I have so many different thoughts about everything that's happened since January 12th, but even though it still does not feel right at all that my Dad is not around anymore, life does go on. My job continues to take so much of my time and energy (there are still many parts of each day that are crazy, but there are more and more moments where I feel like things are coming together better), and Zoe and Ella have so much going on with their own school activities and almost six-year old lives (which is another topic that's hard for me to take in). Most days I don't feel like I'm doing a great job as a teacher OR as a mom -- the days that are hard are really really hard, but the days that go well feel SO good. One of many things I'm behind on is blogging -- documenting our adventures with Ella and Zoe. I have a lot to share but for now I'm going to focus on my Dad.
Dad's funeral was on a very cold, but bright and sunny Minnesota winter day.
We had a visitation prior to the service and it was estimated that over 300 people came throughout the afternoon, despite being in the middle of a work day in the middle of the week. And those people that took the time out of their day to hug my mom, sister, brother and me; to share their own stories about my Dad; to let us know how much he meant to them and how much he will be missed --- to pay tribute to my Dad --- were a combination of family, my Mom and Dad's friends, friends of my sister and brother, my friends, past teachers the three of us had in elementary and high school, business aquantences of Dad's from over the years and even friends of his grandchildren. The church was full of older people and younger people, and people in-between -- and they all had some connection to my Dad. I think that says a lot about what kind of guy he was.
The service itself was what my Mom was hoping for and was a funeral my Dad would have really liked. It was a perfect tribute to him -- very personal and special. My mom's handbell choir played 'Let There Be Peace on Earth', the whole congregation sang 'You are My Sunshine' and our family exited the church to 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame'. It really was perfect -- Dad would have loved it. We decided on a private burial at the cemetery so we had the military rights performed outside of the church, which was very touching, but because it was so cold out the bagpipe player couldn't play at the cemetery like we had planned. Dad was buried with his childhood baseball and baseball mitt -- again, perfect.
Driving back to the church for the reception Ella started to quietly sob. I wasn't sure if she was really overwhelmed with all of the emotions or if she was feeling sick (right after Dad died she was diagnosed with scarlet fever). When I asked her she started to cry harder and told me she was just really sad. It broke my heart. It was the first time I couldn't really comfort one of my daughters. I felt the same way and completely understood, I was really sad too and seeing my girls in pain made me even more sad. The only thing that made me smile a little, as we drove back into the church parking lot Ella said between tears, 'Oh no! I don't want to go back there again.'. I didn't either, I totally understood those thoughts too.
When Dad died I knew I wanted to write about him, I needed to. But I wasn't sure if I would be able to actually read what I had written at his service (I cry easily at touching commercials so I knew speaking anyone's funeral, let alone my Dad's, would be hard for me). Those few days right after he died were full of so many strange experiences, so many different emotions, so many things that needed to be done, lots of tears but lots of laughing, and a sick kid to take care too. It was a lot. It was great having time with my family but there were also so many moments that were just plain surreal (all of this still feels that way to me in many ways). One time I actually prepared some soup for Dad, knowing that it would be too rich for Mom but that Dad would really like it ..... and quite a few times I thought one of my uncles was my Dad, until he turned around and I would see his beard.
Two nights before his funeral I sat down and wrote about my Dad. It was really a rough draft but it felt really good to get on paper. When we planned Dad's funeral I shared that I would like to read what I had written. I felt good about it all -- almost (not fully), confident. That night I couldn't sleep (which I hadn't been able to that much since Dad died), and felt almost sick thinking about standing up in front of a group of people trying to read without crying. I told Tom I couldn't do it, he told me I didn't have to. I told my family I couldn't do it, they told me I didn't have to. We decided if I felt up to it I could but if not my sister would read for me, or I could just keep my writing and know that getting those thoughts down on paper was enough. That night Tom edited what I had written and the morning of Dad's funeral I felt better and thought maybe I could do it, but I still was glad I had the option of not reading if I didn't feel I could. We decided all three of us (my sister, brother and me) and my sister's kids (Elise and Jack) would go up together. It wasn't my greatest attempt at public speaking but I did it, and the only way I was able to was having my sister and brother next to me -- and the only two people I looked at while I read were my Mom and Tom. Jennifer also read what Jack and Elise had written about their Grampa (which was very touching) and my brother did a great job speaking too. We all stood together and shared our Dad and Grampa -- and it felt really right. I think he would have really liked that part.
This is what I wrote and read:
My Dad was a complex person who found joy in the so-called simpler things in life. He had many interests and was successful in his working life, but he had a passion for the outdoors -- hunting, fishing, all types of sports. He loved quality one-on-one time with his dogs over the years, especially Maggie, and loved the art of woodworking -- making finely crafted creations of all types in his basement workshop. But what he loved above and beyond anything, and absolutely lived for, was simply time with his family.
The following inspirational poem, 'Success', by Ralph Waldo Emerson, could have been a blueprint for how Dad lived his life:
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better,
whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.
Dad enjoyed trying to make the day of each person he encountered just a little bit better, a little brighter -- and he usually succeeded. His trademark firm handshake, sincere look in his eyes, and warm smile always gave people the feeling this was a guy who was happy to see them and glad to spend time with them. That simple, warm feeling that he conveyed -- all too rare in today's fast-paced world -- was enjoyed by countless people over the years after spending time with Dad.
He was someone who rarely, if ever, raised his voice, yet he held the respect of many people (even his beloved dog Maggie needed only a whisper of a command to follow through with his requests). As a confident, yet very sensitive guy, Dad had an uncanny way of bringing calm to almost any person or situation.
The night after Dad died I was looking through some of the things left out in his bedroom -- photos, papers, and so on -- when I saw his wallet sitting out on his dresser. It was a typical "Dad wallet" -- well-worn black leather, very thick -- I picked it up and flipped it open. The first few things I saw in there seemed to sum up who Dad was: his driver's license had a nice picture of him (despite being a driver's license photo), showing his usual warm smile. I noticed he was listed as a 'donor', even though at this stage in his life he may well not have been healthy enough for donation, it was typical that he'd figure if there's even a small chance of helping someone else in some way, he'd take the chance. The next thing I saw in the wallet was a piece of paper behind protective plastic, that listed what were clearly some of the most important numbers in his life: Mom's cell number and school number; the birth dates of his three kids (of course he knew them, but he always wanted a reminder to never forget them); and he also had listed the birth date and date of death of his dog Maggie. And no, there was no listing of Mom's birthdate or their anniversary because there would never be the slightest chance of Dad forgetting either of those two dates!
These things, plus recent photos of his seven grandchildren, seemed to sum up Dad: caring, compassionate, and always focused on his family.
It's hard to imagine life without my Dad, but he lived his life well -- and our world is a better place because of him.
I love you Dad, we will miss you.
Picture boards we had displayed at the funeral (click to enlarge):