He was surrounded by people he loved and who loved him. My brother, Mom, and I tried to make his transition to spirit peaceful. As he took his final breath, we shared with him our personal sentiments against the backdrop of Johnny Cash singing “Danny Boy” (one of Dad’s favorite songs) from my iPhone1.
Though I personally believe we are eternal, it’s still a heavy loss. “And grieving will take longer than you think,” my cousin messaged me on Facebook.
Dad was an involved, hands-on father. When one of my parent’s retail businesses demanded too much time away from my middle-school brother and I (6 days a week, 9 AM – 11 PM), they got rid of it. Mom reminisced, saying, “We had kids so we could do things with you.” Working until nearly midnight didn’t fit the mold, so the place was sold.
He was über creative with an uncanny eye for detail. As kids, we were hauled to salvage yards and pawn shops, where he would find things to fix or mold into new creations. He led our 4-H woodworking classes and my brother’s dead-of-winter Boy Scout camp outs. He taught me about plants and gardening. And when I accidentally poured fingernail polish remover down my Mom’s beloved heirloom desk, he guided me in refinishing it.
He once prepared me for high school cheerleading tryouts by working with me on a walk-over. After coaching me through numerous failed attempts, he decided that showing would be more effective than telling.
“Watch me,” he said. He sprinted a few yards and hit the ground with both hands. His feet sailed up … up … up … over … boom! He soundly landed on his back. That memory makes me smile.
Dad was a relentless “do-er.” When I joined a sorority in college, he helped me paint backdrops for rush parties. When I bought my home, he flew out for a week, helping me with plumbing, painting, tearing out cabinets, and innumerable other tasks involved with fixing up a fixer-upper.
When my parents visit to Washington, D.C., coincided with a departmental party my supervisor at General Electric was hosting, we three headed to the Eastern Shore to learn how to eat Maryland crabs. For no apparent reason, the boat lift at my boss’ beautiful waterfront home failed to work … and Dad fixed it.
“I’ll work on it,” was one of Dad’s favorite lines. Be it rewiring a lamp, untangling a twisted necklace, or eliminating a rattle-y engine, he’d work on it. “Fix it” implied a satisfying outcome; “work on it” offered no guarantee of resolving the issue– though in his hands, the problem was usually fixed.
(It’s a language strategy I’ve adopted when visiting with clients about their auctions.)
He was enormously proud of my brother and I and told us so often.
When COPD eventually confined him to a chair, he (for the first time!) learned how to use an iPad. He’d endlessly watch my YouTube channel videos again and again and again, even though he’d never been to a fundraising auction.
When he still drove, he’d carry around a 2011 clothing catalog because it prominently featured me as the model. Business cards and photos from my brother and I were lined up on his pickup dash, and he’d share our latest news with anyone who would listen. Frankly, the nurses in the skilled care facility these last five months knew more about my life than I preferred.
He (and Mom) made childhood pretty darn easy, which is a blessing some kids never get. From enjoying lots of house pets to camping at the lake to scrimping to buy me braces (“I could have bought two Yamaha motorcycles for what’s in your mouth,” Dad said a dozen times), it was a stable upbringing.
We weren’t two peas in a pod; his belief system on a number of subjects didn’t line up with mine. But as a loving, hands-on father, he nailed it.
Dad was fond of saying, “death is a part of life.” It was one of those catch phrases often heard when it came time for us to put down a beloved pet.
There is no argument there. Death is a part of life. But I’ll still miss him.
1Many hospice nurses will tell you that hearing is our last sense to leave.