My dear father; my dear friend; the best and wisest man I ever knew, who taught me many lessons and showed me many things as we went together along the country by-ways.
~~Sarah Orne Jewett
For the past couple of days, while being around family, I became Beth Anne once again. For some reason, much of my family calls me that, and I revert easily to it, even introducing myself to people I don't know (or cousins I haven't seen in ages) as that. I find it comforting. The viewing was last night, and it was amazing to see how many people came out. Plenty of family, including cousins I hadn't seen in decades, former and current neighbors of Mom and Dad, guys he worked with in the National Guard, friends I worked with at the lab, even a sister's ex-husband, and an ex-BF of mine...it was just so wonderful to see so many come out to pay their respects to my Dad and to give support to my family. Thanks to everyone who did so.
Today was Dad's funeral. As I sit here thinking about it, I'm smiling. It was a wonderful tribute to Dad, and really a beautiful service. You all know that I'm not a religious person, but Mom and Dad's pastor was really a kind man who obviously cares deeply for Dad and Mom and gave a wonderful service. Last night, I finished up what I wrote for my Dad, and I decided I was going to try to say it myself rather than have the pastor read it. I wasn't sure I could do it, but I had encouragement from friends. Darren said that my Dad would be very proud of me if I could do that, but if not, that was okay, too; Ada said to read it as if it were just me and Dad in the room and I was talking to him; George said to give it a try, but give the pastor a copy in case I couldn't finish. Family helped, too, and Cousin Doug said, "You can do it for your Dad." After the pastor read my sisters' remarks, it was my turn...and I did it! I was shaky at first, but as I talked about the things I learned from Dad, I felt so much love for him for all the cool things I got from him. (I'll include the text here at the end.) I hate to speak in public...but once I got going, it was almost easy. I guess that tells you how I feel about my Dad. I was so happy to be able to do that for him, and much of my strength came from him.
There were a few songs, and I even sang in public! Boy, I was just breaking all my rules today. :D One song was "Going Home," and I recognized the tune...a classical one that I play on the piano, and one of my favorites to play, but I couldn't remember what it was. I looked it up a little bit ago, and it's from Dvorak's New World Symphony. I would like to learn a harder version of that piece. (I played my easy version a little bit ago.)
The pastor asked if anyone else wanted to share memories, and one of the people who stood up was...my Mom. I kid you not. She wanted to talk about how much Dad loved everyone at the church, and talked about some religious stuff, but I was amazed at her strength to be able to stand up and say a few things! We're a tough bunch, I'm telling you. Grrrrr. [grin]
After everyone filed out past the casket, immediate family had plenty of time to say good-bye. I had actually said my true good-bye in the hospital room when we were leaving, and that was the toughest time for me. This time, I knew Dad was long gone, and I was able to be fairly stoic. The hardest moments were seeing others crying so hard...some of my young cousins were just devastated, and it made me so sad for them. Earlier on I had laid a Notre Dame pin in with Dad, and our friend Ren, the owner of the funeral home, had pinned it on Dad's lapel. That made me happy, and I know Dad would have liked that.
Then it was off to the cemetery, with a drive by Mom and Dad's log cabin. The hearse paused there a moment. He loved their place out in the country, and I know he was happy to be out there on their 16 acres, in the area where he was born and raised. They were calling for rain and possibly snow, but although it was chilly and the wind was brisk, we avoided any precipitation. In fact, the sun peeked out briefly! There were several members of the Indiana National Guard up from Indianapolis, and they fired nine rounds and then played Taps. Two of the Guardsmen folded the flag (I thought of how Dad taught me to properly fold it, when we took the flag down every evening at our house) and presented it and three of the fired rounds to Mom, in appreciation of Dad's service to his country. (That’s Dad third from the left, with his three brothers who also served during WWII.) I think that was the part that got to me the most. Dad really loved his country, and was so proud to have served for 35 years. Mom and Dad's neighbor played "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes, and that always gets to me, too.
I got daisies off of the arrangement that my sisters and I got for him, one for each of us girls. I laid one by his coffin, and I got another one to bring home and I've already put it in my flower press. I kissed my hand and laid it on his coffin and said one last good-bye.
After that, it was back to the church for a big church lady dinner. Holy moley! I don't think I'll eat for two days! Mom had told me about the spread they put on when anyone in the church died, but I had no idea it was as huge as what they had today. Good grief.
There was lots of visiting with relatives, with plenty of laughter. In talking with Cousin Curt, he mentioned Facebook, and we asked each other at the same time, "Are you on Facebook?" Oh boy...I told him, "You can read all the political stuff I post!" He said, "Oh, I'm gonna work on you." (He's a conservative, if you hadn't figured that out yet.) He said something like, "Oh, you just get ready" and I wagged my finger back at him and said, "Yeah, you too!" heehee There were cousins that came in from Florida, Georgia, Oregon, Missouri, and my nieces came in from California...despite the sad circumstances, it was so great to talk to them. I hadn't seen Bo and Jeff in several years, and I really enjoyed getting to see them. My family totally kicks ass in their awesomeness, they really do. (Check out that firework Dad is holding!)
I think we were all pretty wiped out by this time, and we all parted ways. Cousin Ron had already left for Indianapolis because he had to catch a flight out, Bo and Jeff had to leave tonight, Shane was flying out to Tucson to visit his Dad, Heather and Jen are flying out tomorrow night, I believe...our time together was so fleeting, but it was so good. Kind of how I feel about my 47 years with Dad. It seems like it was gone in the blink of an eye.
Anyway, I know this is getting long, but it is helping to write it all down. I'll be done soon enough, and I'll get back to my usual fare (health care vote tomorrow!). I'll just say this. I think I found myself smiling today more than crying. Dad was so obviously loved (and I know how lovable he was), so well-respected, and so admired by so many. I feel so fortunate to have had him for the time I did. He was in great health, active both physically and mentally right up until the end; he was able to retire at the age of 55, and had over 30 years in which he and Mom were able to travel and enjoy themselves; we were able to be with him and Mom at the dedication of the WWII Memorial and tribute to the Greatest Generation, something he always talked about; and when it came time for him to go, it was relatively quick and painless. I am so, so glad that he didn't suffer and struggle for years. I know he wouldn't have wanted that. As I told several people, "he had a good run." He sure did. We should all be so fortunate. Here's to you, Dad. I don't think a day will go by that I don't think of you.
Here is the text of what I said today.
Although it's very hard to say good-bye to my Dad, I am trying to do so in a way that would make him proud.
Knowing that I will no longer be able to pick up the phone and give him a call, ask him questions about various things, or just shoot the breeze about sports is something I still haven't totally grasped. I'm sure it will eventually sink in, and I will deal with that as it comes.
In the meantime, I will remember all the things that I learned from him, all his influences that helped make me the person I am.
One of his greatest gifts to me was a love of reading. We used to talk about how books can fire our imagination and take us everywhere. When I read a book that made me think of Dad, I would send it to him. He'd always say, "Honey, you didn't have to do that!" but I think he enjoyed the books I shared with him. Dad often talked about Cicero. I will make sure I read Cicero and I will think of Dad.
He gave me an intellectual curiosity that has made even the mundane things in life a source of wonder. I recall being at Mom and Dad's house in Culver and spotting a praying mantis on one of the shrubs. As we all stood there and looked at it, a bee flew by and the mantis snatched it out of the air. We watched as it devoured the bee, then Dad and I looked at each other as if to say, "Did you see what I just saw?"
I got my love of sports from Dad. We would watch Notre Dame games together when I was growing up, and he explained the rules of football and basketball to me. We got to go to a few football games together, and I was happy that one of them was Notre Dame's trouncing of Michigan in 2008. That was a happy day for both of us. I'm reasonably sure that in Dad's version of heaven, Notre Dame wins the national championship every day, and the Victory March plays on an endless loop.
Dad gave me a deep and abiding love and respect for nature. I don't recall ever throwing any trash out of the car, but if I ever did, it only happened once. Littering was a travesty, and Dad taught me that it is up to us to take care of our planet. He was green before green was cool. He had a great respect for the Native American philosophy about our land, believing that we are not owners, only temporary caretakers.
Dad and I didn't always agree on politics, and that is an understatement. But even at our worst disagreements about it, I would remind him that he was the one who always wanted me to think for myself, and he would reluctantly agree...but would say that he just wished I thought more like he did.
Above all--except for Mom, obviously--Dad loved his girls, and always made sure that we knew that we could do whatever we wanted to do. I never once felt limited by my gender...it was always a given that none of us would be discouraged from doing anything we wanted to do. Mechanic, nurse, microbiologist...Dad supported us in everything we did, and knowing that he was proud of me is one of my greatest achievements.
Dad always liked to say that it's not the destination, it's the journey. Thank you, Dad, for a wonderful journey with you.