My Father died June 3, 2016. He was 79 years old. My sister and I were privileged to be able to speak at his funeral. I think he would have really liked the services and especially the American flag and the Coast Guardsmen who came to ceremoniously fold it and present it to my Mother. Below is what I wrote and read to the family and friends gathered.
Last Thursday the doctor said Dad had 2-3 weeks left, but not more than 4. In true Lyle fashion… he had other plans. My Dad had always been one to do things his way, on his terms, for good or bad. After battling cancer for 15 months, he decided enough was enough. So Thursday afternoon he signed papers to go into hospice, talked coherently with my mother and sister, asked for some files, and after not eating for three days, enjoyed a cheese danish. All typical, right? Sometime during the night he slipped into a comfortable sleep. In the morning, the nurse called Mom and told her to come right away because she couldn’t wake Dad. He never went into hospice. He died a few hours later.
While we knew time was short, we thought there was still time. And while it’s hard to understand the dramatic difference 12 hours made, it almost makes sense to me. My father was a man who worked on schedules. To me, he even died on his own schedule. There are a lot of things like this that we all know about him. For instance, the man loved to talk. Just the other day we went into the Tunnell Cancer Center to say thank you to the doctor who treated him. After talking to her, the physician’s assistant, and the nurse practitioner, one nurse came out. Then another. Then another. It was unreal actually, but a steady stream of nurses and others who had cared for him appeared to talk to us. Some of them had tears in their eyes. All commented how they had cared about him.
For the people closest to him, sometimes the talking got out of control. I mean come on… does the server at the Cracker Barrel really need to know when I graduated, and what kind of car I drive? But this ability to talk to anyone, anywhere, is part of what made him who he was. And because of it, he made friends wherever he went.
There are things like his gift of gab that we all know about. There are other parts of his personality that some have seen. But I’d bet there are other things most people don’t know.
We all know my Father worked hard for his possessions and took great pride in keeping them clean and neat. I mean anyone who got too close to the car with a zippered jacket on knows what I’m talking about. But what you may not know is this. When I was in ninth grade the pitcher on the softball team was not that good. Ok, she was bad. I decided I could do a much better job. One problem… I’d never pitched before. Somehow he discovered my plan and took me to the driveway next to the garage at the house in Davidsonville. For those who haven’t been there, there was a very tall brick wall surrounding two sides of the driveway. He took a piece of white chalk and drew a rectangular box on the wall. Then we counted out the right distance and he told me to pitch at it. I remember looking at him in disbelief! The first ball I threw relatively softly, thinking I must be misunderstanding. He told me to throw it as hard as I could. And that I did… for almost a year. Soon bricks began to crack, and then fall off, but he never cared. And then one day, the next season, he showed up at practice, which was highly unusual. He told the coach what I’d been doing. Next thing I know, I was called to the mound, and that is where I stayed until I graduated.
I’d also like to tell you something about driving. No, not his driving! Anyone who’s been in a car with him knows how that goes! Back when I was learning to drive, Mom tried to take me out a few times. But to be honest, while normally cool and collected, this task just made her too nervous, which made me a nervous wreck! So Dad decided to take me. Talk about a nervous wreck! In those few times, I learned the man had patience when it was needed. In this instance, he never once yelled or showed any fear. He acted like he knew I could do it… even teaching me to parallel-park between cones he set up at the end of the driveway. I tell you what, he’d be proud of the way I can now whip into a spot in one fluid motion.
While he made his career inside an office, Dad also liked to do physical labor. He could work with tools like someone who spent his whole life in construction, and he thought we should know how to as well, even though we were girls. We can hammer and drill with the best of them. We know a flathead screwdriver from a Phillips. We can use a caulking gun better then most… as many in our family also can do, thanks to him. We also know how to properly shovel a blizzard off the driveway, and cut a lawn so it grows best… of course hosing down the lawnmower after every single cut. None of these tasks were fun as children. But they all serve us well as adults.
Dad was passionate about certain things. He loved politics and had to express his opinion to everyone he met. If you’re in this room I’m guessing you got the “republican” talk. If you’ve been in a room with a TV with him for more than two hours, you’ve watched FoxNews. While we didn’t always appreciate that, we must have learned it by osmosis, because my sister and I both learned to have opinions and not to fear voicing them… for better or worse.
While he did not like to spend money foolishly and was always cognizant of the bank accounts, he was a generous man. Many of you in this room have been taken out to dinner by him. He really loved taking my sister and I out to dinner, even now. I mean it had gotten kind of embarrassing to be my age and your Daddy is still paying for your dinner. But that’s what made him happy.
As we’ve started going through things at the house, we’ve also found some things that surprised us. Just the other day we told Pastor Barnes that Dad wasn’t a very sentimental man. But then we told him this. While my sister and I were going through his office closet, we found a large expandable file. That of course is no surprise, as everything is kept date-stamped in a file. I mean that’s how you do it, right? Anyway, we opened this one we had not seen before and found a huge stack of pictures we had drawn and given him… as children. The next day I went into his office only to find two large stacks of greeting cards… birthday, Father’s Day, get well soon, and more, all from us and the people closest to him.
He was a financially successful man who took his career as a Senior Account Agent with Allstate Insurance very seriously for 37 years. He started with nothing and ended up with the biggest book of business in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area. This meant he spent a lot of time at work. But it also meant we ended up with many things that made life better. My sister and I both came out of college without any school loans, a huge benefit not to be saddled with debt like that when starting a life. Even before that, he was adamant that we went to private grade school, as well as junior and senior high. We also got things like braces that not every family was able to do for children.
It’s true, things were important to him. And that’s OK, he worked hard for them. But as you can tell from my stories, it turns out so were people. Just a few years ago I found out about a phone call he had been making once a month for a long time. After his brother died, my father made it his privilege to call his brother’s wife every month just to talk. And he was serious about it! I don’t believe he missed many of those calls. Now for a man who a few times forgot to pick us up at school, that’s saying something!
And I think that commitment was a sign of things to come. Just the other day, I realized something from watching him these last weeks. In the end, things don’t matter. Even to someone to whom they’ve been important. These last weeks we never heard comments from him about the house, the cars, his stuff at home. If he mentioned them at all, it’s because we brought it up and he was trying to teach us something… tell us how he did it so we could carry on, doing it the “right way.” Instead, he asked how we were? How was work? Did you all eat dinner yet? When I wasn’t there on weekdays, he asked if I was coming again on the weekend? And at the very end, we found out this. On Memorial Day, Rehab sent him back to the ER because he had some bleeding issues. As things got worse, he asked the nurse a question one morning. He said, “What day is this?” She told him it was May 31, but thinking it a strange question coming from a man in his condition, she asked why he needed to know? And he said this, “I can’t die today. I have to wait until June 1 so my wife will get another Social Security check.” Thankfully the nurse realized how important this comment would be to us, and she privately told my mother.
We didn’t always see feelings like this from my father. But in the end, he realized what was important. And I think it’s a lesson he can leave with all of us. Maybe we should try to live our lives more like he did toward the end, instead of focusing on the hustle and bustle of what has become this world. Because in the end, all that’s going to matter are the people around you.
Dad died with all of us understanding a little more than before, how much he truly cared.