I can’t sleep. My mind is whirling with thoughts and images of the last few days. I need to park them somewhere and here is as good a place as any.
Dad died Sunday. That you know. Leading up to the moment of Dad’s death, it was a hard three days. It’s difficult to watch a loved one suffer. But even in the laboring for life and death, there are gifts of grace. These I wish to record for posterity.
The first occurred Saturday afternoon. My brother and sister had gone out to bring back lunch, leaving me behind. Dad liked having someone sit on his bed, someone to hold his left hand. So this was where I was — holding Dad’s hand through the scary parting.
Dad’s eyes were open. It had been almost two days since he had closed them. Most of the time, Dad fixed his eyes on some faraway point. I followed his gaze more than once to bump into the popcorn ceiling above his bed. His gaze seemed to extend beyond what I could see. I feel certain of this, for twice, once with Christi on Friday afternoon and another with all of us Saturday morning, Dad pointed toward the ceiling. With his free right hand reaching up, index finger extended out, Dad pointed at specific spots on the ceiling, his hand moving from right to left. Christi asked Dad, “Do you see Mom?” “Do you see Pugsley?” “Sherlock, maybe?” The last two were favored dogs, and anyone who knows Daddy, knows how much Daddy loved his dogs.
On Saturday, as Dad was gazing out beyond the popcorn ceiling, I leaned down to Dad’s face, and whispered, “Daddy, I wish I knew what you are thinking — and what you are gazing at so intently. But since you aren’t able to share with me, I have something important I need to share with you.”
Looking back on it, I’m surprised at how quickly my words wrestled Dad’s attention back to me and this wonderful world in which we call home. Dad squeezed my hand, as if to let me know that he was ‘all ears,” his way to let me know that he was ready to listen when I was ready to talk.
“Daddy. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. But if death should come to separate us, I want you to know that the love we share will never die, that the love we have for one another will flow into eternity. The other thing I want to say is this: Daddy, I will watch over Christi and Jon for you. I will do my best to support them through the ‘thick and thins’ of life. But I know I won’t support Jon with money. Your experiences have taught me that gifts of money hold no solutions for Jon.” At this, and at one point before, Dad squeezed my hand. I felt at peace and sensed Dad’s peace as well.
I had thought that would be my final gift to Dad. I was wrong. That came yesterday, when I put aside my introverted nature, and presided over my father’s funeral. It was too important to leave in the hands of one who didn’t know him. So with the help of my four children, who each took a part, with the help of my brother, who collected a set of old tunes that my Father loved, and with the unscripted memories of more than a handful of others, including my sister who shared her own, we said goodbye to Daddy. We paid tribute to the man I liked to call “best daddy in the world.”
A few came up afterwords to say how proud Daddy would have been of me. But here’s the thing: Daddy was always proud of me, even when there was no reason to be and even when there was reason not to be. It will be this that I will cling to in the days ahead. And maybe this Louis Armstrong song, which began Dad’s graveside service yesterday. For truly, we live everyday life in a wonderful world. Our time here is short. But surely that other side — the one that lives beyond the popcorn ceiling– is wonderful too. At least, based on Daddy’s witness.