Saying goodbye

We buried my dad today. I think it was a good sendoff. My sister and I each wrote eulogies at my mother’s request. For those who know me yet never met my dad, or for those who simply want to meet  for a brief moment a wonderful man, here are my words, and you can find my sister’s words here.

The other day, a friend of mine asked me to tell him a funny memory of my dad. My answer … “I’ll have to think about that.” This surprised him, and to be honest surprised me too. It also disturbed me a bit. Why couldn’t I answer that question? He’s my DAD. Surely I must have memories of funny times with him. Not being one to dwell on the negative, I filed this away on an overcrowded shelf in my mind to ponder at another time. A couple of day’s later dad was gone.

My mom asked my sister and I to put our skill with language to work and paint a suitable picture of dad with words. So another time came up quicker than I would have liked. My sister was having trouble putting her own thoughts into words, and I told her just speak from the heart and let the words flow. However it seems I could not follow my own advice. Then she shared what she had written and I was thinking: “I can’t say it any better than that!”. So what to say?

I started delving into why I could not answer my friends question and it became clear to me. I couldn’t pinpoint a specific instance of a funny time with dad because most of my memories of dad involved smiles and laughter. I won’t say we never had our differences, but they were few and far between. Most often we would be laughing at each other’s jokes (we have a very similar sense of humor). I learned my own skill to laugh at the world from dad, and that is not the least of life’s lessons that he taught me. The true irony being that I maybe am only realizing that now.

A couple of tricks that he played on his students come to mind now, and they well represent his view of life. He would often put oddball problems or questions on exams for his students, both for the humor value and to get them to think. For instance, he would do an extra credit question like “There is a surgical kit under the seat in front of you. Perform a frontal lobotomy on the person to your right” and see how his students would react. He loved to teach, as long as he was working with people who enjoyed learning, and who knew how to think for themselves. Or if a student fell asleep in his class, he would move the rest of the class to another room and let the student wake up wondering what had happened. That was the very essence of dad. Think. Respect. And if you can’t, be prepared for a little laughter.

Dad was the guy that everyone liked. Wherever he went, he seemed to fit right in with ease. Always ready with a smile or a laugh, and always willing to lend a hand if needed. And to me this may very well be his defining characteristic. He approached life with an almost childlike capacity for joy, and it was usually contagious. Even in those times that I did something crazy enough to push his limits (as any self-respecting son will do) he was more often likely to respond with humor than anger. I can only remember one time in my childhood when he was truly angry with me, and it was something that I well deserved.

As Alzheimer’s laid claim to his once very active mind, the dad we knew disappeared before our eyes. But every once in a while that dad would return, announcing his return with a glorious sunny smile. As soon as the smile returned, we knew that dad was there with us again. For the last couple of weeks, though, I am sad to say that smile rarely returned. Until the last night we saw him. All of a sudden he was back, smile and all, even if his only real mode of communication was a squeeze of the hand. I firmly believe that dad chose to move on. For himself. For us. Because it was time. He left on his own timing. To me that is a life complete. Only the truly fortunate can breathe their last by their own choice … it is the ultimate blessing.

Thank you dad. For sharing your laughter. For teaching us to think. For giving us the thirst for life. Your legacy will not be forgotten. And neither will you.