It’s always hard to tell. You could live maybe another two to six months.” Dad looked around at them and bluntly stated, “Listen, if it’s my time to go, I’m not wasting it sitting around here. It’s nonsense to do such a thing. Let’s get on with this.”
I remember standing there thinking, “Well, it’s not like anyone can help you with this sort of thing.” But Dad was determined. And he was tired. So very tired. He needed to REST.
But within days of signing all the necessary papers and saying goodbye to his lone surviving sibling, Dad started to pull away, disconnect. He died just one week after learning of his terminal diagnosis. Dad had a strong will and I think he used it to hasten his death and to end our suffering.
For the 26 days that Dad was in the hospital, we had many conversations. Twenty-six days and nights of pure, simple love between a father and his daughters and his wife. We each said everything we needed and wanted to.
None of us has any regrets except for the big one: that one of the most amazing men in this nation, in this Commonwealth, in our family, has died too soon. Most of the following comes as excerpts from some of those conversations.
Dad said, “When God wrote the book of my life, He failed to mention this last paragraph. This is NOT how my life was supposed to end.”
With mom’s history of having strokes over the previous 20 years, he thought for sure she would die before he did. He was bewildered by why God would take him now.
Dad spent days upon days providing us with To Do lists, passwords to accounts, even telling us where to find his Fairfax County Library card. He updated all of his affairs so no one would need to worry about anything.
Dad ALWAYS felt a deep sense of responsibility to his family and his final days were a clear example of this.
I think this is a significant part of why Dad hung on – his major concern was about how mom would be taken care of after his death. I think he tried to bargain with God on this one point for a few days.
(At this point, as I was reading, Dad grabbed a hold of my hand, never to release it until I finished. Tears fell from his face. I had hit a raw nerve. It was obvious that Dad was still trying to bargain with God for more time.)
So this is where I am assigning a task to each of you on Dad’s behalf. I ask between today and October 15th, which is Dad’s birthday, that each of you in this room, make physical contact with our Mom. Come and have lunch or dinner with her at Greenspring. Drive her to visit Dad’s grave. Take her to a movie. Bring some tea and scones to her apartment. Do something with our mom in person. This gives you six months to let her know she is not alone and to show Dad we are all indeed taking care of her.
Dad reassured us that he was not fearful of dying. “I don’t know what’s on the other side, but I am not afraid.” He called himself an “unchurched Protestant” after formally resigning from his original religious organization. That group had instituted changes in their tenets that Dad could no longer accept or abide by. But Dad didn’t want me to give you details of this, because he didn’t want to offend anyone.
Dad was raised in a church-going family, and he continued that tradition with the three daughters, attending weekly. We said Grace before each meal. We prayed in times of need and in times of gratitude.
Dad believed in God, Jesus Christ as his Savior, and the Holy Spirit. He was very private about his faith but he was strong in that faith. Dad felt strongly that one person’s spiritual program should not be pushed on anyone else. It is between God and each human being.
Dad summed up his life fairly simply – – “Throughout my life, I didn’t want to offend anyone. I just wanted to do good, help people, and not hurt anyone.”
Dad felt very strongly that he had an angel on his shoulder throughout his entire life.
“Every negative event in my life was always, ALWAYS followed by an incredible gift. I was very fortunate to have many miracles in my life.”
When I asked him what the miracles were, he mentioned one and then chuckled and said, “There have been so many miracles in my life that I didn’t always see them.”
Dad also believed in hard work. “I believe God has a plan, but just in case the plan doesn’t work, I want to know I did everything I could to make it all come to fruition.”
He also believed that “the harder you work, the luckier you become.” By that notion, I can only assume that the BDM employees were some of the luckiest people ever.
Dad was a man of honor. Every person I have met who knew Dad has told me so. Dad was honorable in his 64 years of marriage to Mom. He was honorable in his friendships, and he was honorable in his business relationships. For 30 years at BDM, he had opportunities to work with what I would term “nefarious characters.” And he chose not to. Honor was THAT important to him.
(This is when Dad gave me the thumbs up and whispered, “Spot on.”)
Dad never broke a promise to me. Never in 53 years. He didn’t make many promises either.
Dad always had a strong sense of right and wrong. We have a running joke in our family about “Do the Right Thing.” It’s usually attributed to when Dad was trying to control things in a situation. He explained he was just trying to do the right thing. And he expected it of others as well.
But doing the right thing ran deep in Dad’s veins from early childhood. It was a core value he took very seriously. He always tried to do the right thing, to make the right choice.
Dad was born just two weeks before the start of the Great Depression. Having survived that and World War II, he entered ROTC in high school, preparing for deployment to Korea. Instead, he was pulled out of signal corps school and then sent to the army’s special weapons branch.
This reassignment to White Sands, New Mexico was the beginning of Dad’s dedication to defending our nation’s freedom for the next 40 years.
Dad was kind, a gentleman, always opening the door for others, literally and figuratively. He used words like reckon, yonder, y’all, and cattywampus. In almost any discussion, he could persuade you to his side like a southern minister calling the sinners to the pulpit.
Dad told jokes often and he told them well.
Dad would chase us around the house acting like a gorilla, jumping on the beds even and then tickling us until we screamed for him to stop.
He was the official quality control taster for anything that might leave our house such as cookies, brownies. He took this particular job very seriously.
Mom and Dad raised three daughters in the 1970s who were taught we could do anything we wanted to. Anything. They paid for our undergraduate and graduate degrees. Dad reinforced to us that education would lead to more opportunities for growth and change. And he was right. He and Mom paid for the college educations for some other people in this room as well.
And they raised three such different daughters. It baffles me sometimes. Our Masters degrees are in Business Administration, Nursing, and Education. We chose three very different occupations as well. Gayle is the medical expert. Carol is the logistics coordinator. And I am the writer. And in raising each of us, they honored our strengths and allowed each of us to flourish uniquely and independently. Dad did this for many other women throughout their careers at a time when most men did not.
One morning when the nurses were positioning dad to prevent bedsores, they laid his arms on pillows. I chuckled and said, “Dad you look like you are sitting on a throne! Maybe you were an Egyptian pharaoh in a previous lifetime!” He smiled. “Maybe,” he replied.
And that got me thinking.
Dad always said, “Don’t bury me with anything valuable. I’ll be dead. I won’t need it.”
But pharaohs were always buried with many treasures to help them in the next life.
So, Dad, last night, when I saw you for the last time, when I whispered goodbye in your ear, I slipped a few things into your coat pocket, just in case you need them:
- The gypsum sand of White Sands, New Mexico where you and I each began our careers, yours in national defense, mine in writing.
- A shell and sand that Jeff brought to me from his beach excursions at Turks and Caicos – a reminder of the best vacation ever.
- A heart shaped stone – to represent the shatterproof, unconditional love you shared with your family and friends on a daily basis.
- And lastly, a little bit of Jeff’s Backyard Eden honey. The dark honey. I know it was your favorite honey and it will carry your sweetness into the next dimension.
Dad, your job on Earth has come to an end. You did it very well. I promise you we will take care of Mom. And we will all be ok.
Today, we offer you the rest that you so dearly needed and asked for less than a month ago.
May you finally rest in the eternal peace of God’s love.
I love you, Dad.