It’s been a year since he passed suddenly. It doesn’t feel like it. I don’t have words. So instead I’ll post the eulogy I wrote for him.
When you love someone so much it should be easy to talk about them. You’ll forgive me – today I’m still processing.
I was born and raised in MOntana, but I left at 17. I didn’t realize – until the flight from Denver to Helena, just how much Montana, to me, WAS my dad. But in truth, he’s practically Mr. Helena. Dad was proud of this town, and this state. Raise your hand if you’re from out of state and he took you on a tour of Helena – or if you’ve been to the Deerlodge jail and car museum a few times? He loved Montana. I didn’t realize until we landed, that my favorite thing about Montana was dad. He WAS Montana to me. Helena won’t be the same without him.
In the days since my dad’s death I’ve heard a lot of stories about Dad’s big, compassionate heart. I’m not surprised. Dad has a heart for the so-called “underdog,” – both literally and figuratively. Literally, I remember as a kid going to the Humane Society to get a dog. We almost came home with two. Lora and I had picked out a sweet puffy white dog. Dad showed us a sorry-looking big, black dog and said we were taking him because he looked uglay, and sad, and he was sure no one else would adopt him in time. Charcoal went on to be Lora’s most beloved pet, and my parents went on to collect a motley crew of animals.
Dad felt the same about the people in his life. He felt some people just needed a chance, or a hand up. Since I can remember – long before he owne a business, he was hiring people to do work around our house, whether they were qualified or not. I still remember the time he hired someone to paint the house blue. Lora and I came home to not only a blue house – but to blue doors, a blue picnic bench, and even all our yard tools’s handles painted blue. It was really something to behold and Lora and I got a kick out of it. If I remember correctly, Dad laughed it off. Just last night I heard the story of a man dad found rummaging through the restaurant garbage collecting cans. He’s been a beloved employee who dad has taken care of for almost ten years.
Speaking of his laugh – let’s talk about how funny Dad was. He was more than funny; he was hilarious. His laugh and his personality could fill a room. He could find the joke in almost any situation. It was a gift – the way he got anyone to laugh. We share the same sense of humor. And laughing and joking was probably my favorite way to communicate with him. I remember as a kid and into high school staying up late watching movies and taking turns making each other laugh – that big laugh – the kind that ended in us gasping for air and mom storming into the livingroom begging us to be more quiet because it was so late. We would stop for a minute, waiting for her to go back to her room. And then would start up again. Those nights – those times were the best. I felt so loved then.
But — being Dad’s daughter also came with heartache, because I DID love him so much. All I ever wanted was his attention. And it was often difficult for him to balance his addiction to alcohol with family. Little did we know the storm that was looming ahead.
In 1999, Lora died. The pain that ensued was just too much to bear. And the last 20 years became about coping and surviving the only way Dad knew how.
At some point, Dad started to fight it. One of my most treasured memories is of July 2013. Months before, James and I planned a trip to Montana with the kids and Dad was determined that his vacation with them would be a sober one. Not only did he get sober for the occasion, he took up walking every day for months beforeheand to work up his stamina so he could take the kids to the fair and keep up with them. It was a beautiful trip. He took them on a tour of Helena (Surprise!), he took them downtown, on the trolly, to the state fair, the carousel and more. He even broght the golf cart home to take them on rides around the huge yard (and to this day, my kids’ favorite thing to do is ride golf carts). I have personally never felt so loved as I did that trip watching my dreams for him as a father come true in the way he grandparented my kids that trip. That memory always stood out because between distance, obligations, and the Very Real Struggle, later visits were more difficult.
Almost two years ago, Dad decided to get sober for good. I watched from a distance, but we prayed for him and his sobriety. During that time he started going to church, and he joined a mens group he came to love. When he called to say he had decided to accept Christ and be baptized, we rejoiced. I rejoiced. My heart was full. After all, he was now what the Bible called perfect in Christ. Sidenote: a couple of years ago in the course of homeschooling my kids, I decided for one whole hour to learn Latin alongside them. I learned that the word “perfect” is not what most of us think it is. When we hear the word “perfect” we think “without flaw or mistakes.” I don’t know all of the etymology (I stopped my Latin education after that hour, after all), but I do know now that the word’s origins does NOT mean “without flaws”, and that is not what was intended in scripture. The Latin word “perfectus” essentially means to be complete, to finish, to accomplish the purpose. When dad accepted Christ, even broken, God’s purpose for him was complete. Even broken, Dad was whole.
Dad, when I talk about you to the kids I will continue to tell them how funny you were, that one of the reasons we give to others is because I was raised by parents who, each in their own way, believed in offering a hand to help them up, that the reason we root for the underdog is because, well, someone should. But I will also tell them this:
You were brave. It took courage to face a Mountain that was as scary as sobriety and go for it anyway. You did.
You were strong. It took strength to face that same mountain and climb it again and again – every morning, facing Lord knows how many opportunities to stumble all day every day. But you faced it – every hour of every day, for months.
And most importantly I will tell them. You were saved. And here is the greatest gift you’ve given your family, yourself, even a gift you were able to give Lora. You had overcome your struggles long enough to become saved. Redeemed. Whole. Your salvation was your freedom, and our peace.
Dad’s life and legacy – his story – is this: laughter, family, strangers and friends who became like family, loss and newfound in his grandkids, his own second chances, and redemption.
We have lost a lot. But our loss is his gain.
Vaya con Dios, Dad.
I’ll see you again one day.