My Dad passed away on June 19. He so graciously waited into minutes of the 19th, so we wouldn’t have to remember our Dad passing away on Father’s Day! At 11:45 pm on the 18th, the Ukrainian/spiritual mystic/hospice male nurse felt my Dad’s body and looked up and said, “He has decided not to leave today. It will be 12:30.” 45 minutes later he was gone. Thank you for taking care of details to the end, Dad.
That was my Dad – taking care of business till the end. At his death he was President of the Residents Council at Redwood Terrace, a continuing care retirement community in Southern California. In mid-May, his congestive heart failure seemed to be catching up with him. As my daughter Kelly said, “We aren’t used to Grandpa being OLD!” Indeed, he had a Facebook account, iPhone, iPad, and two computer screens for his ailing one eye. He played golf until 3 or 4 years ago. He got to see his Cubbies win the World Series. After five weeks of declining health, this bundle of energy was gone.
Here are some of the thoughts about my Dad’s life that I shared at a Memorial Service in California in July. It’s what my dear Dad taught me about living life, with joie de vivre, no matter the stage of life, or what life throws at us:
It’s not very often that I have had the thought, “Wow! He was so full of life and energy! I can’t believe he’s gone!” of a 98-year-old! But standing here today, I think of my Dad, filling in his transportation request for an eye doctor appointment about two months ago, days later going to Palomar Hospital, arriving back at the Health Center here at Redwood Terrace (insisting on Redwood transportation because he was afraid we would be stuck with a big ambulance bill) and saying to a staff member, “I have to call my kids,” because he sensed his life was coming to an end. Yet at the same time telling me, “I’ve got to get better because I have a council meeting at the beginning of June!” My Dad – persistent in asking (for what turned out to be his last meal) for the “no-no” of ice cream. Good for you, Dad! Thanks for not listening to us, or your Doctor, and ordering some ice cream!
Today, I’m thinking of my Dad – living life fully to the end with physical limitations that he did not allow to limit him.
One thing my Dad’s life was full of was files. Meticulous files and notebooks. Notebooks with Redwood Residents Council policies and council work. File cabinets and desk drawers and his porch storage space all filled with memorabilia – and files. Often I’d talk with him on the phone or FaceTime and he’d say, “I really need to be getting to some filing. I’m playing too much solitaire.” I always figured he was speaking about filing Redwood meeting notes.
But our family really had no idea of the extent of the goodies those files held. We have learned so much about our Dad in the last few weeks: Professional organization work that was recognized in the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Daily News. Unused tickets to the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933 including a newspaper photo of Puerto Rican women, including his Mom, who were attending the Fair, and a commemorative coin which on the back had the imprint of a swastika and a phrase that said, “Promoting world peace.” We came across that coin and were transported to a significant time in our human history – where no one could have imagined what was ahead back in 1933.
We also came across files that included our family history from the 1800’s, from my Mom’s family in what was alternately Austria/Yugoslavia/present-day Slovenia, and my Dad’s own family in Puerto Rico. He and my Mom had created more recent family history files including notes and kiddie art from their 4 grandchildren, our professional news and accomplishments, their house plans for homes they built over their nearly 70 years together. (Oh if we could have homes at those prices today!) There were files containing his international work history – you might find some of it interesting on the two tables in this room. An invoice from a sale of heavy machinery in Aleppo, Syria, golf score cards from Taiwan, India, around the world. Correspondence with former Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldridge. 5-week travel itineraries to Asia, and other business itineraries to some of the over 50 countries my Dad visited in his lifetime, including Egypt, Iran, and Cuba. A letter from the President of Spaulding Golf congratulating him on one of his 4 hole-in-ones. A receipt for the silk dresses he had had sewn for my Mom in Asia.
What I have noticed is that our Dad moved from a rich professional life, to a second life, which was equally rich. He just filled new files with a new life. When his robust work life ended, he accelerated his volunteer work at his church, as a Pastor of the Day, at condo associations where he and my Mom lived, here at Redwoood Terrace.
When my Dad’s journey on earth was over, and I left his side in the early morning hours of June 19, I found myself beginning to ask myself some questions:
- What will fill my files at my life’s end?
- How will I use my gifts and abilities in another way, when I can’t use them anymore in the ways I have been used to using them?
- How can all of us continue to be useful in life when our circumstances shift and change?
A gift my Dad has given to me in the last weeks of his life has been the opportunity to think about how I can fill my figurative life “files” as generously and fully as he did!
As I have spent time finding and processing the treasures of his life, and my Mom’s, I understand there is no reason not to keep living fully, even when life throws its weight at us with full force, sometimes forces outside of our control. In our circumstances, whether chosen or forced on us, all of us have the gift of labeling new files with new life work and interests. We can extend goodness to others. We can work a crossword puzzle in the library at Redwood and let others marvel at its completion. We can smile when crossing paths with another. We can volunteer a just a tiny bit of time. We can make something good happen with the capacity we have to make it happen.
Dad – I can say the work of going through your papers, your files, your memorabilia – has been a gift. Thank you for living out what Frederick Buechner has said is the gift of, “Listening to your life. Seeing it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touching, tasting, smelling our way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
Dad, you filled your life. In the moments after you left us for your new life where you are filling new files, I leaned close to your ear, hoping you might still hear my voice, and I told you I was stealing your “joie de vivre,” what the dictionary calls “the exuberant enjoyment of life.” I’m asking God, and myself, to fill my life with love, with passion, generosity, goodness, with talents, with adventure, with energy. May we fill our lives as fully and generously as you did.
8 thoughts on “Dad”
Good for you, Melinda, creating a blog. You will never regret having a written record of your thoughts just as you appreciate your Dad’s files revealing so much about a life well-lived. I came to think of you as a friend after listening to Midday for all those years. Still miss it terribly.
Thanks for connecting Ginny – we are the Midday tribe forever!
Yes, I’m reminding myself, fill the files girl! But like my latest post says, it will happen slowly. I’m OK with that.
My husband said to me this morning, “You didn’t feel that way a year ago about________.” Right. Slowly…things are changing for me, in a direction I’m really happy about. 🙂
What a beautiful tribute. Your dad left a remarkable legacy via a life that was always growing, right up to the very end. That willingness to ask questions, learn, and build on what came before shines through in your life.
Did not see this coming ree: my dad. I keep finding the gifts of goodness…in the grief. He would like that.
What beautiful thoughts of your father’s legacy of “joie de vivre”. What powerful questions you are asking yourself, and we readers. Thank you. I’m learning that it’s good for us to frame our lives in this perspective rather than feel we are done just because a season ends. Thank you for sharing your heart in this post.
My deepest sympathies for your loss, as well.
Thank you, Randi, for your sympathies. Yeah, I’m so reminded that the seasons are just as alive as they were in my 20’s. In some ways very similar: “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?!”
I can hear your voice speaking these words as I read…thank you for demonstrating joie de vivre for the rest of us
Ha! I have to keep going to that place of LIVING into it. Weekly, daily! Takes new practice.