On October 20, 2010, my father went Home to be with his Heavenly Father. He was a young and vibrant man of 68 years in the prime of his active retirement. His rapid decline in a matter of weeks from diagnosis to dust was shocking, but to be hiking and ranching and playing senior softball right up to the month and a half before he died is a blessing of sorts. I’ve had several friends and family suffer long physical and mental ailments for years and years before they passed away and my dad would NOT have wanted to go like that.
My dad hated funerals… hated everything about them – the premise, the process, the pomp and circumstance – all of it. He would have hated the idea of a bunch of people sitting around sadly and somberly eulogizing him, paining over his death rather than embracing their own life and celebrating his. Growing up, I’d heard him make disgruntled remarks about eulogies specifically that if people had nice things to say about you, they should tell you while you’re alive so you can appreciate it, not wait until your dead and you never hear how they felt about you. (Of course, I might argue that you don’t always know how people feel about you).
Having had a little taste of my own mortality last year when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, I had a renewed appreciation for Dad’s sentiment. My eulogistic urge, though, was less about telling people how I feel before they die and more about making sure I said things in case I die. Although my battle with cancer was quick and I was cancer free by February, the following June I took the opportunity to share with my dad some of the moments in our relationship that were important to me and posted it here on my blog as a Father’s Day tribute.
Although it became even more important after he passed away so quickly with little time to squeeze in those kinds of conversations, but it also meant a lot to me at the time that the tribute meant so much to him to receive it for Father’s Day. He wrote me, “Every time I read it I get choked up. It is beautiful. Some of the things you talked about took me some time to remember but other things were as clear as yesterday. I still wonder why you would come to me and throw up, oh well.” (I guess you’ll have to read it to know what that last reference was about.)
It was very cool to connect with family I hadn’t seen in decades (for better or for worse, funeral are always good for that) and have some “small-world” moments that we’re really not so far away from each other to have let the relational gap to remain. It was also great for me to hear everyone’s stories about Dad… things that make you say “oh, that’s so classic Dad” or “wow, I didn’t know that about Dad” or best yet, “oh that is so ‘me’ – I guess that’s where I get it.” One of the things I thought was most interesting is that no one seemed to know my dad sang. He’d thrown a big party for the church’s choir at one point and I assumed that he was “in” the choir, but no. Not only was he not in the choir, but they didn’t even know he sang.
Since music was one of the earliest connections between Dad and I, in meant a great deal to me to be able to honor him at his funeral by singing. Amazing Grace was one of his favorite Hymns so I sang Chris Tomlin’s “Amazing Grace – My Chains Are Gone” and for the cowboy in my dad, I sang Brad Paisley & Dolly Parton’s “When I Get Where I’m Going.” And although I felt my voice shaking through the whole thing (like Dolly Parton’s vibrato on steroids), I think the lyric choices really honored Dad and he would have been pleased.
I also think Dad would have been pleased with the celebration and “party” that followed his service. Led off by Pastor Mark’s remarks during the service about scotch (the Presbyterian equivalent to the Catholic’s sacramental wine, I think) right into the heavily imbibed party back at the Ranch, this was one funeral and celebration of life my dad wouldn’t have complained about attending. But far more important, Dad was at the party we all aim for – the one with our heavenly Father when we are welcomed home for an eternity with our Lord.
Love you, Dad. Hope you’re singing in God’s choir and saving me a spot next to you!