At last, feeling rested and ready to rejoin my “normal” life,
Nothing can prepare one for the emotion after a death in the family. Especially the death of a parent. Devastating, utterly devastating. Even though this was a long anticipated passing, given my father’s declining health. Along the way, we all kept a stiff upper lip, acted as calmly as any of us could, to take care of his comfort and needs. My mother, bless her heart, served as his primary caregiver in the last months, despite how challenging this was for her, physically and emotionally. Many medical interventions, trips to doctors to adjust medications, tests, diagnoses.
My father kept up his positive spirits too, even as his body failed him. His mind remained sharp, his curiosity perpetual. When I visited, he always had a question about what was happening in my life, about the restaurant, the twins, Intaba, even after she moved across the country. He kept up his studies, of scriptures and devotional readings, watched nightly news to keep up on current events.
At the memorial last Saturday, I learned more about my father even after his death. All five of his sons shared from the pulpit, as did no less than five ministers from various churches and places in his life. I learned how my father protested at Vandenberg against the growing nuclear arms race, and took my mother with him as one of their first dates. How he’d wanted to travel from New England down to Selma, Alabama, to join the civil rights protests. How my mother pleaded for him instead to stay home and care for his wife and two young children (Mark and I were 5 and 3 at the time).
Each of the stories carried a message, a window into the man I knew as father. Facets on the crystal of his life’s journey. I wish I’d been able to talk more with him. But in later years, I’d grown distant, wrapped up in the drama of my own life, recalcitrant in difference of my own views. As much as I fell out of touch with my family, I lost touch with the roots of my own life. Differing philosophy served as my excuse for withdrawal, though now I see my own agency in creating the void that gaped between Corvallis and McMinnville. Bitter grief crashed through in the days after my fathers death. I spent many a day and night weeping, wailing, raging at my own naivete and pride, at forever losing the chance to connect, to offer comfort, to assure my father of my love for him.
Despite any perceived differences, we are family, stronger in our bond now. I am my father’s son. I carry his genes, his zeal, his goofy sense of humor, his love for family and nature and community. And his calling to be an agent for change, to leave the world a better place for our children and grand children, and great grand children.
I took the last few days on retreat. Renting a small cabin a few hundred yards from the crashing surf in Yachats. Two days in January, with sunny clear weather, temperatures nearly 60°. Couldn’t have been nicer. And I got on my bicycle again, riding south over my cherished Highway 101. A thin ribbon etched into the stone cliffs, soaring high over the vast Pacific, a road so familiar. Home. Legs aching, also my seat. I hadn’t ridden since October (!) but found I quickly fell back into the rhythm of pumping, breathing, pulling up the hills, flying down on descents. Sounds of surf and seagull, spray of salt and sweat and seaweed, grit of rock and sand, aching, sweating, rejoicing, reeling, reminiscing. No better medicine for my sorrowful soul.
My father also shared the love of bicycling, though I doubt he ever rode on the 101. I love in particular a black and white photo of him at ten years old, circa 1936, on the cruiser which he kept riding for decades later, well into his advanced years. The joy in his face is familiar,which is the joy of the cyclist, empowered by a simple machine of wheels and gears to elevate a human being over a landscape, a soul in motion, celebrating body and life and love.
Despite any perceived differences, we are family, stronger in our bond now. I am my father’s son. I carry his genes, his zeal, his goofy sense of humor, his love for family and nature and community. And his calling to be an agent for peacemaking and change, to leave the world a better place for our children and grand children, and great grand children.
Now that my father has passed into the realms of myth and legacy, I will carry his spirit with me, as I venture along in my life. All the days of my life. I love you, Daddy.