After I posted this, Dixie pointed out that I hadn’t mentioned my dad’s death in this space. I suppose I assumed most people that read this are also Facebook friends, but that’s probably not the case. Dad died on Monday at age 76 after a long struggle with dementia. The funeral was today.
My brother Andrew and I both spoke as part of the eulogy. Andrew spoke first and gave a bit more of dad’s life story and was a bit more reflective than I was. How do you write a eulogy? What do you say? Mine ended up as a series of memories that painted a general picture of what dad was like.
Andrew and I decided to write our eulogies separately and compare notes later. When we did, we discovered that we had essentially written identical eulogies—we’d even independently thought it fit to compare dad to the cactus: prickly on the outside, soft on the inside, with beauty sprouting. So please forgive a little repetition.
It feels like I was, unfortunately, too young to really recount much of dad’s life when he was in the thick of his church-planting ministry, and my memory is poor at the best of times, containing only short, vague vignettes, moments frozen in time. These stream-of-consciousness memories and anecdotes are meant to paint a picture of who dad was.
I remember our church in the school in Holland, with bulletins and song lyrics always in green ink (his favourite) printed with dad’s stencil machine. I remember dad preaching and sounding he was angry. He was probably just excited about the message, but it made me nervous. I remember dad baptizing people who came to Christ through his ministry and being fascinated not so much by the act of baptism, but by the fact that dad walked into that little pool fully clothed in slacks and a button-up shirt. He seemed to carry a lot of authority in everything he did in the church.
I remember wrestling with him on the floor before bed.
Forgive me for saying this, but dad was the loudest nose-blower I’ve ever known. It sounded a bit like a trombone. It was our morning wake-up call.
I remember his obsession with pens and stationery, an obsession I inherited. I remember his love of Johnny Cash—the only “cool” music he listened to. We would listen to Johnny Cash’ greatest hits on roads trips. Dad wasn’t much of a singer, but he would always mimic Johnny’s train-whistle sounds at the appropriate moments during “Orange Blossom Special”. My brother and I both love Johnny Cash thanks to dad.
I remember that dad was always up out of bed before anyone else, and no matter what time I woke up, I could find him in his office studying or writing. No matter what he was doing, dad worked hard and did his best. In the 1990s when he couldn’t find work as a pastor, which was where his heart was, he worked odd jobs doing maintenance, pumping gas, and janitorial work. He was even diligent and hard working when he cleaned toilets. I never heard him complain.
I remember dad in his garden, turning the soil, pruning trees, caring for all green and colourful things. He seemed equally as strong and authoritative in the garden as he was at the pulpit.
I remember him bent over his cactuses with his camera, taking pictures of the beautiful flowers that would grow on them. Cactuses seemed to be his favourite plant. He would have two dozen or more little cactuses in individual pots, each growing its own unique flower.
The cactus: an appropriate symbol of dad, as Andrew noted. The beauty that flowered out of him included his commitment to truth and justice, as Andrew also said. His ministry reached out even to the spouse-abusing alcoholic, the drug addict and the suicidal student.
I remember one winter when I was visiting mom and dad. Mom woke me up in the middle of the night because dad had gone out to help a student friend of his, who was threatening himself with a box-cutter in front of his girlfriend’s dorm room. Dad must have been in his 60s at the time. They called dad because he was the only one who could calm this guy down. I followed dad at a distance and watched as he wrestled this student to the ground and took the box-cutter from him.
All of this may make dad seem like a terribly serious person, but he also had a great sense of humour—another beautiful flower in him. My wife always noted—and she’s right—that his laughter would light up an entire room. And if it was YOU who made him laugh, you’d feel like a million bucks. Sometimes when he got going, he couldn’t stop laughing.
There were certain stories he would always return to, like the time mom, dad, and I were camping and they both went to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Well, mom went and what she didn’t know was that dad had followed her to protect her, since the campground was dark and right along the highway. Mom thought he was still asleep in the tent. She got back to the tent just before dad did, and as she was zipping the tent door shut, dad was trying to zip the tent door up. Mom thought he was an intruder and started shouting at him and hit him so hard through the tent wall that he fell over. I remember that dad took a long time to get back to sleep that night, because he was laughing uncontrollably. That story would bring tears of laughter to his eyes every time he told it.
Dad was 35 when he married mom. He was 37 when Andrew was born and 42 when I was born. Years ago—maybe just around the time Andrew got married—I heard him tell mom that he didn’t think he’d ever see his grandchildren. I’m not sure what his health was like at the time, but perhaps for a diabetic that wasn’t an unrealistic expectation. He was 65 when his first grandchild was born. 5 more grandchildren followed. Contrary to his expectations, he met every single one of his grandchildren and loved them all dearly.
I feel like I could go on for quite some time with these little vignettes, but any other images I could share would likely be images deeply personal to me, but would seem ordinary to you.
The impression I get was that dad’s life was sometimes difficult, but he was faithful and made the most of his circumstances—another subject I remember him preaching on. Circumstances.
In a way, we said goodbye a long time ago, as the effects of his dementia became more pronounced, but today we say a final goodbye.
A Dutch childhood friend of mine, whose own father died of cancer two years ago, remarked that our dads are now enjoying a cup of coffee together in heaven, chatting in Dutch. I don’t know what happens between now and the resurrection, but I like that image. He was in much pain in the last couple of months, but he is no longer in pain now. Dad used to say, “Please be patient with me, God isn’t finished with me yet.” He’s getting closer now.
I love you, Dad. Enjoy your coffee.
As I finished the eulogy this morning, I wasn’t sure I could make it through. When the moment came, I thought I would make it through, but I broke down at the bit about his grandchildren.
It was a good funeral service, including a great message that managed to tie the elements of dad’s life, character as well as the gospel together.
More thoughts later.