Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Year-End Reflections

Today is my birthday. I was really looking forward to posting on the blog again. I had planned a whole week of "Year-End Recaps" covering my interests and hobbies. Most people do this around New Year's, but I've always preferred to do it on my birthday since that is a pretty self-reflective time. However, this year is different. My father passed away ten days ago.

This isn't intended be a maudlin post that plays upon your sympathies. I don't know how anyone can summarize a 78-year life in a eulogy, let alone something as trivial as a blog post. But since I've often spent my birthday in reflection, it's appropriate that I spend some time reflecting on my dad. These are just some general thoughts, and I'm not organizing, structuring, or editing (Hah! Like I ever do!).

The last two years had been very difficult for him and my mother. Early on, I posted about a lot of the health problems he went through. I fell out of that habit after the initial catharsis of getting it all out. He had his ups and downs, including a very frightening heart attack during dialysis this past November. All of us thought that was the end right there. He recovered phenomenally well, and in hindsight I believe he did it just to spend one last Christmas with us before letting go.

He was a shell of the man he used to be. I know he was miserable. I don't think he was in pain, but the indignity of having a catheter, the irritation of dialysis, and the exhaustion of being sick and weak for so long had taken their toll. He couldn't do any of the things he used to enjoy, and each day it seemed like he had even less energy.

But despite all of that, he did keep his spirits up. He was a fighter; unfortunately he seemed to fight the doctors and nurses more than the illnesses. His mind was sharp to the end. Sure, he had trouble remembering what day it was, but he certainly knew what channel Fox News was on and he could tell you to the second when it was time for his dialysis to end (and he would!). The Alzheimer's was the diagnosis I feared the most. I dreaded the thought of losing him gradually over the years while his body remained. As terrible as it may sound, in many ways I'm grateful that he went the way he did-- peacefully taking a nap on his couch at home.

The funeral service was very nice. He was buried in the Houston National Cemetery, with the three-man flag ceremony. It's amazing how quickly that lone bugle playing Taps can bring a tear to your eye. We had a lot of friends and family come to the service, which was very nice. My brother spoke, but I did not. I knew that I wouldn't be able to get through any words I wanted to say. Instead, I stood with my brother, ready to finish for him if necessary.

My dad was very fortunate to have a lifelong friend give his eulogy. My dad and Kent Akord had remained friends for 75 years. How astounding is that!? They met in the neighborhood, went to elementary school, high school, and even college together. The stories he told were fantastic. I'd known my dad all my life, but that's just over half as long as they knew each other.

When pulling pictures for the wonderful video my brother made, I loved seeing all the different aspects of my dad. He's always been my dad, and in my adult years he's also been my friend. At occasions like this, you get to see how others experienced him. What he was like as a brother, an uncle, a husband, a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor. What kind of person was he at 10, 17, 25, 35, or 45 My experience of him was only a fraction of who he was.

When talking with the pastor in preparation for the service, he told us to celebrate his life. He asked us questions to remind us (and inform him) about what our dad was like. Memory is a funny thing. I could remember a lot from the last couple of years, and a lot from when I was a kid, but I had trouble remembering things from even five or ten years ago. I'd love to list all of those memories, but if I go down that rabbit hole I'll never return.

I'll end this with just two things, two recommendations for those who have read this far. Last year, I saw the movie Tree of Life. It was transcendent. It was a poem in movie form. It required you to pause, slow down, contemplate. It was about a child and his relationship with his father; it was also about man and his relationship with God. It was about life. Not everybody liked it, and that's okay. The father played by Brad Pitt was really nothing like my father, but in the metaphorical sense he is just like everyone's father. It is very moving. See this film.

The other thing I would say is to just take some time to appreciate the people around you. That's so cliche, I know, but I don't just mean it in the sense of telling them that you love them. Just appreciate that you have friends, that you have family. Acknowledge the good times while they're happening. Cherish the memories. Tell some of the stories that you haven't told in years.

Thank you, Dad, for all the obvious things and the trivial ones. Thanks for the peanut-butter-and-crackers, the water-skiing, the lectures, the Christmas lights, the home-made slime, caring for the cat you hated, and sending me to the college you loved. Thanks for everything, Dad.


Mark Johnson said...

Thank you for writing this.

Sebastian said...

That's really beautiful, Greg. My condolences to you and your family.

Phyllis H said...

Sorry to hear about your dad. Welcome to the club!


© New Blogger Templates | Webtalks