Saturday, June 18, 2011

rest in peace, dad

I'm sitting at a Starbuck's in Seattle (which is like saying I'm sitting on sand at the beach, I know) in what has to be the yuppiest shopping center in town, and it is great to be back in the US.  Free wi-fi, and a lovely evening to sit and type.  We flew back from Dallas this morning, got in to Seattle just in time to be hungry, so went out for Vietnamese.  Then dropped dh and MadMax back at the airport so they could fly home-- dh has to work next week, and MadMax has basketball camp.   This was the week that Nell and I were supposed to be gallivanting around the moors, or maybe Dublin, and it's hard not to have... well, pangs.  But there's no way I would have missed the time with family that happened this week, so it's all good.  There will be other trips.

There was a delicate balancing act to perform this week.  Anyone who is the child of a much-admired, fairly public person will understand.  You have to publicly honor the good that your parent accomplished--which in the case of my dad, was considerable--without losing touch with the reality of your own experience, which may be quite different.  It is the rare public figure that can live up to their hype.

There are cases where the person's private life was so much at odds with his/her public life that the truth needs to come out, and the public accomplishments need to be re-assessed.  But I don't think that is the case with Dad.  I didn't (and don't) have any problem with remaining silent while listening to people talk about the amazing things he did.  He did some pretty amazing things for me, too.  But I have to say that the private times with my sisters, our spouses, and a few people who knew him very well, where we were able to laugh and cry and roll our eyes at the pain he caused along with the joys, was more therapeutic than the more public times.

But having said that, I have to say that the service was beautiful.  My dad had reached a point of contentment with his life in the last few years, and his illness lasted long enough that he was able to come to terms with his death, too.  He was ready, and although I doubt his wife would say she was ready for him to go, she was in any case ready for an end to his suffering.  I think in circumstances like that, the funeral can become a celebration of someone's life, and this one was.  Two of his mentees (is that the word for someone you mentor?) spoke movingly, and the man who was our pastor when I was in junior high and high school spoke.

My sisters spoke, too.  They asked me if I wanted to join them, but I didn't.  I didn't really think it through, I just knew for sure I didn't want to get up there and speak.  Not too surprising since whatever other reasons there might be, I have a life-long complete and utter dread of speaking in front of people.  My sisters did a lovely job of being humorous, and honest, and loving, without going into too much detail.

In a classic act of dad-ness, Dad had scripted his funeral, including telling our retired pastor what he wanted him to speak on.   The pastor made us all laugh telling the story.  "I don't let other people tell me what to preach."   "Then I'll find someone else to do it," my dad replied, which I can completely believe.  But they were both joking, because the pastor knew he would honor Dad's request, and Dad knew that there was no one else he would trust to do it.

So he talked about grace, using his own words and dad's outline.  The sentiments expressed were fairly standard ruminations on the Christian idea of grace, which is-- as we were taught in Vacation Bible School-- God's Riches At Christ's Expense.   Grace is about a gift you don't deserve, the love you receive at the moment when you are most unlovable, a cosmic random act of kindness of which you are the recipient (with random meaning not that it was unplanned, but that there is no reason you should have been picked out for it).

It's one of the most obvious of the major Christian doctrines, and one that is relatively easy to define, and yet it is--in my experience-- the one that is the hardest to live.  Because it requires giving up the idea that we need to deserve love and acceptance.  To truly recognize grace at a soul-deep level is to give up feeling inferior, like damaged goods.  It is to give up feeling unworthy, or unacceptable, or bad about yourself.  The ideas expressed at dad's funeral were specfically Christian, but I think it translates to any spiritual path.  I've been thinking about it a lot.

In fact, the funeral itself felt like a moment of grace to me.  I'm not done processing my dad's death, and certainly not his life or his influence on me, but there was a moment toward the end of the service where I was able to just let go of all that and be at peace.  At peace with him and at peace with me.

Nell is rejoicing at being back in the States with her buddies, but I'm supposed to pick her up in ten minutes, so I'd better go.  There may be more on this topic another time.  DSQ, it was so nice to see the Pilot Man.  Please tell him how much I appreciated his presence-- I didn't get a chance to talk to him, because I was so sure he was staying for dinner that I didn't track him down until he had already left.


  1. Hey my friend. I was glad that Pilot Man could make it. Even my parents didn't know he was going to be there until he showed up. I will pass your message on to him.

  2. We went through something VERY similar when my sister died. VERY! And in the end, we can say that she was ready to go, even if some people were not ready to LET her go.
    Glad that you are with your girl now and that you can process this. It can take just as long as it takes.
    Selfishly, I'm glad you are back on Home Ground, but I AM sorry you had to miss some of the sights you were looking forward to.
    p.s. My boys are going to be in Seattle next weekend...

  3. Thanks, Debbie!

    Julie-- if you were going to be with them, I might try to figure out a way to stay here!

  4. Nope, I'll be home with the dog.