When someone you know passes away it leaves a hole in you. When it's someone you love it leaves a much larger hole - often one that cannot ever be filled back in. These holes are painful but serve to help us grow as individuals and human beings. When you lose someone to death and it hurts it means you cared for that person.
My father was a kind and wonderful man even in his years of illness. Imagine being on a vacation with your wife and in-laws, nearly 700 miles from home, and suffering a debilitating heart attack and stroke. Imagine waking up in ICU after having a quadruple bypass and realizing you can't use your right arm or leg the way you could just a few hours before. Then you realize you can't speak very well - the words just won't come out of your mouth the way they are in your head.
Imagine being in one hospital after another, far away from home, and then being flown on a special flight back to your home town where you're place in yet another hospital. One day you were on vacation having a great time and the next you're basically an invalid.
Imagine fighting to regain your speech and movement only to have small strokes (TIA's) over and over. Each time you make progress it is taken from you in a matter of weeks or months due to the unstable circulation activity in your brain. Imagine getting weaker and weaker over the years, not all at once but it finally gets to a point where each time you lose something else it doesn't come back.
My step-mom, God bless her, did everything she could do to keep Dad active and working to regain his strength and mobility. She tried once, out of sheer love if not sound judgment, to let him drive a car. It was a miserable failure since his right leg was paralyzed but she said she had to try. Fortunately nothing bad happened.
As I have said in my previous blog about my dad, he never lost his sense of humor or his good nature throughout the ordeal, except toward the end when his brain got to a point where he just wasn't himself anymore. About 10 days before he died this gentle, peaceful and happy man started becoming violent with the staff at the nursing home and sometimes destroyed things in the room he shared with my step-mom. I don't say this to denigrate him or embarrass anyone but rather so people understand what can happen to the best of us as we get older and our body and mind wear out. My sister said it best a few years ago (and I may have said this in the other blog but it's still pertinent), "I just don't understand why God is taking him a little piece at a time." None of us understood that but I believe there was a reason Dad stuck around as long as he did - even if it was just to show the rest of us how to deal gracefully with adversity.
A few days before he left us he began sleeping almost all the time. He rarely woke up and even more rarely ate anything. We knew the time had come but knowing Dad as we did, we also knew it could be days and/or weeks before he gave in. He had been so close to death so many times and came back that there was just no way to know. Interestingly, this time he surprised us all. I got a message from my sister on Thursday morning that the doctors were starting Dad on morphine. Morphine not only keeps patients comfortable but it also helps unconscious patients breathe a little easier. It was then that I knew it wouldn't be long. Just a few hours later, not a day or two as we expected, my sister called again to say he was gone.
To say I was saddened by the news is an understatement. No matter how prepared you are, no matter how much you know in your heart the person is better off when they finally depart this world, it still hurts. This was my father, the man who gave me life and the man who instilled in me the morals and values that I carry today. He was a good man in every sense of the word.
The funeral was held 4 days later, on Monday morning. All of Dad's grandchildren (blood anyway) came in. My niece came from Hawaii and my nephew from Seattle. (Jonathon was a huge surprise. His parents were visiting there and he came with them, unbeknownst to most of us.) When we walked in it was almost as if Dad wasn't there. Of course, spiritually he wasn't but what I meant was the makeup artist for the funeral home didn't do a great job. The makeup they used was definitely the wrong color, his mouth was in a slight smirk which didn't look like him at all, and his head seemed to be at an odd angle. I know they try to do the best they can and I'm not faulting them. It just didn't look like Dad. When my mother died in 93 they got everything right except her lipstick. I got there early and when my dad said "It doesn't look like her" I removed the lipstick myself and re-applied it the way Mom wore it. It may sound gross but Dad was happier with her appearance after that. I couldn't do that for him.
My step-mom's pastor officiated the service and my dad's best friend delivered the eulogy. Phil and Dad had been pastors together. He had known Dad for years and had introduced Dad to my step-mom after my mother died. They had gone from friends to brothers and Phil had soon became family to all of us. went from family friend to all of us to family. He told a couple of stories that related to all of us and made us laugh. It was enjoyable to listen to him talk about his good friend and brother.
My nephew, Philip, sang two songs during the service, one he wrote himself. He loved his grampa and it was very moving - something I couldn't have done. His voice was strong and his tribute to Dad was pretty awesome.
Several old friends from my childhood came to the funeral home. One couple, whom I hadn't seen in over 30 years, stayed for the funeral and the luncheon afterward. I didn't have nearly enough time to talk to them in depth but it was great to see them. Another woman, again one I hadn't seen in 30 years, came by only to say hello and pay her respects. She brought four pies with her for the family get together. They were excellent when enjoyed by everyone later that evening.
After the funeral the church put out a small luncheon that was just right. About 100 people stayed at the luncheon before we (the family) had to leave to go to the gravesite about 2 hours away. Deb, a special friend of the family, was asked at the last minute to perform the graveside service since Phil couldn't make the trip. She is a hospice minister and has plenty of experience. Arden and I were riding with her and my sister and we got there early so Deb could prepare. Soon after we arrived, some other old and dear family friends arrived. We had all known them since I was a young boy. The youngest daughter and I have been great friends since childhood. It was wonderful to see Julie and her new husband, Ron, and Debbie and her husband Joe. I hadn't seen Joe in years.
Eventually all the family members arrived at the cemetery and the service was ready to commence. Dad was being buried next to my mother. I hadn't seen my mom's grave in many years but the tent and chairs were over it so I still didn't get to see it. Someone suggested that I wait until after the service and ask the funeral director to move everything for me but I wasn't trying to do all that. I'll visit another day.
Another nephew, Anthony, announced that he had written a song for his grampa and his girlfriend was going to sing they lyrics they had written together. Who knew we had such talent in the family? Anthony is an accomplished guitarist and Miranda's voice was incredible. Once again it was very moving.
Deb did an excellent job. It was the first time I'd heard her speak and I was very impressed and thankful. And since she had known Dad well it was more personal. Dad developed a hobby working with rocks - cutting and polishing them and turning them into beautiful jewelry and display items. I don't remember when he started it, although I think it may have been after he retired. (I was already gone from home when he started.) Deb mentioned Dad's rock hobby and the fact that his faith in the Lord, his Rock, bled over into his personal achievements. (There had been a large bowl of rocks that he had polished on a table at the funeral for anyone who wished to take one.) I was very touched by her words.
After the graveside service we all went on our way. My step-mom headed back up North with her family, my friends headed to their homes and my siblings and I headed to my sister's house near Columbus. We were all spending the night there so we could talk and visit. It's pretty rare that we all get together in the same place at the same time.
There was plenty of food and we all sat around for hours just talking and enjoying each other's company. We were all tired and emotionally exhausted. Even though Dad's death in many ways had been a blessing it was still an emotional drain. I started falling asleep in the chair on the patio.
The next morning most of us were leaving. (Arden and I were staying until Wednesday morning.) My sister and brother-in-law were headed back to Virginia in the early afternoon and my other sister was leaving for NE Ohio later in the evening. Michael (my b-i-l) and I met my nephew, Aaron, at a local disc golf course to play a round of my favorite pastime. I had never played against Michael but my nephew had taught me the game. We spent a couple of hours just enjoying being outside and having fun.
When we returned to the house I sat out on the patio. My sister came out carrying the folded flag that had been on my dad's casket at the funeral. The funeral home had put it there since he was a veteran. We had talked about being sure to get it and keep it but I thought my step-mom would have it. My sister walked over to me and handed it to me. "You are the only one of us who ever served in the military. We thought you should have this." I was deeply touched. She went on. "You know Dad has a display box on the wall in the nursing home with his military medals and insignia. Next time I go over there I'm going to get it for you. You should have that too."
Talk about your sudden jolts to the heart. I was not expecting this at all. My siblings had given me things now and then in the past that had to do with Dad's military service since I had served too. But handing me this flag that had been on his casket touched my heart deeply.
Wednesday morning Arden and I said our goodbyes and headed home. We were tired emotionally but we always enjoy traveling together. We like driving. Driving is "us" time. We look at the sights, talk about anything and everything and stop when we want for food, coffee, or just to stop. Besides the fact that we saved well over $1000 in last minute air fare. And we got to unwind on the way.
We got back home Friday evening, got our dogs from their vacation homes and settled in. The dogs were happy to be home and barely left our sides for the rest of the evening. They weren't thrilled with the baths they received, however.
The funeral experience was sad but good. Thank you to all who sent prayers, good wishes, thoughts and comments. A special thank you to Bob and Paulette, Marsha and Steve, Barb, Julie and Ron, and Debbie and Joe, for coming out to see us and honor Dad. It was wonderful to see all of you. I wish it could have been under different circumstances. If I've forgotten anyone I apologize. It's sometimes dangerous to name names.
To those of you who planned to come but couldn't make it, know that I appreciate your thoughts and we'll see each other another time.
To my siblings - it's always good to spend time with you. This summer we've seen each other more than usual but that's not a bad thing. I love you all. Now it's time we make plans together that don't revolve around Dad and Akron, although visits to Esther will be important. We are always open to suggestion but Gail says no camping....
Pop - I miss you. Thank you for all your years of wisdom and love. I learned a lot from you - more so after you fell ill, I believe. You were an inspiration to so many people. And you still are.
I know you already have given hugs to Mom and Christopher but do me a favor, please? Do it again for me. I love you.