Sunday, February 01, 2009

Eulogy for my Father

Last Friday, I got a phone call from my Mom that threw me into a strange, dreamlike state. She informed me that my Dad had been taken to the hospital with pneumonia and had quickly passed away. The next few days became a flurry of phone calls with siblings, flight bookings and preparations for travel. Sunday afternoon we drove into Saskatoon. Monday morning I got on a plane, and by Monday evening, I was attending the memorial viewing (just photos, no body) for my Father. Tuesday morning was the funeral, Tuesday afternoon and evening were taken up with visiting and cleaning out parts of the house for Mom, and by Wed. night I was back at home again.

When I landed in Saskatoon, it felt like I had just had a strange dream, like I could just go home to my own little world again as if nothing had happened. Except that there would be no phone calls from my Dad asking about the latest happenings in the Anglican church, or wondering what we were planning to do next (in my family, there is always a next). There would be no reiterating of articles written about the evils of Atheists or the Liberal party of Canada or the Emergent Church. There would be no more tasting of my Dad's latest concoctions -- salsa, tomato drinks laced with habernero peppers, lemonade made with stevia, raspberry jam with so much sugar it crystalizes on the knife, and popcorn with the latest salt and / or butter substitution. No more pancakes and Spanish Bar cake and pumpkin seeds. No more websites and conferences and promotional campaigns and dvds and cds promoting expository preaching and reformed evangelical teaching. No more new gadgets or cool technology. No more crazy stories about my dad's latest adventures. Life would be a little bit flatter and plainer without my Dad here to add his particular brand of incessant curiosity and creativity to the mix.

My father started out as an electrician, working in a mine in Sudbury. While he was working full time he led summer camps, kids club meetings and bible studies as well as doing further studies. Just before I was born he moved to Thunder Bay to teach college. A few years later, he was asked to pastor a church. Instead of giving up his job, he did both. Every week when I was growing up he would work at the college for 40 hrs, run several Bible studies, write and teach his own sunday school curriculum, preach twice on Sunday, and often run conferences and television and radio shows on the side. For a few years, he worked at Hemlo Gold Mines in the summer, becuase he felt like his electrical skills were getting rusty. The day I was married he had a major heart episode, and a few months later heart surgery. That was 15 years ago. It slowed him down, but nothing stopped him. He preached his last sermon Jan. 1, 2009.

My Dad was an innovator. He didn't ask "Has anyone else done this before?", but "Why hasn't anyone done this yet?". When he first discovered public television, he started a tv show at our local cable company. When he found a printing press for sale, he bought it and printed his articles, church bulletins, and whatever else he could think of on it. When computers came out, he got a Rainbow100 to see what they could do. When digital video editing technology started up, he got a hold of a system, learned how to operate it, and did a second cable tv show. His college was one of the first to use interactive computer software (guess who designed it?) for promotional purposes at career fairs. His church had a website in 1995. One of his friends was saying that he used to get tired just talking to him on the phone, he was so full of ideas and plans and dreams.

My Dad hated pretention. He didn't want a viewing at his funeral, because he hated it when people said things like "Oh, he looks so good"(considering he's dead?) and he didn't want a bunch of flowers (so he could prove how many friends he had?). If he asked you how you were, he didn't want to hear "Fine.", he wanted to know how you were. If he didn't want to know how you were, he didn't ask. He was a self-taught theologian, and he and his fellow officially uneducated Renaissance men would call themselves "the Nurses" when they went to conferences and were surrounded by Dr's of Philosophy. He had no time for sentimentality or niceties.

He had great love for his friends and family, his dogs and cats, his food and his books, but little patience anything he considered to be foolishness. He could be bitingly satirical and caustic to those he thought were foolish, hypocritical or cowardly. Those who "got" him and gained his respect, gained a devoted friend. He had no time for the rest, unless he felt the need to set them straight.

Dad was fascinated by everything. He would describe a bug he had found in the garden, or a new idea he had heard about, or an ancient battle that turned on a brilliant general, or a newly discovered science fiction authour, with equal enthusiasm. He had this amazing, biting sense of humour, and a personality and laugh that would fill all the space around him. He lived with an intensity, passion and energy that left most people breathless in his wake.

One of the amazing things about his funeral was hearing about and understanding this heritage. He had five children and so far, 17 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren. He planted his determination, love of life, creativity and anti-establishment leanings, in all of us. Our lives are, in some ways, variations on this theme.

This summer, he said that he had done everything he could in life. In other words, everything that he thought he could do, he did. He said he wished that instead, he had done everything he should have done. I think he meant that he wished he had stretched himself less and focused more on his family and his own personal faith and growth. If he had focused all of his tremendous energy on a few areas, instead of spreading himself into everything that took his fancy, he could have done those few things with greater wisdom and incredible success. That was his parting wisdom after 71 years of living and 15 years, while sick with heart problems, of reflecting back on his past.

I just hope I can remember this when my head is spinning in a million different directions. I hope I can take the best of his example, and leave the rest behind. I hope I can learn to do what I should do, not what I could do, in my life.

Bye, Dad. It was a fun ride. See you later, when we will have left behind the childish things of this life, and be able to shine forth as God intended us to be. Hope I can make you proud until then.


i am very mary said...

What an honor to be let into your heart and mind. This was incredibly honest, and I am grateful for it.

karenfae said...

It sounds like even though your father had heart problems his death was unexpected. You will get through this, it will hit you more as time goes by but then you will start to heal but to always remember as you should.

Kristen said...

What a beautiful, honest tribute to your father. Thank you for sharing that with us Jill.

Carla said...

Thanks for sharing that, Jill.

Miss Lobelia said...

Hi, I came for the fabric giveaway but I just had to say. So sorry for your loss. This eulogy was beautiful. Thanks for sharing. Danielle

dottycookie said...

I am so sorry for your loss, but what a wonderful tribute to him.