It’s been a year and a few months since my Dad passed away and, of course, I still miss him. Who wouldn’t? I’ve decided on this Father’s Day, I would honor and remember my Dad by posting a reflection I shared with my cousins at a family luncheon held last fall. It reads as follows:
Greetings, cousins! As we come together this year to celebrate family, I would like to take a moment to remember my Dad. As you know, he passed away this year. He loved coming to these events and his presence is greatly missed.
I fondly remember the joy my father expressed at our first luncheon when he encountered his cousin Mary Louise after a long separation. He ran towards her like a little child filled with joy just to say hello. He remained close to her throughout the whole luncheon. I am also reminded of the affection my Dad displayed towards his sister Shirley when she attended our luncheon a few years ago. He truly enjoyed these luncheons and if you don’t mind, I would like to share with you a few thoughts about my Dad today.
My father, as many of you know, was a veteran, a man of music, a man of humor, a man of faith, a gentle gentleman, a quick wit, a story teller, a genealogist, a family historian, and a man with a great curiosity and interest in the lives of his loved ones. He was a man with great love for his patients, his friends, and his family. It’s hard to sum up my father’s life in a few words.
My father was one of those rare bred of men who was raised in a era when honoring your family and doing your duty – humble or grand – were highly valued. He was raised in Cranston, Rhode Island where he made life long friends. He enrolled at Brown University after high school and shortly thereafter enlisted in the U.S. Army serving in post World War II Europe. A few years later, he was recalled to the Army to serve in Korea where he was a forward scout. Returning home to Rhode Island for a time, he then enrolled at Tufts University in Massachusetts followed by Dental School at Temple University in Philadelphia.
After securing his dental degree, he settled in Warren, Rhode Island and began raising nine children with his beloved wife Lesa. For most of his life, being a dentist and a father took up the bulk of his time and energy. There were cavities to fill, bills to pay, children’s concerts to attend, and camping trips to enjoy.
My father found great joy and happiness being with his friends and family. An event like this luncheon, was one such occasion to enjoy time with his cherished family. Life was very uncomplicated for him. Spending time with loved ones was simply the highlight of his life. Period.
I experienced a touching example of this a year ago. I remember watching my Dad at my brother Nathan’s house about a year ago. It may have been at his birthday party during the last 4th of July. There was all kinds of things going on. People were coming and people were going. Nathan and his wife, Mara, were hosting one of their many family events during the summer. It was a very joyous time. I noticed that my dad, sitting in the midst of all this, was delightfully happy. There he was, holding a sweating Manhattan, and simply looking about with the serene face of a happy man. Really happy. No tomorrow. No yesterday. Just today. Happy to be with his family. I like to keep this memory of my Dad alive in my heart.
My father loved his children. He loved us not by saying the words, “I love you.” He loved us with his actions and his deeds. If you would be so kind, allow me to share one story of how my father loved more with his actions than with his words. It relates to his gift of listening.
One late summer weekend many years ago, I decided to drive to the Cape from my home in Vermont. This wasn’t that unusual and upon my arrival at my Dad’s house my father was sitting at the kitchen table with his pal Fogelberg, a family cat. He asked me about my drive down and how my car was holding up – general introductory banter.
After some time, we began to talk about my job at the American Red Cross – Blood Services and I chatted and he listened. It wasn’t an overly interesting presentation on my part but my father listened eagerly and asked many engaging questions. The weekend went on and I enjoyed some time with my Dad – nothing terribly unusual.
On Sunday afternoon, after saying my goodbyes to my Dad, I began my drive back to Vermont. While I was driving, I heard a distinct voice in my heart say, “You’re not as interesting as you think you are.” I paused and responded to this “voice” by saying, “What do you mean?” And the “inner voice” said, “Your Dad. He listens to you and all his children with an attentive heart not because you’re all extraordinarily interesting or because your stories are so compelling but because he loves you.” I was taken aback by this experience and I still remember this “voice” or experience quite distinctly. And then it became clear, my Dad wasn’t just listening to me, he was loving me. As he loved all his children. My dad listened because he loved. This “voice in my heart” was teaching me something new about my Dad. I treasure this memory and the reminder of how my father loved.
My dad loved gardening. I always remember he had a garden at every place he lived. In Touisset, where he lived in Warren, Rhode Island, the garden was quite large. On Cape Cod, where my Dad retired, the garden was less expansive and generally more oriented towards flowers than tomatoes – though he loved growing tomatoes. His specialty on Cape Cod was gladiolas. He loved his gladiolas.
Every spring he would prepare and plant gladiola bulbs. He had dug up these bulbs from last year’s batch of flowers. He loved the dirt and gardening. For those of you who also love to garden, I’ve brought a few gladiola and daffodil bulbs for you to take home with you and to plant in your own gardens in memory of my Dad. When you plant the bulbs in the spring and see the blossoms rising through the dirt, I hope you might be reminded of my Dad and his love of gladiolas and his love for you.
My father loved music. There are few among us who knew my father for any length of time that didn’t come to find out my Dad loved listening, playing and even writing some music. Whether it was the sound of our family piano being played in our living room or the strumming of guitar chords around an open fire on a camping trip, my father shared his love of music with us.
We would often gather together with family and friends to sing all kinds of popular American folk and religious tunes. Most recently when he was asked what his favorite music was he replied, “Anything from the 1940’s.” I can now imagine my Dad in the great beyond joyfully tapping his foot to the sounds of the Glenn Miller band.
The last few weeks of my Dad’s life were filled with grace and family. As his health failed, he was initially cared for by the good folks at Cape Cod Hospital and then he transitioned to hospice care at McCarthy House in Sandwich, Massachusetts. His spirits remained buoyant and optimistic right to the very end.
My Dad enjoyed sailing on Cape Cod with some of his children so it might be fitting to close my thoughts, and say so long to my Dad, by sharing a poem about sailing and the great beyond. The poem is entitled, “Gone From My Sight.” It’s written by Henry Van Dyke. You might be familiar with it. It goes like this…
I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a
speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me — not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”
And that is dying…
It is my hope my father was welcomed into that distant port on the mysterious other side with glad shouts of, “Here he comes! Here he comes!”