The door opened and we gave a “Yoo Hoo!” to which my Mom responded in kind as she came down to hug us. That was my Dad’s signature greeting whenever he entered the house. My brothers were already back in town. As we settled in, we began to discuss what comes next. Mom had a list she needed help with including sorting out paperwork, closing the business, dealing with taxes, and planning for the funeral. As we began working through the list, we told stories, shared memories, and asked questions about different experiences we had growing up. Why was Dad like that??? We talked and laughed, yelled and laughed, poked fun and laughed… but something was odd…
Sunday brought visitors and food, lots of midwestern food – like, a stick of butter as an appetizer type of food. Monday brought visits to the funeral home, more visitors, more food and Tuesday would follow suit. Us four boys began to learn a lot about each other. The older 2 realized they had left the house before the formative years of me and my younger brother. We had the same Dad, yet in many ways we had a different one as well.
We also learned that the body inside a casket wears pants! I don’t know why, you can’t see their legs, but when the funeral home called asking for us to bring a pair of pants, we all broke out in laughter. Wow! That was a good one, but I couldn’t shake the question:
“Why are we so happy? What is wrong with us?”
It didn’t seem right. I guess I had expected a house in mourning, but that’s not who we were. It seemed weird but we were really having a great time…
The Struggle Within
When my Grandfather had passed away, my Dad gave the eulogy at his funeral. As he took the podium, he explained that he had spent his life working alongside his Father. First on the farm, then at my Dad’s painting company. Every day they worked together. They were more than father and son, they had been life long companions. As I listened to him, I wondered how he had the strength. “This is his Dad. How is he getting through this?” Yet his words were powerful. Everyone felt their gravity. More than flowery memories, they were experiences, lessons, a collection of thoughts from a life lived together…
This had been my fear on the flight home. I needed to give his Eulogy, but I was questioning myself:
Should I do it? Will my family think its weird? Will my brothers feel diminished in some way? I tried to push it out of my mind but it was always there. These few days of stories and laughter were fueling the fire…
then I’d remember the bedroom just days ago… “Am I strong enough? What if I lose control in front of a church full of people? People who know me. People I’ve set out to prove wrong.”
So as we were planning the services with the Pastors at the dining room table, I was only half surprised when I spoke up, asking if I could do his Eulogy. I had everyone’s attention now, especially my wife’s. Her eyes were silently telling me:
“No, don’t do it. Tell them you’re joking! Please.“
But the biggest surprise came when my older brother began to chuckle. All eyes turned to him as he said, “Well I feel better, because I was wondering if I could preach the sermon.” By the end of the planning session, a granddaughter would share some stories, I would give the Eulogy and my brother would preach the Sermon at our Father’s funeral.
Valentine’s Day 2018
So much for a fancy dinner. My wife and I spent Valentine’s Day receiving guests at the visitation. Hundreds of people came through asking how we were, to which we replied,
“Really good actually. It sounds strange but its true.”
I had always met people my Dad had helped. When I would come home to visit, I would run into people who knew me, knew all about me, and when I asked them how I knew them, they responded, “You don’t know me, but I know your Dad. He is helping me…” But this evening, I would meet broken people. People as torn up as I had been the week before. People who would tell me that my Dad had in some way saved their life. He was the only one who cared, took time… These stories gushed forth and I was shocked at the impact my Father had on so many people…
Suddenly I wished I hadn’t committed to eulogizing my Dad tomorrow. I felt overwhelmed, underprepared… I had set off on a journey worth the struggle. I has chosen to run a path, deliberately different than the path of mediocrity embraced by this Cornfield. By many measures I was successful. People would tell me how proud they were of me. I had chosen to matter!
Yet, now I wondered how I compared to my Dad? How many lives had I changed for the better? How many people would tell my family that I had been the difference in their life? Had I ever been the one who cared for another when no one else did???
Despite the myriad of the reasons I could cite to think less of him, despite all of his glaring failings and inadequacies, suddenly I wondered if I had really achieved anything worthwhile at all? How Should Success be Measured??? I Had It!!
In bed the night before his funeral, I finally saw my Dad for who he was, not who I had thought he should be.