MISS YOU DAD
Well, not writing about my dad’s recent passing hasn’t made the grieving process any easier, so let’s give this a try. It’s been quite a few months. I had already been struggling to keep up with my creative goals, when on June 6, I got the call no one ever wants to get. Even though Dad had been weakened by the completion of his lung cancer treatments, we all expected a full recovery (doctors and himself included). So when he passed away in his sleep taking a nap one afternoon, it was a heartbreaking shock that turned my world upside down.
I am sure I will write more about what I’ve been thinking and feeling over the past couple of months in future posts. After all, writing can be a healing process for me. As it happens, Drew and I were binge watching Downton Abbey in late spring/early summer. It was timely when Maggie Smith’s character, the Dowager Countess, tells the oldest daughter, Lady Mary Crawley, who is grieving the death of her new husband, Matthew, “The fact is, you have a straight forward choice before you: you must choose either death, or life.” Part of what I love about the Countess is how she cuts to the truth.
So while I am choosing life, one day at a time, I couldn’t restart my blog posting without sharing the tribute I made to my dad at his memorial service. So I’m concluding this post with the eulogy I gave at Dad’s memorial service. Writer that I am, doing it didn’t come easy. Procrastination was the first challenge because I thought the longer I put off writing it, maybe it meant he wasn’t really gone. But on the eve of his service I knew I needed to put fingers to the keys and allow whatever would be to flow out. The following was my message of love and loss. I am pleased with how it turned out. I really hope Dad would have been too.
First off I want to thank you all for being here today. If there was one thing about Dad that he wasn’t short on in his life, it was gratitude. He was always so thankful for the love and friendship he had in his life, or kindness, even from a stranger or passerby. He imparted that value on my sister and I throughout our lives. So, I say thank you.
I have to be honest with you and say I was not/am not prepared for today. It isn’t that I can’t rattle off a myriad of cliches about how every day is precious, tomorrow is never promised, etc. But the fact that my dad is no longer among us, this larger than life presence in my life, is something I’m just really struggling to wrap my head-- and my heart-- around.
But in this little whisper in my ear I can hear my dad saying, “Com’on now Jod-- you can do it. Don’t cry. It’s going to be okay.” And that was actually a lot for him to say. Because mostly he would just say nothing, but his face would say it all--- a steeled gaze with pursed lips or a half-meant-be-reassuring smile, followed by a firm hand-squeeze or a tight embrace, bookended with a commanding pat on the back, as if to say, “I’ve told you it’s going to be okay-- now go be okay.”
And my dad came by this unspoken-- and I think at times unconscious confidence-- very naturally. His ancestry was one of a strong and proud Swedish heritage. They were people who had to work hard and sacrifice for everything they had. My grandfather died when I was very young, but my grandmother lived into her 90s, and I had a close relationship with her. Knowing her and spending time with her, helped me understand my dad all the more. And where his family roots of sacrifice and discipline left off, his military career picked up.
Many in this room know life in a military family. It is a family life of service. Growing up, there was this unspoken ethos in my home. And it went something like this: “That is the way it is, and so that is how we are going to deal with it. Period. End…. of…. Story.” No negotiation, no tantrums and definitely no whining.
Of course this caused some points of tension when I was going through my teen years and into young adulthood--, asserting my independence, trying to find my way in this world. There were definitely tears shed, hard conversations had, words left unspoken that maybe should have been said, and some that maybe should have never been said at all. I think at some point though, dad realized he had raised the daughter he intended to raise all along: someone with the best parts of himself.
Amid my sadness and grief there are things I am thankful for: I am thankful that Dad found a loving forever partner in Gloria; I am thankful that he experienced the joy of having grandchildren and great-grandchildren; I’m thankful he strengthened the bond with his older brother Bob in his later years; I’m thankful he was able to walk me down the aisle to a man who he loved as his own son; I’m thankful he faced his cancer diagnosis with the courage and determination as when he was a pilot flying a fighter jet.
I can hear Dad saying: “See Jod-- I have a lot to be thankful for. So don’t be upset.”
But here’s the thing Dad: (and I would say this to him if he were standing right in front of me, even though I am sure he would rather I not) I am upset. I’m upset because we didn’t have enough time with you. You worked so hard your whole life, and ten years retirement just wasn’t enough. We had more trips to take, Sweden was on the itinerary. Going to see Uncle Bob was on the list too. I have family pictures I want to ask you about. Stories I need you to share. And you have more gardens to plant, theater to see, and road trips to go on. You never got to finish your Ford Pickup HotRod Restoration. There was a lot left on the to-do list. There were many more miles to travel.
During the drive up here from California, the memories of the roadtrips we shared over the years passed through my mind a lot. You know dad loved a good road trip. Actually, it didn’t even have to be a good road trip, he just loved driving period. I remember when I was probably four or five years old and my dad replaced the backseat of our Toyota Celica with a plywood platform bed to drive me home from Utah where I had just had hip surgery. Then, when I was about five or six years old and my parents loaded us two kids, two dogs and the guinea pig into the back of the non-air-conditioned Suburban in the middle of summer and headed to Minnesota to see the grandparents. It was on that trip that he taught me how to read mile markers.
There was many a day trip around the Puget Sound, going to port towns with a lot of “cute little shops” as dad would call them; a trek up to Mount Rainier; going to see the Skagit Valley Tulips; and of course going up to Seattle to go to concerts, sporting events, or take visiting family and friends on site-seeing excursions.
And then when I was in high school there were our epic father-daughter Minnesota Road trips where I would ride with him shotgun along Interstates 90 and 94 which started out in Tacoma and ended in Hackensack, Minnesota. The span of Montana alone allowed for so many treasured conversations. We traveled well together. I remember how he taught me how to pack light, but take good care in packing one’s provisions, or as I call it now, my road trip “snack bag.” During one of these trips I felt safe enough to share with him some of the hurts of my younger years, and have him reply with “I hear you” “I’m sorry” “I love you.” Those were healing miles where I learned dad did the best he knew how to do. And that even if that couldn’t make everything “all better” it wasn’t because he didn’t want it to be so.
In more recent years he selflessly volunteered to drive me to and from California several times when I wasn’t able to drive myself. (One trip was a one-day 10-hour sprint which mathematically still mystifies my husband, but makes me super-proud “that’s my dad”) He was looking forward to driving down to see us once he recovered from his cancer treatments.
Maybe he found the control behind the wheel that he once craved in the cockpit. I’ll never know for sure. All I do know is that I will savor those memories, and so many more, for as long as I live. And that some how, some way, some day, everything will be okay.
Because Dad said it will be.