The world has lost a gentle and wonderful man. Most of the world never knew him, of course, and has no idea what a treasure he was – or how much he will be missed, and by how many people. But I do.
After being healthy, active, and extremely social well into his 80’s, my father fell victim to a number of health issues and incidents that kept him either in the hospital or in a care center since early November. He passed away at the end of January, on a snowy Friday afternoon.
My sister – the one who lives near me here in Minnesota – and I left early Friday morning for what we thought was going to be a weekend visit with my dad and our other sister, the one who still lives near him and has been doing most of the work of caring for him. We got to the hospital around 1:00, and even though his situation had deteriorated to the point where he seemed restless and unaware of his surroundings, there is no doubt in my mind that he knew we were there.
As we held his hand, told him how much we loved him, and joked with him the way we would have done had he been his usual self, he and God must have decided that it was time for him to let go, and that it was okay now for him to do so. I think my dad was holding on until my sister and I got there so that we would have a chance to see him and say goodbye before he passed on, and so our other sister wouldn’t be alone with him when he did. I had visited the Chapel for a few minutes in the middle of the afternoon, and although I prayed and wished for a miracle cure for my father, my bigger prayer was that if it was time, that God would hold him and take him gently and comfortably home. My prayers ended, as they often do, with, “Not my will, but thine be done.”
And that’s what happened. Late in the afternoon, his earlier agitation subsided. His breathing became slow and even, and he seemed to be sleeping peacefully. Then his breathing stopped, and he was gone.
We took comfort in knowing that he was no longer experiencing any pain or frustration, and that he would now be reunited with my mom, with my sister who passed away five years ago, and with his parents, brothers and sisters, and other loved ones who have gone before him. Still, the comfort this gave us didn’t take away the grief of losing him.
It may sound trite or noble or corny to say that my dad brought joy and laughter with him wherever he went, but that’s the absolute truth. He was always delivering punch lines and one-liners, and he constantly complimented and flirted with women in all ages and stages of life. My sister once said that if she was visiting my dad in the hospital and he had been moved to a different room, all she had to do was follow the sound of giggling nurses or the sight of smiling faces in order to find him.
Dad was also the most good-natured, easy-going, agreeable person you could imagine. One of the comments we heard most often from family and friends after he died was, “Never once did I ever hear your dad say a bad word about anyone.” Many people also shared stories with us of thoughtfulness and generosity on my dad’s part. In gentle, quiet, small ways, which are the ones that really matter.
Although my dad spent his entire life in the small town where he was born and raised, and where he raised his own family, I’ve often thought about what a diplomat he was, and how much better off the world would be if more people were like him. If more people had his values, his concern for others, his lighthearted sense of humor, and his love and devotion to his family and his friends – which included pretty much everyone he met.
I know there will continue to be times when I think of my dad as if he is still here. When I start to call him on the phone before realizing that I can’t do that anymore, or when a special day or anniversary comes and it takes a minute for me to remember that he’s not here to share it with. But I also know that in many ways, he will be here forever.
At the funeral home during the visitation, I was talking with someone I haven’t seen in a while, and after we reminisced a bit he said, “You have your dad’s smile.” I can’t begin to say how comforting that was. Or how reassuring it is to know that all I have to do is look in the mirror to see my dad. And to hold him in my heart.
The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on February 13, 2014.
©Betty Liedtke, 2014
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