My father died on the second of July about 4:30 in the morning. When my brother called, I knew why the phone was ringing. I tried to pretend I didn't, but I did. I had spent the afternoon and part of the evening with him the day before. He was tired and ready to leave us. We weren't ready but knew it was time. He could still respond to us when we would talk to him. I understand now what an effort it was. Since he went in the very early morning, I like to think that in the end, he went in his sleep which is what I had wished for him. He was at peace and so are we.
The funeral service for Dad was very nice. My brother and sister and I planned it. My stepmother had some input, but she was happy to let us take care of the details. The people at Downing & Lahey were wonderful in steering us in the directions we needed to go and taking care of the other details.
Planning a funeral is one of the more interesting activities you can undertake. When you are younger, you don't think about it, as a general rule you are creeped out by the idea of death and funerals. Now that I am older, I found that working out the details of the service and interment was a responsibility that encouraged us to honor and share our love of our father with others. My brother Jeff delivered an awesome eulogy. He brought the story of my Dad's life into vivid view. My son Andrew made a short speech about how his Grandfather had affected his life. I was so proud of him. There were military honors at the cemetary and playing taps really made the final minutes beautiful. The whole servicewas a celebration of my Dad's life as it should have been.
When he died, my Dad was six days short of his 92 birthday. I think most ordinary people lead interesting lives, and my Dad did. His life was not one of uproar and drama, instead his life provided a stable anchor and home for all of us. He was a man that commanded respect, admiration and love from his family and from people who knew him. My father was one of those men who never met a stranger. He could and would talk to anyone who would talk to him. In later years as his hearing failed I think he mourned that loss more than other failings of his body. I only can recall seeing him angry a few times in my life. Considering how obnoxious I was as a teenage, that is saying something.
Dad loved to be busy. We lived on a farm in Oklahoma until I was ten when we moved to Wichita. He was a mail carrier and after he retired from the Postal Service, he took a few months off. Then, in order to buy tires for the Suburban (his reason), he went to work for the Kansas Turnpike as a toll collector and retired from there at the age of 82. During that time he was interested in woodworking, gardening and for years raised calves during the summer for fun. If you mentioned an interest in making something, it would be done for you by the next time you saw him. I inherited some of those traits and looked for the rest when I chose Ray as my husband. A man who can do things is a treasure indeed.
Traveling is one of the loves I learned from my parents. Family vacations were something we would do together even after we were adults and married. My parents were tickled when we were stationed overseas and they were able to come visit us. Both Dad and Mom had a deep interest in learning about the world around them. The last real trip we took together was to see Andrew graduate from basic training in 2003. Dad was in his 80's then and we all realized afterward how hard it is to travel long distance in a car when you are older. That didn't stop him from considering going to Georgia with us in April when Andrew and Theresa were married. We all managed to agree that would not be a good idea.
My Mother died in 1988, it was a hard time for my Dad, but he took care of her every day as she progressively became more and more helpless. He spent every day in the hospital and was with her when she finally went home. That devotion is still an inspiration to me and a reminder of our wedding vows, "in sickness and in health." Dad showed us that it wasn't easy, but is possible out of love.
He remarried again to Jaunita and they had almost seventeen years together. I am convinced that both of them were able to have as many years together as they did because of the same care and devotion my Dad showed to my mother.
It is so common anymore for people to feel damaged by the way they were raised, by childhood experience. We were not. As far as I am concerned, the family my parents raised is a model for a functional family. They raised three children who all graduated from college, worked at jobs they did well with, neveer divorced and have children who reflect well on them and their grand parents.
That is the best legacy of all.