On September 29th, we said goodbye to Dad as he finally went to rest after a very difficult battle with cancer. This post shares the eulogy I gave at his memorial services.
It is an incredibly wrong thing, to try and sum up the life of a man such as my Dad in just a few pages. I rocked in his overstuffed easy chair while I wrote. I started and stopped and started again. Only to stop again. I found that every thread of memories I pulled at unraveled a lifetime of memories that I will carry with me always. Rather than trying to write a cohesive talk, I began scribbling memories as they came to me. Phrases that would seem to be the strangest collection of words to anyone besides my mom, myself, and my brother, but to us they are an archive of our lives with Dad. I’d like to share a few favorites with you.
The miracle. As many of you know, my Dad fought cancer once before, when I was a teenager in high school. The odds were not in his favor. Shortly before a major surgery, a couple men from church gave him a blessing. In their blessing, they asked God to assist the doctors in performing their best. Just before surgery, a doctor reviewed Dad’s blood work and had a funny feeling about one of the numbers. Despite the entire surgery being prepped, my dad being under anesthesia, and other doctors and patients waiting for the OR, the doctor couldn’t shake the feeling and had the blood work run again while everyone waited. Sure enough, the results showed Dad’s blood to be too thin for surgery and it was cancelled. Had the doctor proceeded, Dad would have died. It might have just been that the doctor was very good. That story might have turned out the same way, regardless of the blessing. But dad always chose to believe differently—counting it as one of life’s miracles in which we are able to glimpse God’s hand. Dad taught us to not only believe in God, but to trust in Him and look for Him in our lives.
Dad also taught us to believe in family. Which brings me to my next story – uno and pizza in Costa Rica. (This story goes by another name in our family, but it wasn’t appropriate to share with the bishop here.) In 2008, my family spent an incredible time traveling the country of Costa Rica. We split our time between the capitol, San Jose, for cultural experience, the Arenol Volcano for outdoor adventures, and the coast for some beach time. Nothing like beach time with beautiful cloud covered skies and rain thundering down on our beach. Trapped to the confines of our tiny villa, Mom and Dad, and James and I, all sat sprawled on Mom and Dad’s bed, playing uno and eating dominos pizza of all things. We played cards and we cheated. We ate too much pizza and argued over rules. James and I lovingly smashed pillows into each others’ faces, while Dad took advantage of our distraction to cheat some more. We laughed until we cried and to this day, I thank God that he blessed our beach vacation with rain. When we sit and remember Costa Rica, we don’t talk about how incredible the hiking at the volcano was. We don’t talk about the architecture of the capitol city. I try not to talk about rappelling down the waterfalls, because, much to my chagrin, my mom made it down in half the time it took me, a fact my Dad found hilarious. But what we remember most about Costa Rica is that night playing uno. I believe this memory is so important to us, because, as we learned through my Dad’s example, family was and is everything that matters. There was nothing more important to him than his family and he taught us to trust and believe in each other.
Dad also taught us to believe in love and friendship. It is impossible to speak of my Dad without also speaking of my Mom, because they were one. Together they created a fairy tale family—a blessing I will never ever be able to thank God enough for. Mom and Dad taught me that while marriage isn’t perfect, love and friendship are perfect. Dad was always so proud to tell people of my mom’s quilting and explain, at length, that quilting was truly an art. When we had a hard homework question, Dad always pointed us to Mom and told us over and over again that she was the smartest person he’d ever met. And Dad’s advice to us from childhood was to marry our best friend, because he had married his. Despite my dad’s acceptance of what was to come, he had his rare down moments. In one of them, my mom and I sat by his hospital bed and I asked if he was okay. Quite simply, he said, “I don’t want to be without Mom.” It is the dream of every girl everywhere to be loved that much. He taught us to believe in love.
Dad also taught us to believe that anything is possible. When I was a kid, too young to drive, I asked for a mini cooper for Christmas. At the time, I dreamed of being a secret agent, speaking 10 different languages, kicking butt, and driving around in a flashy mini cooper. (The movie the Italian Job may or may not have just come out.) Dad gave me a matchbox mini cooper, topped with flags from around the world, and a note that told me to never give up on my dreams, no matter how big or how mini they might be. From the time we were little, Dad facilitated our every dream, paving the way and encouraging us, no matter how many times the dream changed. Dad never gave me any idea that I couldn’t be whomever I wanted to be. He made me not only believe, but know, that I could do anything.
My dad is silliness and giggles, funny faces and Legos. He is white mint chocolate chip ice cream and jumping in rain puddles–bonus points if you splash mom. He is a 50 minute lecture when you only wanted five. He is the only one in the family who spoke the language of Fig Newtons and claimed every time mom made a trip to the grocery store that he could hear them calling. He is movie nights and board game nights. He is pinewood derbies and the wildflower festival. He is an undiscovered speed walker with Olympic potential . . . Something we kids reminded him of every time we charged through an airport. He is physics nights and computer games. He is and always will be the voice in my head telling me to dream big. Very big. Because you just never know.
Dad’s favorite movie was the bucket list. As was his way, he never failed to remind us what he found so special about the movie, even if we had already heard his story a first, a second, or a lot of times. He’d nod his head in acknowledgement and tell it to you again. So allow me to tell you for him.
The movie is about two men battling cancer, two men who, in the beginning, are very different strangers. One man, an atheist billionaire and the other a faithful car mechanic. But in shared circumstance and good humor, and with the help of the billionaire’s personal assistant named Thomas, the two men embark on an incredible venture they call the bucket list. This includes things like skydiving and kissing the most beautiful girl in the world, a task the billionaire accomplishes when he kisses his granddaughter for the very first time. The bucket list also included witnessing something majestic. The two men attempt to do so from one of the highest peaks in the world but are unable to do so before one, and then the other passes away. At the end of the movie, it shows Thomas, the assistant, burying the mens’ ashes in the snow at the peak of the mountain. As he does he pulls out the bucket list and crosses out the last remaining item of witnessing something majestic.
My dad loved to tell this story and with tears in his eyes, explain that he believed that it was not the two men witnessing something majestic from beyond the grave that completed the list, but Thomas. Thomas who had seen the two men have a profound effect on each other, teach each other, and help the other believe in something. He had witnessed their majestic friendship.
Well, Dad. Don’t worry. Not only have I told everyone that story one more time. But your bucket list did not go unfinished. As I said, dad battled cancer once before. He came to terms with the terrible odds given him by the doctor but said that he had two regrets. First, that he would never bounce a grandchild on his knee. And second, that he would never walk his daughter down the aisle.
But Dad got a miracle and in 2011, he was there when my brother James’s son, Cooper James Ray, was born. And my dad was able to play with his grandson and watch his own son James become an incredible father. Something he remarked on often. And in 2014 he walked me down the aisle and sent me off with butterfly kisses. After he was re-diagnosed with cancer again, a battle no one should have to fight twice, all I could think about was how unfair it was. But being Dad, he firmly assured me that he and God were all good, because Dad had gotten the extra time he needed. As always, even as the convert in our family, he had the strongest, unshakeable faith.
It would take a lifetime to tell you how much Dad loved his family, because that’s exactly how much love he gave—a lifetime’s worth. A lifetime of play time and board games. A lifetime of stomping in rain puddles and toe dancing. A lifetime of laughter and lame jokes and magical Christmas mornings.
Dad, we have witnessed your majestic life. You have had a profound impact on so many, most of all your family. You have taught us so much, and until the very end and even now, you have made sure that we believe in God, in love, in ourselves, and that anything is possible.
Dad, I already miss you. I will miss our talks about the future. I will miss the sound of your laugh. I will miss your slower than snail mail attempts at text messaging and your secret stash of Fig Newtons. Say hi to Grandma and our Grandpas for us. But most of all, please be waiting at the gates to wrap me in a hug the moment that I get there. Because I know, as you taught me, that families are forever. We love you so much.