This rain the past few days might be depressing to some, but it reminds me of a story Dad liked to tell. When Sparky and Peter were very young, Dad once took them for a walk. A sudden downpour caught them without an umbrella. Dad asked Spark, "What does rain do to flowers?" Sparky, I imagine with a bright smile, answered, "It makes them grow!" Dad continued, "Now, Peter, what does rain do to little boys?" Pete, too young to catch the drift of this line of inquiry, grumpily answered, "It makes them wet!"
Outside the emergency room at Holy Cross Hospital is a statue of Jesus' father. Titled "St. Joseph - The Worker", it portrays a mild-mannered man standing with a hammer and chisel in his hands. Every one of the hundreds of times I've walked past the statue, I've thought of Dad: a tireless worker, heroic in an unsung way, doing what he had to do, without complaint. Life dealt my Mom and him a poor hand with regard to health the last few years of their lives, but I never heard him complain or express anger about the seeming unfairness of it all. In Daniel Deronda, a book by George Eliot, Mordecai says to Mirah,
"We must take our portion. It is there. On whose shoulder would we lay it, that we might be free?"
I believe this was how Dad approached the trials of old age, both my mother's and his. (He sometimes carried this too far, always saying he felt fine no matter what his condition, much to the consternation of his sons and the hospice folks!)
A defining feature of my father was what I think of as quiet integrity. I never saw, heard, or sensed him doing or suggesting anything other than what was right. There was no need to express it in words - you could tell from the example he set. When he was in the hospital last summer, we talked about his parents and his youth. I came away with a greater appreciation of Grandma and Grandpa and of why Dad turned out the way he did - he simply followed their example. May we follow Dad's as faithfully.
My wife, Debbie, coincidentally picked a similar phrase to describe Dad: quiet humility. Andy was cleaning up Dad's basement a couple of months ago and came across Dad's Ph.D. thesis and his resume. Reading them, I was struck by how little I knew of his academic and professional accomplishments - Dad always had too many other interesting things to talk about. Despite his many accomplishments, one of his favorite pastimes, of which he never tired, was walking up to the shopping center on a summer's evening, browsing around the hardware store for the hundredth time, chatting with any friends or neighbors he happened to run into, and, to top the evening off, getting an ice cream cone from Swenson's.
My mother and father were married for over 51 years, a fact which speaks for itself. In a strange twist of fate, Mom nursed Dad through his declining health: the heart attack, the countless emergency visits to the hospital, and, finally, the heart surgery. Mom's health then began to fail rapidly. Despite his own frailty, Dad became her strength. After Mom's stroke, only snow and hospitalization kept him from faithfully visiting her for a few hours every single day for 5 years. He would cook and bring lunch, feed her, read to her, talk to her, comfort her, and lovingly kiss her goodbye when he left. (And, while my Grandmother Ivey was still alive, he would then head over to Sacred Heart Nursing Home to visit with her.) 51 years brings out the best in a person.
Dad's feelings for his sons were best expressed in George Eliot's Silas Marner. Squire Cass, speaking to his son, Godfrey, says,
"There's my grandfather had his stables full o' horses, and kept a good house, too, and in worse times, by what I can make out; and so might I, if I hadn't four good-for-nothing fellows to hang on me like horse-leeches. I've been too good a father to you all - that's what it is. But I shall pull up, sir."
In truth, Dad was a wonderful father. When Mom was in the nursing home, she used to say, "I may not have done much, but I gave you all a good father - he's a prince among men." I always wanted to answer, "Yes, and he's a tough act to follow."
Dad loved his sons, he loved his daughters-in-law more, and he loved his grandchildren the most - some might say he was a good judge of character! The grandchildren were truly the light of his life. Although his poor health kept him from participating as fully in their lives as he would have wished, he loved them dearly nonetheless.
In January, we welcomed a new member into our family: Betty Walker. Her unflagging, around-the-clock care for and love of Dad made her seem an angel sent to bring Dad peace in the last few months of his life. I will always remember that last night. Several times, Betty got out the Bible and read Dad the 23rd Psalm. Over and over she told him, "Do not be afraid, Walter. You are not alone. Jeanne is waiting for you. God is waiting for you. Be at peace." At last, he was.
Betty was not working single-handedly. Dad's neighbors, good friends for many, many years, kept in touch with him by phone and by postcard, checked up on him frequently, brought him food, mowed his lawn, prayed with him, and prayed for him. Donna Bannon was instrumental in getting Dad the medical and hospice care he needed this past year, when my brothers and I were at a loss what to do. Sister Barbara attended to Dad's spiritual health, for which, I'm sure, my mother will save her a crabcake in Heaven!
In George Eliot's Daniel Deronda, she says,
"[I]n each of our lives harvest and spring-time are continually one, until Death himself gathers us and sows us anew in his invisible fields."
When my wife's grandmother, Mimi, died, my father-in-law expressed a similar sentiment, remarking how, as God takes one person, Mimi, He sends another, our niece, who was to be born shortly. Dad's long life and his wise and loving presence were God's gift to us. I am sure that, somewhere, a child is being born who will confer a like blessing on another family. We are grateful we had our turn.
We love you, Dad.