What I Said
This is the sort of life changing event that knocks the breath right out of you, doesn’t it? We hear about an illness and never seem to comprehend the difficult times ahead. We try to understand, but, it’s hard to even imagine a day like this will come.
And yet, it has. And here we are. The one thing that came as no surprise is that when Allen and I talked about what we would say, we discovered we both had a common theme to our messages about Dad. His gentleness. And his simplicity of life.
That old saying “salt of the earth,” is so fitting for him. It’s a phrase used to describe someone who is a very good, worthy person.
In the Sermon On The Mount, Jesus tells his followers, who were mainly fishermen and simple people, “Ye are the salt of the Earth.” Dad’s gentle simplicity is what stood as a strong and unwavering fact in the way he lived his life. He spoke quietly, he lived quietly. He was non-confrontational, and would rather not say a word than react. He was calm and even tempered, and I honestly can’t say if I ever heard him raise his voice.
He was a no fuss kind of guy, preferring things to be easy going. He was practical and sensible. He didn’t want or need a lot of things. I mean, most of you here would know how he liked to re-use items. He’d say things like, “Awww, it’s alright, there ain’t nothin’ wrong with it. I can use this.” I mean, this could have been referring to just about anything. Minute items like nuts and bolts, or bigger things like tires, wood, air conditioners, lawnmowers, car parts, the list goes on. You all know how he was, a genuine recycler, a McGyver sort. He could take just about anything, and turn it into a working object. He made an aerator out of an old drum, some spikey things, and then fashioned a homemade hitch to pull it around. He brought home the body shell of a Corvair from the junkyard. That car is now completely restored, with an engine built by him. It runs today.
And speaking of cars and his mechanical ability, he could also remember things from his past as if the event had taken place just yesterday. One day he was talking to Blaine and he began recollecting each and every car he’d ever bought. He knew what he’d done to each one to fix it up, what kind it was, what year, and later, who he sold it to, and how much he sold it for. Blaine told me about that conversation later on, and said, “His memory is better than mine.”
Dad also loved going to Maine, and to the beach. He loved going to Allen’s house in Pleasant Garden, and to our house in Dunn, but we all knew he was happiest at home. As he got older, and when he was no longer able to putter around in the garage as much, he’d sit outside on the screened in porch, always in his chair, watching the comings and goings of birds and squirrels, and simply enjoying being outside.
He never cussed. He’d say, “That ‘John Brown’ car is giving me a fit,” and that was his way of swearing. I did hear him say a cuss word once and that was recent actually. He said, “Damn.”
I’m pretty sure that was in association with THOSE DOCTORS. As you know, he had kidney failure, yet he didn’t want dialysis. Too much fuss, no port in the arm, no sitting in a clinic for hours on end. He wanted no part of that. Dad was always a bit at odds with doctors. He loved his chiropractor though, and all other white coated individuals could take a hike.
The fact he was able to spend his final days at home, in the house he built, inside and out, was really the only choice for him, and mom understood that. She was prepared to care for him, do whatever it took to keep him here. She made sure he was where he wanted to be, in his home, and in familiar surroundings.
The second week in February, I went with him and Mom to see the kidney doctor. Hospice had been recommended, and Mom wanted to verify just what that meant. How much time did we really have? I’d been reading stuff online, because you know you can just about find anything using Dr. Google. It said, generally, six months. She’d talked to her friends at the spa, and they’d said the same.
The doctor also confirmed, “Six months or less.”
While we tried to get our heads around that, I asked Mom, “what about me giving him a kidney?”
She said, “He’d never allow it.”
We’ve come to the conclusion he kept a lot of how he felt hidden, never letting on how bad it was, and I’m sure it was intended to lessen the burden on Mom. Because, again, that’s how he was. As I think about Dad, the most persistent thought I have is that he was so quiet. Yet, when I think about the effect he had on my life, it’s profound in the fact he was always there, a constant, stable, and continuous presence. I think of it like this; he was like a shadow, and, if I looked back over my shoulder, there he’d be, quietly letting me find my own path, never in the way, simply a part of me. And while we understand our time here is finite, recognizing the impact a person has on us is never so obvious until they’re gone. We have the nagging awareness of it during an illness, yet when reality comes, it’s overwhelming.
We know he didn’t want to go. He would have rather stayed here, with Mom and the rest of his family, more than anything, and he just couldn’t.
So, it seems fitting he left us in the way he lived his life, gently, slipping away quietly, without a fuss, like the sun disappearing behind a cloud. Now, there is no shadow of him with me, with us. Instead, we have to look forward, not back, because he has moved on. We believe his presence will be felt when we remember and look back on his life, his capacity to love quietly, yet immensely. He wasn’t the demonstrative sort, but if you went to him, he would always welcome you with gladness.
These are the things I will always remember. That and our love for him and each other.