This has been a deeply sad week for me. My father died last Monday, Memorial Day, which seems fitting for a veteran. We had some very good times, and I am overflowing with wonderful memories, both from my childhood and from more recent years. Sadly, though, we also had times throughout my life when there was tension between us. The last two years were not good for us, though thankfully in his final weeks I felt that we had some renewed connection. It still does not seem possible that he is no longer here; I was so hoping for more time to reconnect, to hear his stories, to show him my sketchbooks, to sit with him watching the birds and chipmunks he so enjoyed.
I was thinking during the weeks of my father’s recent decline about how all people are both broken and beautiful; broken by others or by their own choices, beautiful because all people are created in the image of God and bear something of that image, no matter how broken they may be. That was very true of my father; he had significant brokenness that, along with my own brokenness, strained our relationship, but he was also an extraordinary person with many talents, who was people-oriented and generous. I am thankful for many of the interests and abilities that I carry on from my father and, going forward, I hope to pursue them in his honor and to God’s glory.
Here is what I wrote to be shared at his funeral:
I’ve often been told I look like my father. I don’t know if I do or not, but I know I am like him in many ways, and Papa is a big part of who I am. I owe much of my love of nature and appreciation for and beauty to Papa. I still picture walking with him in Butler Sanctuary, admiring a long black snake draped across the rocks on Blacksnake Hill; finding morels on a steep, rocky slope; picking bayberries to make bayberry candles. One day when he and I walked in our own woods, an enticing scent suddenly caught my attention, and I turned to see oyster mushrooms climbing a dead tree. FIVE POUNDS of oyster mushrooms, as Papa often told me with delight and obvious pride in me for finding them. I think of that day with Papa every time I see oyster mushrooms.
I remember the day not so many years ago when Papa took me to an exhibit of Van Gogh drawings and paintings. We went through the entire exhibit together, quietly discussing many of the pieces, then decided to go through separately to each study our favorites. I focused on a number of drawings and a few paintings; Papa just sat in front of his favorite, a large, colorful painting, silently observing it, deeply appreciating the opportunity to simply enjoy it. I so admire his ability to sit quietly, whether observing a painting; watching a hummingbird hovering in front of him; or taming the chipmunks that gamboled by his feet, on his hands, even in his shirt pockets.
Papa, like most of us, was a complex person with a blend of strengths and weaknesses and, sadly, he and I had a frequently strained relationship. He didn’t always show an overabundance of sensitivity to others’ emotions, but one occasion will always stay with me. I’d heard at the bus stop that a black and white cat had been hit by a car a ways up Chestnut Ridge Road. As soon as I got home I told Papa, and he immediately drove me up there. I had been wondering if it was our semi-feral Bilateral Symmetry, but when we drove past on the other side of the road, I stiffened as I saw a long-haired cat lying beside the road—Dis? Papa turned the car around and stopped by the cat. It was indeed my beloved Dis. We drove home, me in tears with Dis on my lap, then Papa dug a grave in a beautiful spot in the woods by the rhododendron-covered pathway. Papa took Dis’s body, laid her gently in the grave, covered her with dirt. He spoke with me some about death; I don’t remember specifics, but I have always remembered with gratitude what he said right afterwards—that he had buried Dis facing east with her head uphill.
Papa, I trust that on the last day you will rise up, facing east and rejoicing to see Christ come to take us home. I love you always and will be looking for you then.