Several people have asked to read the words I shared at my Dad’s memorial. I continue to be in awe of the number of people who have shared their connection to Dad and the amount of support shown to our family during this difficult time. I still ache and expect to do so for a long time. While part of me yearns to return to a sense of normalcy, another part dreads living a life sans my role model. Little by little, story by story, we will learn to navigate these new waters.
I have written no less than 5 versions of what I want to convey today. I know it does not have to be perfect because I recognize that you would not be here if you did not love and appreciate my dad and therefore would be forgiving of my efforts.
In one version I focused on his love of history and how his focus was often on the broad sociological impact. I then eloquently connected this to his being the ultimate crusader for education and public media. In another version, I commented on the number of photographs mom and dad had of their various families. How these photographs signified the importance these players had made in his life. The impacts of his family of origin, family he married into, our immediate family, his PBS family, Drury family, Glendale/MSU family, UCA family, Forum Class and FUMC family, his Marvel Cave/Silver Dollar City family, Schweitzer softball family, blues festival family, Kings Happy Hour family, etc. In yet another version I spent time discussing how Dad impacted my career, parenting, and interests. And yet, somehow, all of these words just seem inefficient. The English language simply doesn’t offer enough adjectives to describe my dad. My desperation to perfectly memorialize my dad is misplaced grief. More than finding the right words, I yearn to find the right comfort, the right balm for my aching soul. My mind keeps going back to a conversation Dad and I had several years ago when Michael Jackson died. I half jokingly said that I didn’t know how to live in a world without Michael Jackson. Dad replied that he could relate because he had been telling himself the same thing every day since John Lennon died. And now, I tell you, sweet friends, that I don’t know how to live in a world without my Dad. And yet, that is what we must do. While I want to crawl in a cave, cover my ears, and stop this aching, I know that I can’t do that. Dad’s life goal was to make a positive impact on this world. Look around, read the messages online, and know that he has made an impact. And we have the obligation in his memory to continue carrying forth that goal. The love and support shown since Dad’s death has been staggering. I think that I speak for the entire family that we have been in awe of the reach of dad’s influence. As we read each text, email, and post and listened to each voicemail and visitor, we were left with positivity and comfort. Over and over, I found myself thinking “Oh, they are like family to us.” Please realize how many of you are like family to us. Please know how many of you were special to my dad. Please take away the knowledge that he talked about you, prayed for you, worried over you, asked about you, and rooted for you.
A favorite story in my house is about a family that is going on an imaginary bear hunt. The children and their dad chant “We’re going on a bear hunt. Going to catch a big one. We’re not afraid, it’s a beautiful day!” Their journey keeps getting interrupted by obstacles. “Oh no! Mud! Can’t go under it. Can’t go around it. Gotta go through it. Squish, squish, squish…” We can’t give up on dad’s legacy, just as we can’t ignore the void his death has created, we have to go through it. We have to go through it together, no matter how messy the obstacles.
We are sad that dad is not on this Earth anymore. I’m going to miss the way he tucked the remote under his chin, crossed his arms and touched his mouth when he was really thinking, his laugh that shook his entire body, and his carrying around notebooks to write down random thoughts or numbers. I’ll miss texting him political observations and rants, telling him what I’m reading, having him give me a cd of whatever group he’s now listening too. I’ll miss mom complaining that Dad is watching yet another World War 2 documentary or reading another Lincoln/McCartney biography. My pictures at Logan’s soccer games won’t be nearly as good and I will often fail to reign in my mom’s wild ideas. It will be strange to tell family memories without him prompting which story. I might need someone to encourage my writing. David will need people to brag on his singing and attend his plays. Trey will need someone to give him an all-knowing look when the women of this family are too much. Dad’s siblings, nieces, nephews, and mother will need ongoing love and support. Mom will need company, laughter, and comfort as she discovers a new normal. My children will need to be reminded that they have the very best of GrandDude in them and told how very much he loved each of them. AETN and PBS will need guidance and permission to continue on their mission. Together we can help each other through this dark time because we know that dad is no longer in pain, no longer worrying about funding or legislation, no longer dreading the next illness. We can help each other because we have been impacted by dad’s spirit and desire to lead with positivity.
Tuesday, Trey and I sat down with our 3 year old to tell him that my dad died. We explained that “GrandDude’s heart and body stopped working. He has moved to Heaven to live by Jesus and God. You won’t see him anymore but we are going to look at pictures and tell lots of stories about GrandDude.” Jack was quiet for a moment and if you know Jack, you know that doesn’t happen often. He then said “Remember! Daniel Tiger says “It’s ok to be sad sometimes. Little by little you’ll feel better again.”
And I am sad. I am filled to the brim with sorrow and anxiety about living in a world without my dad. But little by little and story by story we’ll feel better again…and that is how we will know we are carrying forth his legacy… That is how we will know that he made a positive mark on this world.