It snowed yesterday. It snowed the night my mother died. It snowed the day we buried my dad next to mother.
Snow and Tears
The snow fell thick and heavy the night our mother died.
My brother called me at school just as I turned to prepare for the day’s classroom lessons. The children were soon due to arrive. I knew what the call was about even before Bob spoke, even before I heard his voice so thick with sadness. He said, “I just got to Mom’s and she’s not breathing.”
Five of us gathered at the nursing home to tell our father that he’d lost his life mate.
“Mom passed away in her sleep last night,” someone said gently to Dad. His head dropped and he sat and we waited.
“Would you like us to go to the cemetery to pick out your plots?” Dad nodded.
Later that afternoon we walked the snowy grounds of the cemetery. We choose the clearing near the pines.
It was bitter cold and snowy the January when Dad died. My brothers and I and our spouses and children gathered around his grave right next to mom, witnessed his burial and said our tearful and mostly silent goodbyes to our dad and grandpa.
Friends joined us afterwards at the nursing home for the memorial service. I spoke not only to remember him through a shared common memory and experience but to introduce my father to the many there who never knew him the way that I did. Multiple Sclerosis and subsequent dementia had dimmed to a glimmer the bright vitality of the man I’d known as a child and as a young woman.
then the Eulogy
It’s said that it takes a village to raise a child. I am grateful for this village of caregivers who loved my dad through the last years of his life.
This snow and cold today reminds me of ice skating on the ice rink that Dad made for us in the backyard where we grew up. It reminds me of skating on the Scioto River when winters were cold enough and long enough for it to freeze. It reminds me of sledding down the hill where our dear family friends lived. Dad was always the one to get us out to do things like that.
He took us for rides in his sports car and grilled hot dogs over the fire pit then told ghost stories once the embers died down.
Once I ran my sled right into a tree and cut my head open. Dad made me a little head covering out of a handkerchief to hide my stitches and of course I hated it, just hated it, and made a huge fuss because I thought it looked even dumber than the stitches looked. I’m sure I had a pretty spectacular meltdown. But he loved me even so and continued as my comforter and peacemaker when life was less than tranquil during my teen years.
Dad’s caregivers told us over and over how he was such a kind and gentle man. A sweetheart. So slow to anger, if at all. Such a dear man. Yes, he was.
Dad was a nurturer. He gathered seeds from the mature maple trees on the property and planted them and grew them into seedlings. Then he planted the little sprouts in milk cartons that he eventually put into the ground. He hammered a hollow, bottomless tin can into the ground next to the baby tree and every night after work he filled that hole with water. Not so much water that might cause the tree to grow weak and shallow roots but just enough water to grow deep, strong roots. Sort of like he did with us kids.
Years later, when Dad could no longer work but still had an inquisitive and busy mind, he ordered seedlings of pine, fir and spruce trees from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. I’m pretty sure they were free… he like free. He planted them in his empty paper milk carton halves and gave us three. Two of the three trees still grow strong along the back fence line of our back yard as constant reminders of his love of planting and growing and life.
Dad was a gardener and grew ordinary things like tomatoes and beans and more unusual things like broccoli, brussels sprouts and popcorn. One Christmas he gave his popcorn harvest as gifts. A friend presented Dad with a trophy for growing and gifting unpoppable popcorn.
One of the men at the company where Dad worked grew grapes. Dad brought home a big box full and we figured out how to make grape jam and grape jelly. We could have just bought jelly. But we hadn’t made our own before and we wanted to figure out how to do it. Not because we had to but just because. Like home curing hams in the garage, Dad was good at doing things just because.
Dad was an artist, a planner, an inventor and a hard worker. And bit of all of this… his character, gifts and talents shows in each of his kids and grandchildren. The analytical thinker, the witty dry humor, the interest in knowing how things work, the designer, nurturer, and like Bob said in Dad‘s obituary, he did the best that he could. He did the best that he could with what he was given. You know, he really just did.
So Dad, your greatest legacy to me is this: because I’m not promised a tomorrow I must live my best now in this moment with the grace to know that my best today is not the same best as it was yesterday or that will be tomorrow. It may not be the best that others think it should be. But as best I can I will live lovingly, gratefully and mindfully. Thank you Dad.