I spoke at my dad’s memorial service. Here’s what I said:
I really struggled with what to say today. When my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer two years ago, I knew I wanted to speak at his funeral. I thought of some great stories to share, and I heard these really great song lyrics that seemed appropriate, and I pictured this moving, emotional speech that would perfectly encapsulate everything I have been feeling for the past two years.
I sat down to write that speech a couple days ago, and nothing came.
Part of the problem with knowing what to write is knowing what tone to take. I firmly believe that everyone should grieve in their own way. I have grieved in a lot of different ways at a lot of different times for a lot of different reasons. There is pressure – from whom, I don’t know – to be brimming with hope and praising God for taking my dad to heaven. But I still want him here. I have my hopeful moments, but I am not without my sorrow. I cannot have spent the past 30 years with a man like my father and not be broken to have to say good-bye.
But no one wants to hear a speech about that.
Then I read a note from one of his dear friends. My dad’s death was a struggle for him. I saw another friend, and when he hugged me, I could feel the loss. My dad was a great man. He was my hero. He was an inspiration to those who knew him. I’m sorry, but it’s going to take me awhile to get over this one. It’s going to take a lot of us awhile. And that’s okay. Pastor Conrad can give us the message of hope, the best I can do is tell you where I’m at today. So here goes …
I have been reluctant to look at old pictures of my dad.
That is a hard thing to be when you are planning a funeral. You would be impressed at the lengths I took to avoid the video slideshow these past couple days. I practically had to have a handler to make sure I didn’t see anything I didn’t want to see.
Not looking at pictures probably sounds more callous than it is. I am not afraid to remember my dad the way he was. I am afraid of crying and breaking down and losing control of my emotions, but I’m not afraid of remembering. During these last few months, I kept reminding myself and reminding my mom that the hard times will be overwhelmed by the good times soon enough. I believe this will be true. I have to believe it.
Thankfully, I don’t need the pictures to remind me of how he was. I can see him clearly when I close my eyes and draw from the memories I hold dear in my heart. I can see him and my mom, newlyweds, grinning from ear to ear in their first house – never happier than to be with each other. I can see him carrying me on his shoulders at the Oregon Coast, beaming with pride. I can see him in his Lee’s Plumbing hat, standing next to a work truck, in his Nampa Christian hat, coaching his boys. I can see him at every major event in my life and Kenton’s life and Lindsay’s life, thrilled to be sharing them with us.
When I think back on photos of my dad, he is so incredibly happy. To see him hold us boys when we were little is to see a man who needs nothing else in this world.
When I look at pictures of him, I see his happiness. I see his joy with his kids, his love for my mom, and the light in his eyes. When I look at pictures of my dad, I see myself.
The physical similarities are striking. We have the same smile, the same expressions. It’s remarkable. The past few days, so many people have told me that I look like my dad. In the last couple weeks of his life, my mom told me that I look like him and that, because of me, she will always have a piece of him here with her.
I’m sorry I remind so many people of him. But at the same time, what a privilege. The Lord gave me 30 years to learn from the greatest man I have ever known, and it is an honor to carry on his legacy.
I don’t know if I am up for it, but I will never stop trying.
He was an incredible businessman – brilliant with his plumbing, diligent in his work ethic, and wise with his money. He taught me that there is more to life than what you do – an occupation can be a way into other people’s lives, and when I think of all the lives he has touched through work, it is simply staggering. He worked every day of his life to provide for us. I decided long ago that I wanted to provide for my family the same way he provided for his. It’s quite a hard goal to achieve. He was really good at it.
He considered everything good in his life a gift from God, and he gave richly out of what God had given. He was a man of integrity in all he did and generous with all he had. I can only hope to be the same.
I had the privilege of watching him interact with his friends, and I learned what it meant to be faithful, to be purposeful, to be loyal. He laughed with his friends, and he cried with his friends, and he was always there for them, no matter when they needed him or what they needed him for. One thing that has stood out to me in the days since he has passed is how many different people consider my dad to be one of the most important people in their lives. He lived in such a way – and was a friend to such an extreme – that he changed lives. I don’t know if I can be that good a friend, but I will try.
My dad loved the Lord. He was faithful to the church and to his ministries at Nampa First, Nampa Christian, and Trinity Pines. His faith and the many beautiful ways it manifested itself served as such an example to me. My dad’s clearest moments of speech during the past few months were when he was praying to Jesus. He spoke to Him with a natural ease. When everything else was fading away, the one area that always remained was his love of the Lord. I want that for my own life. I want to be so devoted to Jesus that when you take everything else away, He remains – just as clear and strong as when I had everything.
I have seen the way my dad cared for his mom. When she was sick, for years, he visited her faithfully in the nursing home. When it was hard, he was there. When it was inconvenient, he was there. He didn’t have to tell me how much he loved my grandma or how a son should care for his mother, he showed me, plainly, with his actions. I like to think that he knew – or maybe it was God who knew – that one day my mom might need the constant, loving embrace of her sons and that my dad could show us how by caring for his own mom. I noticed, and I will never give up loving my mom like he loved his.
My dad was the rock of our family, and we so desperately need one now. I don’t make as good a rock as he does. As you can tell, I get emotional way too easily. But it’s a role I’m willing to embrace, provided I can keep his example close to my heart.
He was such a good father to us boys. A while back, I pulled out pictures from my childhood, and every single one of them, my dad is beaming from ear to ear. We were adored, completely and wholeheartedly. When I think of the way he looked at me, and the way I looked back at him, I can’t help but think of Evan and how I want his face to light up the same way mine did when I saw my dad and for Evan to know he is loved – undeniably, unmistakably, unconditionally. I wish I could ask my dad how he did it. I want so badly to be the father that my dad was to me.
He loved my mom with all his heart. I cannot even begin to describe the impact their marriage has had on my life. I learned what true love is all about. I learned how to treat your partner, how to love her and care for her, and how to never waver from your commitment to her. His example of being a husband is one that I will never forget. I can only hope to love Lindsay as much as he loved my mom – to be her everything, to stand by her at all times, to never leave her side.
When experiences like my dad’s disease happen, I find myself asking why. Why him? Why now? I don’t expect an answer, but that doesn’t keep me from asking. One day during these last couple months, I read an Oswald Chambers quote that said, “God does not give us overcoming life. He gives us life as we overcome.”
It’s true. It’s going to take awhile, but it’s true.
Toward the end, when things were more difficult, I found myself no longer hoping for earthly healing or a miracle cure. But that isn’t to say that I stopped being hopeful. Having faith that my dad would be healed was only one area where I could prove my faith. I had faith that there was something better ahead for him, I had hope that he would be at peace soon. I believe that the future holds good things. Asking God to heal my dad is one of the most common prayers I have prayed over the past two years. And I finally got what I wanted. My dad beat cancer because cancer cannot follow him where he is now.
When I needed a comforting metaphor for dying, the Lord gave me a song with these lyrics: “Death is just a hook behind the door where I’ll leave my dirty clothes.” I wasn’t sure how to picture that door – was it a door into heaven? a door out of this world? – until I started remembering all those times when my dad came in from work. He stepped through the door, hung his hat on the rack. My mom helped him remove his shoes, and he sank into the couch, relaxed, relieved, completely at peace to be at home where he belonged. Dying is not unlike that. My dad has changed out of his dirty clothes, he has hung his hat on the rack, his shoes are off, and he can enter through that door to the place he belongs.
He is home now.
If you found this page and are looking for support, comfort, or encouragement, I’d be honored if you wanted to check out the book I wrote about my dad’s death. You can get it on Amazon — it’s a fast read. 🙂