One year ago, my dad died.
He knew life without me. I didn’t know life without him. In one sense, I don’t like it one bit. In another way, I don’t really live without him. I mean, not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. Sometimes those memories make me laugh; other times, I cry. But I’m thankful for the memories and for the feelings that go with them.
I think about the way he died. It was quiet and peaceful. Unlike how he lived his life. He had a lot of living to do, so he was usually going 100 mph, full steam ahead, even if it was just in his head while relaxing in his chair.
I don’t know how much say he got in how he died, but he had a lot to say about the way he lived. Nearly seventy-five years sounds like a long time until you live it. And he seemed to somehow pack 100 years into that time frame, making adventures out of everyday mundane situations and conversations.
Less than a week before he died, when faced with a tough decision, he said, “I just don’t want to give up too soon.” I assured him he wasn’t giving up. He still got to choose what the next step was. And that choice didn’t negate his previous choices. It was just one more in a long line of hundreds of thousands he’d made throughout his life about the way he lived.
His smile was weak to non-existent in those last days while he slept, but I knew it was still in there. Even though those who lived with and around him often groaned at his jokes, most of us couldn’t help but chuckle most of the time. Not because he was funny, but because he personally enjoyed his own humor.
The way we die doesn’t define us. The way we live does.
Once when he was in trouble (which happened often because of his orneriness), he leaned over to one of his favorite people and said, “Don’t say a word. Just sit and grin. That usually gets you out of trouble.” Somehow, when he grinned, I almost couldn’t help but grin, even when I knew I shouldn’t.
Dad wasn’t perfect. He was pretty great, but he wasn’t perfect. He joked around about not being willing to say he was wrong, but he knew when he was wrong. He didn’t dwell on it, but he seemed to take it as an opportunity to learn and move on.
He was gruff, and he was gentle.
He said a lot with words and a lot with silence.
He disciplined strongly and loved greatly.
He was a good ol’ farm boy who knew the value of neighbors and friends.
He couldn’t stand being taken advantage of but continually reached out to help and encourage others.
He was a leader of adventures, which either ended in trouble or amazing memories.
I’m just one of many whose life he impacted. He did his best not to miss out on any opportunity to live fully with a sense of fun, appreciation, learning, and encouragement. And that’s how I choose to live today to honor and remember him.
There is hope in death. There is hope in life. One cannot exist without the other.