Friday, April 13, 2012
Some people make New Year’s resolutions or set personal goals about trying to be practice kindness. But not my dad. He didn’t have to set a goal or even really think about being kind; it was so innate for him that he never considered acting otherwise, and he couldn’t understand why someone wouldn’t be kind to someone else.
It has always been apparent to me that my dad was grateful for everything he had; he had goals and dreams, to be sure, but he was the most contented person I ever knew. This trait held true for him in the best of times and in the worst of them, and having had the opportunity to gain that perspective from him has in large part made me the person I am and the person whom I strive to be.
During the memorial service for my dad and afterwards, the outpouring of love and respect for Dad that my family and I witnessed was our greatest source of comfort. It was as if the kindness he had bestowed upon so many came back to me and to the rest of my family, yet another gift from Dad to us that he didn’t even realize he was giving.
When Dad came home from the hospital on hospice, his swim team coach Ashley set up a schedule so that Dad’s teammates on the swim team and others who were so inclined could deliver meals to my parents’ house. At the memorial service, Ashley told me that Dad’s friends on the team still wanted to send the meals for Mom as a tribute to Dad. We were so touched by the generosity of the offer, and again we agreed that Dad probably never realized how many friends he had. One of the guys on the swim team called my parents’ house the day after Dad got home from the hospital and offered to help if we needed anything. The really remarkable thing about the call was that neither my mom nor my sisters or I knew him, but he told Mom on the phone that Dad was one of his best friends.
So many kind words were spoken about Dad at the memorial celebration, and lots of memorable stories were told involving him, some of which we heard that day for the first time.
On the day after the service, a man who had recently moved into the house next door to my parents saw me in the driveway and came over to ask about Dad. He had heard that Dad was sick but hadn’t gotten an update in a couple of weeks. Tears sprang to his eyes when I told him about Dad; he said that when he and his family had first moved in Dad came right over to welcome them to the neighborhood, and, when he learned that they were first-time homeowners, he gave them a hearty congratulations. “What he said to us that day made us feel proud and brave instead of anxious about buying our first house,” he told me, “and we will never forget it.”
A couple of weeks later, a man that my dad knew through work mailed a handwritten letter and a CD of photos to my mom; he said that Dad had impacted his career and his life in a way that he would always appreciate and remember. The photos he sent of Dad were wonderful; several of them told a story of their own and have since become some of my favorite pictures of my dad.
My mom, both of my sisters, and I also each received a handwritten letter in the mail from a man with whom my dad used to be good friends but with whom we hadn’t had much contact in many years. His words and even just the gesture of jotting down some fond memories about my dad were of great comfort to all of us; we really appreciated the time and love that went into such a thoughtful act.
The messages we received during the celebration of Dad’s life and in the days that followed were heartfelt, tender, and very touching, and they helped ease some of our pain; we were moved by the genuineness of the emotions we saw in everyone who had ever known my kindhearted father, and I hoped that Dad could see or somehow sense the outpouring of love, respect, and admiration that came from so many.
Monday, April 9, 2012
Following is a guest post written by my sister, Jennifer:
While Dad was sick, we tried everything we could think of to make him smile, to help him relax, and just to take his mind off his worries. During one of our middle of the night conversations (that I wouldn't trade for anything), we started talking to Dad about music, a subject about which none of his kids is particularly knowledgeable, but one that Dad had always been passionate about. Dad played the trumpet very well as a young man and always loved listening to big band music, as well as Barbra Streisand and more recently Josh Groban. That night, I asked Dad what his favorite song was and he said he didn't really have one -- he wasn't really that engaged in the conversation. But I clearly remembered his having a favorite song when we were growing up and I wanted him to remember it, too, and so I started trying to hum the tune (it didn't have any lyrics, just instrumental, with a beautiful trumpet solo). I have zero musical ability, however, and no one had any idea what song I was describing.
A few days later, after I found the name of the song ("Feels So Good" by Chuck Mangione), my husband Peter bought it on iTunes and emailed it to me so I could have it on my phone in Nashville. I played it for Dad, and he smiled just briefly and said that he remembered it, but he really didn't have the strong recollection of how much he loved it that I had expected. I kept insisting, "Dad, it's your FAVORITE!" and he just kept agreeing with me, I think not wanting to make me feel like I had gotten it wrong. No one else remembered it as being one of Dad's favorites or particularly special to Dad at all.
Fast forward a few short weeks later, and Dad was home on hospice care. On the night he died, my mom, sisters, and I were with him, sometimes all at once, sometimes in pairs, and at times one at a time. During one of the moments when I was alone with Dad, I crawled into his bed with him, cramming myself between his body and the guard rail of the hospital bed, and I started humming the song into his ear. Dad wasn't able to respond, but I felt sure he could hear it and that it might ease his mind in some way, still insisting to myself that Dad loved the song. Then I remembered that Peter had emailed it to me, and I got my phone and played it quietly, holding the phone right next to his ear. I'll never know if it made Dad feel any better, but it made me feel more connected to him (whether he remembered the song as having been a favorite of his or not!), even when he couldn't reply.
A few months later, on a random spring day in L.A., I reluctantly went on a Home Depot errand with Peter. Peter loves Home Depot, and I really can't stand Home Depot, so as Peter was walking up and down the aisles looking for certain items he needed, I trudged along behind, working on my own to-do list in my head and not really paying attention. The store was crowded, and the only sounds I could hear were parts of the background noise of busy shoppers and the occasional store announcement. All of the sudden, as I came to a display of a truck bed with a fancy waterproof stereo system that was for sale, a song started playing, loud and clear. At the exact second that I reached this display, Dad's "favorite" song started playing: Feels So Good. From an aisle or two away, Peter heard the song, too, and knew of its significance to me, and he rushed over to find me with tears pouring down my face but with a big smile.
Dad always worried about us kids, and he always wanted to know that we were settled -- especially in our jobs and our homes. Since we'd moved to the L.A. area about two years before, Peter and I had been renters, and that bothered Dad. He wanted stability for us and for our children, and he knew I was anxious to buy a house that I could make into a home. Even during his illness, Dad continued to ask me about whether there were any houses for sale that I liked and whether we planned to make an offer on any of them (then rolling his eyes and telling me they were all too expensive, in his practical, conservative way.) It wasn't until March of 2011, two months after Dad's death, that we found the right house, and that was the reason we were at Home Depot that day -- to buy things for our new house. It felt like Dad knew, and he was happy, and he wanted me to know that.