From August 11, 2010
I know that – somewhere – dad is probably embarrassed, and at least annoyed -slash- bothered -slash- slightly upset that I’m doing this. Dad was a plain man, not given to flowery pronouncements or to frippery… which also means he wouldn’t use a word like frippery. In his own… subtle way….he’d probably equate my giving his eulogy to a healthy amount of the product of the back end of a large Texas steer.
Over the years, he and I have been in this church many hundreds of times, helping other families say goodbye to their loved ones. Today, we – and you – are here for him.
It’s said that in times like these, you find out who your friends really are. We have a lot, and they are wonderful. For my family, I can only offer a very overwhelmed “thank you”.
My brother Michael and I spent a very deep and profound night on Friday. It’s a night that I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. The aneurysm that happened so suddenly on Thursday stole his mind and thoughts and speech and all the things that made him him. He wasn’t really Frank anymore, he was just Frank’s shell. He was no longer there in any real sense. Mike and I stayed in the room in hospice all night as dad lay dying. We started talking about memories. But what we kept coming back to was the lessons we’d learned.
My dad was, first and foremost, a teacher, and not just in a classroom or on a basketball court. Real teaching is a quiet pursuit. The greatest lessons are the quiet lessons, the ones we don’t even realize we’ve learned until later. Mike and I discovered a wealth of quiet lessons as we sat holding our dying dad.
Let me share one with you:
My dad and I have exchanged books and texts and novels since I was 12. One of our favorites is “The Journeyer”, about Marco Polo and his travels across the Silk Road and through Asia. Marco’s mentor and friend dies suddenly in the night, and he’s buried under a stone that reads “But we never know when the last time comes”. I have always loved that quote, but it’s taken the events of the last few days for me to really understand it.
The last time I saw my dad before the aneurysm that stole first his cognitive function, and then his life, was last Tuesday afternoon. We were standing across the street on the porch of the funeral home, talking about nothing particularly important, with no idea that a week later, I’d be there at his wake. He was my dad and he knew I loved him but I’m still a little worse off now for not having him anymore. We lived with mortality on a regular basis and I always knew I’d lose him someday, but the hole is bigger than I thought it would be. There are always so many things left to say, and now I can’t say them.
And in that lies the lesson. “We never know when the last time comes”.
We are more than the sum of a listing of our successes and setbacks, we are more than our moments of incredible grace and more than the moments when we fell short of the glory. Michael, who is brilliant and profound well beyond his 22 years, said in the early hours of Saturday morning, ‘if you can sum up your relationship with another person with one word, then you’re doing it wrong, unless that word is “complicated”’.
Like so many men of his generation, my dad wasn’t comfortable expressing emotion. Not that he didn’t feel it, he just didn’t know how to show it. He was quiet about it. I can’t tell you the number of people that he’s buried for nothing or next to nothing, taking it out of his own pocket because he thought they deserved a decent burial. He didn’t do it for recognition, but because it was right. There’s an infant named Jonathan at Mother of Sorrows Cemetery, buried in a lone grave that my dad bought. Jonathan’s circumstances broke dad’s heart. He took care of Jonathan, buried him and visited his grave, alone, for years.
With the exception of my mom, there is no one alive who knows my dad better than I do. In the last few months, we’d developed a very honest relationship where we could discuss anything, and so there are certain things that I can tell you because he told them to me. I don’t have to guess. And I know he would want me to tell you, to make sure that you know, now that his last time has come, how much he loved you. Even if he didn’t quite know how to share it or show it. He loved his friends, he loved his brother, he loved his kids, and he loved his wife.
So when you think about dad, remember him, but remember too how quickly he was taken away. Say the things you need to say to those you love. Share a hug. Tell them what they mean to you. Tell them that you love them. Because we never know when the last time comes.
If you do that, you’ll not only give more meaning to your own life, but more meaning to his. He won’t be just a memory, he’ll still be teaching. He’ll still be present in this world in a meaningful way, long after he’s left it.
And I do think that would make the teacher in him very happy.
I love you Dad. Thank you. Rest easy and travel well.