This is, more or less, what I said at my Dad’s funeral yesterday:
It doesn’t really feel like it at the moment, but I know
that I am really, really lucky. I don’t
have a single bad memory about my dad, unless you count the times that I had to
tell him goodbye or all the time that I spent missing him. I remember things like him reading to me,
teaching me how to ride a two-wheeler in Grandmommie’s driveway on Christmas
day, him carrying me out of the hospital after I had surgery when I was little,
and him being at all my soccer games, cheering for me.
Here is a story that I think says so much about my father
and the kind of person he was: In the late 70s he had an apartment in Garland and
Jay and I stayed with him every single weekend.
The apartment was so little – just one bedroom, one bathroom, a kitchen,
a little living room, and a teeny dining area with a sliding door that opened
up onto a little patio. Jay and I slept
on a black and white fold-out houndstooth sofa with foam cushions. Remember that, Jay? One day we were a little stir crazy, and so
dad opened the sliding glass door, and opened the window in his bedroom, which
was low to the ground and also looked out on the patio. He took out the window screen and told us
that we could run in circles from his bedroom, through the window, onto the
porch, into the dining area, through the hall, and then back to his
bedroom. And so we did- we ran and ran
and ran, laughing the whole time. When I
was older and had kids, he told me that I needed to be sure that I always lived
in a house that had circles for the kids to run in. So I do, and always will, even when I’m a
grandmother and great-grandmother.
My dad planned to be there when I was born, which was a
newish thing in 1970. He went to the
childbirth classes and came to the hospital with lollipops and a paper bag for
my mom, in case her mouth was dry or she hyperventilated. He wanted to see me be born, but the doctor
on call that night said no. My
grandmother, Margaret, told me that when she got to the hospital while my mom was still in
labor, she found him completely dejected, sitting in the hallway on a chair,
his elbows on his knees, his chin in his hands, holding the paper bag. She said it was the saddest thing she’d ever
seen in her whole life. “Poor Stanley!”
I tried to be there for my dad when he died. When Jeani called me the Saturday before last
and told me that things were looking bad for him, I booked a redeye out of San
Francisco the next night and got to Houston at 8 in the morning on Monday. I grabbed a cab at the airport and was in his
room before 9. He slept for almost the
whole day, except for the time when the nurse stopped his sedation so he could
wake up and tell me hello. He was back
on a ventilator and couldn’t speak, so he took a pen and wrote on his notepad,
“I am so tired,” and “I’m so glad you came.”
Jeani read him a wonderful letter that Jay had emailed her.
I wanted to sleep in his ICU room that night, but I’d been
awake the whole night before, flying, and the nurses encouraged me and Jeani both
to go home and rest. The next day was
supposed to be big; they were going to remove the chest tube that had gone in a
few days before to give him relief from his collapsed lung. Before we left, I was sitting in a chair at
the foot of his bed and looking at him sleeping there. He was sitting up partway because of the
ventilator and his head was turned to his left.
I wanted to climb in the bed next to him and put my arms around his
shoulders so that his head could rest on my shoulder, but we could hardly even
give him a hug with all the wires from his IV and ventilator, his chest tube
and heart monitor. When we left I gave
his hand a squeeze, rested my hand on his shoulder, kissed his cheek, and told
him that I loved him, that I’d see him early in the morning when Jay got there
At 12:01 on Tuesday morning I finally got into bed and tried
to sleep. It was June 21st, the summer solstice, a date that dad
always appreciated and sometimes even made sangria on. It was the longest day of the year, and what
would turn out to be the longest day of my life. At 1:24 Jeani woke me up, saying, “Jeni, it’s
time. We need to get to the hospital.” We got dressed and drove over, only to find
that he’d died at 1:27.
A lot of small and large details had to be attended to, and
so Jeani and I did that and then planned to sleep before driving to
Sherman. We never did rest, but we got
on the road a little before 2pm and made our way through rain and forest fires
up to Sherman where my dad grew up. We
got to grandma’s house after dinnertime, and we hugged her and cried with her
and I couldn’t hardly look around because every single thing I saw held all
these memories. After an evening spent
visiting around the table, Jeani and I went to bed just before midnight in my
dad’s old bedroom, the one he grew up in.
There was a thunderstorm, and as we went to sleep the windows lit up
with lightening and I counted one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, all the way
up to twenty before the thunder came and I pictured my dad as a little
blonde-haired boy doing the exact same thing in the exact same place.
It’s funny, sometimes, the things that make you think of
people. Last summer, when I went to
Houston for a weekend, my dad and I were cooking supper together and he said,
“You know, I read something really interesting and once I thought about it, it
made perfect sense: When you crack an egg, instead of cracking the shell on the
side of a bowl or the pan, you should just hold it longways and strike it flat
against the counter top. It makes a
cleaner break and you’re less likely to get eggshell in your eggs.” Then he briefly explained the physics to me
of why that was. I break a lot of
eggs. A lot. See those four kids there? They love eggs and banana bread and cupcakes
and frittata. Ever since my dad taught
me that, every single time I have cracked an egg I’ve thought of him. And now maybe you will, too.
My dad taught me so many, many things, and the most
important of them were things he taught me by example. He taught me to be considerate, to give
people the benefit of the doubt, to not be judgmental, and to be patient. He taught me that honesty is best, even when
it’s the more difficult choice, and he taught me to treat everyone with
In March when I found out that he’d been diagnosed with
kidney cancer, I spent many days feeling like I was underwater and in a
dream. Jay and I booked a trip to visit
him, together, at the end of April, and I couldn’t wait to go see him. On April 1st dad was hospitalized and Jay
immediately got on a plane to be with him, even though he had just become a
papa for the second time to sweet little Oliver who was born nearly two months
early. I arrived the next day. Dad couldn’t talk, because he was on a
ventilator, but he wrote notes. Lots and
lots of notes. One of my favorite
stories from that time was when a young male nurse came in to check on him. He’d been napping and the nurse woke him up. Dad asked for his pen and paper and he wrote,
“You aren’t nearly as cute as my sister.”
We all looked at him, wondering what on earth he meant by that. He continued, “She was bringing me an ice
cold beer, but then you came and woke me up!”
Another time, when his friend Richard was visiting, he asked Jeani to
tell the story of their very eventful first date, and he used a pen and paper
to add his details to the story. Even
without his voice, my dad was a wonderful storyteller.
I was there the first time he had his ventilator removed and
he could speak again. He told me that
he’d had a great life. He told me that
he’d been blessed with an amazing family, that he absolutely loved his career,
and that he was honored and humbled by the outpouring of love sent his way when
he became ill. He told me that he was
lucky, and that even if he didn’t live much longer, it was okay, because he’d
had the best life he could have ever hoped for.
That was BEAUTIFUL, Jen. I’m sure your father is very proud of you.
And I’m so sorry for your loss.
I’m so sorry, Jen. Reading that just made my heart ache for the love and loss contained there.
What a beautiful post…it made me cry. I almost lost my father 2 years ago and I flew across the country from HI to NC in a panic. He made it, but he’s in poor health and I know it won’t be long before I make the same trek. I hope you find peace in knowing your Dad lived a great life. My thoughts are with you during this time.
My dad died three months ago yesterday…so I can’t even say anything except, my thoughts are with you. xox
Jen, I am so sorry you lost your Dad! He sounds like a wonderful person, I am envious. Take care of yourself.