So, Dad’s local memorial service was this afternoon. We’ll be having a family service in the early summer, when it’s warm enough to spread his ashes out in Cape Cod Bay, where he wanted them. But it was a lovely gathering this afternoon, in the 1834 meeting house that’s home to my UU church. A great mix of local family, neighbors and good friends, on a gorgeous fall day. Here’s what I had to say.
As I sat down last Sunday afternoon to gather my thoughts for this service, I found myself struck by an incredible irony: In the last few years that I’ve been writing a blog about my time caring for my father, I’ve written, literally, thousands of words about the man. But that afternoon, with my laptop open in front of me, I realized I had no clue what I wanted to say.
You see, Dad and I had a complicated relationship. Not an unusual sentiment, I realize, but Dad was married three times, and each of those wives had a husband or two besides him. Just explaining to others how my various half- and step-siblings are related (or not) can require a Powerpoint presentation. So, being the son of a man at the center of such an extended family … tree? …bush? …vine? …is a complicated experience.
But while our relationship had its complications, Dad, himself, was not a complicated man. His view on life was simple: he loved it. Dad simply did not know how to not have a good time. This could be maddening – he was loud, enjoyed his Scotch a bit more than he probably should have, and would never miss an opportunity to flirt with a waitress, make an off-color remark or – if a piano (and player) were present – break out in song. His complicated family may have wanted to slide under the table when he got started, but he was a party on two legs to much of the rest of the world.
That simple joie de vivre stayed with Dad through some really tough times. Through marriages that didn’t work out as he thought they would, and tough business times when orders (and commissions) were few and far between. “Something will come along,” he’d say. “It always does.” And, you know, it almost always did.
Dad was never a religious person, though he loved the drama and ritual celebrated in the Episcopal church in which he was raised. But I came to see in his time on the Cape that holding onto the faith that “something will come along – it always does,” was really Dad’s spiritual practice, along with living his basic principle that life is meant to be lived well and enjoyed with gusto. He maintained those two tenets even when it became clear this past spring that Pleasant Bay Nursing Center, not my little house on Main Street, here in Brewster, would be his new permanent home.
“Well, here’s where I am,” was his response when I asked how he’d managed to turn his attitude from depression to acceptance over the two or three days it took him to absorb that difficult reality. That conversation took place back in March, and I’ve thought about the sheer grace of Dad’s response – “Here’s where I am.” – almost every day since. Sure, he’d have some down days after that acceptance; but, in general, he stood by his faith – flirting with the nurses, talking trash about the Red Sox with whomever would listen and relishing his cocktail-hour Scotch on the rocks, even if it was sometimes served in a disposable plastic cup.
So, here’s where I am, Dad – standing in a beautiful room, celebrating your life among people who loved you, some who grew to care a great deal about you in a very short period of time. There’s a piano here and someone to play it, and in just a few minutes we’ll all be joining in on one of your favorite tunes. And, after almost 700 words, I’ve finally figured out what I wanted to say today – I love you, and thank you for helping me see both the work and the value of loving life wherever I am living it. I only hope I can continue this practice with at least a portion of your humor and grace, no matter how embarrassing it may be to the complicated family around me.
Amen, Namaste, Blessed be.