Location: Bend, Oregon
I have had a few good cries over the loss of my dad, but none was more awkward or more unexpected than the tears I shed in the FedEx Office store in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was taking advantage of a free afternoon I had there to print the programs for my dad’s celebration of life service and I also decided to blow up a photo of him to display on an easel at the Unitarian Church where we would be holding the service. The nice ladies helping me with the technology (not my strong suit!) then engulfed me in hugs as the enormity of the loss hit me. My dad’s kind face, with that trademark twinkle in his eyes and that smile that showcased both his intellect and his reserved nature, reduced to a cardboard enlargement, but never again something I could see in real life.
It was the photos that did it to me at his service too. My sister had set up a slide show that ran throughout the gathering, including photos from every stage of his life. My dad in his studly days when he was courting my mom and then pictures of them as they embarked on a life of travel and adventure around the world. Pictures of family milestones and gatherings and snapshots of him with each of my kids at various stages in their lives. They made me yearn for days gone by and wish we had more to capture on film. But the photos were also comforting. They serve as vivid reminders of a long life well lived. It is hard to feel that my dad left too soon or didn’t get the life he deserved when you see so many incredible moments captured on film, from fly fishing trips to diplomatic posts in faraway lands to intimate family moments big and small, spanning nine decades.
The service itself could not have been lovelier. The setting was Bend’s Unitarian Church, a modern wood building in the middle of the desert, with the natural beauty of its surroundings serving as a beautiful backdrop for the outdoor ceremony. We had many tributes to my dad, including funny stories and memories shared by his Thursday lunch group, his doctor, his friends, and his children and grandchildren. There were some common themes – his introverted nature, his unparalleled wit and intellect, and the fact that many people thought he worked for the CIA because he was often posted to countries where there were coups and government intrigue. Hearing my kids share how much their grandfather meant to them and how much his love of learning impacted them was particularly touching to me, because it is a concrete reminder that he will live on in us.
In the end, saying goodbye was both painful in its finality and cathartic in the opportunity it provided to honor my dad and all he meant to us. I felt like we did him justice and that is what gives me the most comfort. We ended the service by having the girls sing Blue Skies, a song my dad used to sing to my mom on their honeymoon, as they drove around Europe in his Porsche convertible. Seeing his granddaughters harmonize to a song about good times ahead, with the gorgeous Central Oregon wildflowers and mountains as their backdrop, was the perfect way to find the silver lining in this painful loss. Life cannot go on forever, so I am grateful for the peaceful and painless way it ended for my dad. And, paradoxically, life does goes on, so I am comforted by the way he lives on in me and my kids. Dad, I will try to honor you every day. And I will miss you just as often.