My father died on Dec. 24th and my husband and I returned to Minnesota for his funeral. At 87 he had lived a long and full life. It seemed like he went “downhill” very fast. In the last two years each time I saw him I couldn’t believe the changes. In some ways I feel fortunate that the end of his life came relatively quickly. He lived to a “ripe old age” and enjoyed his life almost up to the very end. We were fortunate that a family wedding last August brought most of our family together in celebration and my father’s health was still good enough to share in it. The picture above of my father was the one taken last August and the one we used at the funeral. When the end came it came relatively quickly, although I know it didn’t feel that way to my mother or sisters who sat by his side for four days.
His memorial service was a beautiful celebration of his life. It was held at the small Lutheran church that our family attended most of my life. It was bitter sweet. The church was filled with people and many of them came up to me to offer condolences. They would often say “You probably don’t remember me…” and all too often I didn’t. Many people I hadn’t seen for years, even decades, but their words always touched me. Their stories brought tears and laughter. They all thought so much of my father. How can one explain what it means to belong to a community? These were my people. I was Bob’s daughter. I belonged. Somehow sharing with each of them it felt as if the emptiness I was feeling was filled. The hole in my heart that I wasn’t expecting…was somehow filled. These people in one way or another made me feel that my father was important. His life mattered and by extension …my life mattered.
How absolutely essential it is to belong in community. Our roots go deep and our soil is enriched because our father tended it. He wasn’t perfect. Nor are we. But we would not be who we are if not for him. To me he was my idol because I was the proverbial “daddy’s girl”. He was my first teacher and I learned so much from him. I would not be who I am without his influence. We belong to a family within this community. My mother, my siblings, my nieces and nephew, their spouses, their children…we gathered together as family. We cried, we laughed, we hugged, we looked at pictures, and we hoisted our drinks. We came together as family. This is a time when you feel we are more than just individual people living our separate lives.
I could feel my father’s spirit and I know he was smiling. I thought “Look what you started dad. Look what you left behind.” I could feel his approval and his love. His spirit was with us. The mystery of life came full circle, we are born, we live and reproduce, we die…the way we only hope it can be. We all hope we can live a long and full life and in the end to know it is our time, to know that we were part of something larger than our self.
A week before he died my sister asked him about death. “Are you ready?” His answer was straight forward. “Yes. I’m pretty sure I am. ” Can we hope for more than that?