I answered that I always have a speech in my back pocket when my mom asked if I wanted to say anything or read something at my stepdad’s memorial service. It was a half-truth. While always prepared to share words about uncovering joy, I hadn’t quite prepared for that particular moment, despite over 30 years of memories and gratitude. As I boarded my flight to head to Missouri I was beginning to wonder if words would come to me and then I turned my head to look out the window as we taxied down the runway.
When I fly I choose the window seat. I love the bird’s eye view of familiar places and new destinations. As I took off Friday morning I gazed out the window and snapped photos of the land and sky, appreciating the way the sunlight broke through the clouds and the trees softly blanketed the landscape. I live by the water so within minutes of takeoff I had a view of the Gulf, the barrier islands that dot our coastline and the ripples spreading across the water. This time as I watched houses become smaller and then disappear, I thought about how insignificant we can feel. I am just one in a sea of billions. I live in one minute spot on a planet that is mostly covered in water and inhabited by creatures that vastly outnumber humans. That isn’t exactly an inspiring message … however …
We are here today to celebrate the incredible significance of the life of a single person, one in that sea of billions. Don became my dad when I was 11 years old. After sharing life with my brothers and my single mom for the better part of a decade, this man fell in love with my mom and we had a new family. I won’t speak for my brothers, but I must applaud Don on taking on another daughter who was entering those glorious middle and high school years. While I was no doubt an utter delight most of the time, even I recall emotional roller-coasters and some mild rebellion here and there. Don managed the delicate balance of being the father and friend that comes with step-parenting and as the song says, he was the dad he didn’t have to be.
In my adult years my husband and I needed to come back home several times between apartment leases and home purchases and state to state moves. Just when you think the kids are going to leave, they come back home with their own children in tow …
My parents never failed to welcome us with open arms and Don and my husband Brian shared a special bond that I am grateful for. Don and Brian were both DIY-ers. Why would you ever hire out work when you can smash and fix stuff yourself? During their projects one or the other would begin to whistle and it wasn’t long before the other would begin, harmonizing and improvising as they worked. Don was a wonderful grandfather to our two sons, Brian and Jordan, creating treasure hunts in the backyard, taking them on rides on the mower, hiking with them in the mountains, and always showing interest in whatever they were doing.
When my husband’s cancer became terminal 5 years ago, we once again went back home to those open doors my parents had always provided. Don continued to lovingly care for my family and when Brian died he wanted me to stay as long as I needed. He wanted me to write and to figure out where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. Because of his love and generosity, I was able to pen the story I promised to write and develop the wings of courage that carried me back to Florida to carve out a new life.
I have been deliberate for the last five years in seeking the joy in everything, even the darkest and most painful experiences … especially the darkest and most painful experiences. I have been able to do that and part of my own joy was watching Don live with such a gentle grace while his body was fighting a disease that is anything but graceful and certainly not gentle. I was able to witness even more joy in watching Don’s joy as my parents moved to their little slice of paradise in the Ozarks. I found joy in the way he would play his guitar, watch hummingbirds flit around the deck, drive or walk through the woods simply exploring, and gaze at the night sky and point out constellations and planets. I found joy in our last face to face conversation when he shared how deeply rooted his faith had become and what a blessing cancer had been because it had brought him so near to God that he found himself content and even eager at times to end his earthly journey. The last time I heard his voice was on Father’s Day which seems anything but insignificant now. Our conversation was simple and sprinkled generously with his dry sense of humor. Our final words to each other were the I love yous that ended each of our phone calls.
A life well-lived. A deep and abiding faith. A cheerful love for his friends. A tender love for my mother. An unconditional love for his family.
I end most everything I write with what I call my equals joy moments. Just a simple equation to remind myself what brings joy. Today I can only sum it up one way.
Don … my dad … = Joy