Beloved Dad, In Memory

March 10, 2014

Dad, you will always be with us in our hearts.

Dad, you will always be with us in our hearts.

“To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal,
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it,
and, when the time comes, to let it go,
to let it go.”
— Mary Oliver

My Dad died last week.  His was a peaceful death.  One day, you could tell things just were not quite right.  Dad was more confused and unbalanced on his feet, but he was still as hospitable as ever, offering his visitors in the nursing home a beer (he kept a stash at the nursing station so that he could offer his drop-in guests a beer, a ritual of hospitality he maintained all his life).  Two days later he died peacefully in his sleep.

Dad had just celebrated his 95th birthday, so his was a long, full life.  He experienced the joys and sorrows of a life well lived.  He suffered the losses of his parents, ten of his siblings, and countless friends.  But he found comfort in and was sustained by his family — nine children, 18 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren — his faith, and his farm and community.  Here are some words from his eulogy that reminded us of what such a long life entails:

“Dad would have been 8 years old in 1927 when Charles Lindbergh made the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic.  Could that 8-year old have even imagined that someday his children and grandchildren would have passport stamps from Israel, Peru and Ecuador, Thailand, Botswana and Morocco, and dozens of other countries?

Dad left school after 8th grade because, back then, there was no system in place to bus farm kids to the high school in town.  So at age 14, he finished school and stepped into the working world.  Think about Dad as that young adult.  Could he have imagined that he would send nine children to the University of Minnesota, and have several children and grandchildren with advanced degrees?

Dad would have been in his mid-teens when the New Deal’s Rural Electrification Program brought electricity to Minnesota farms.  Could he have imagined then that 80 years later we would be checking e-mail and taking photos with Smart phones smaller than a deck of cards?”

Dad was a loving parent and an exemplary role model.  When I was growing up, he worked a day job and then farmed full time on evenings and Saturdays. (Sunday was always a day of rest.)  So we are grateful that he had three decades of “retirement” with more time to fish, hunt, bowl, and play cards.  He played on the community’s over-35 baseball team well into his 60s!  Even when the tillable fields were eventually rented, Dad always cut and baled the meadow hay.  He planted a small patch of corn for the wild deer.  He mowed our expansive lawn and kept it tidily groomed. He bought huge bags of birdseed at Fleet Farm and suet from a local butcher so that he could feed the birds every day.  He was a good steward of the land.

And now his work is done.

The family came together to mourn his death and say goodbye.  All nine children gathered from Israel, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin and Minnesota.  His son, who is on the parish cemetery board, helped prepare the burial site.  His granddaughters did the readings for the funeral mass.  His grandsons were pallbearers.  The church choir, of which Dad was a member well into his 90s, sang at the mass.  The town’s miliary honor guard added color and touching solemnity to the ceremony and honored Dad’s army service in WWII.  Countless people contributed salads and side dishes for the luncheon after the funeral — lots of Minnesota hot dishes.

We are all so grateful that we had Dad with us for so long.  He will always be with us in our hearts.

Let Evening Come
by Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn.  Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass.  Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down.  Let the shed
go black inside.  Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid.  God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

The funeral procession took Dad past his farm one last time on the way to the church.

The funeral procession took Dad past his farm one last time on the way to the church.

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36 Responses to “Beloved Dad, In Memory”

  1. Pia Says:

    I’m sorry for your loss. I really enjoyed your posts about him last year!

    • Rosemary Says:

      Thank you for your words of sympathy. I was always touched by my readers’ interest in my Dad and his farm.

  2. Chris Says:

    Dear Rosemary, This most beautiful post about your beloved Dad has brought tears to my eyes and now they are overflowing down my face. It is indeed a testament to a wonderful and loving man, when his whole family came together to honor and bid him good-bye. I have often wondered how he was doing since your last post when you visited him and told us about his daily rituals, which was so heartfelt. I love that he maintained the one of offering his guests a beer…generosity, another example of a good and kind spirit.
    I know you will miss him the rest of your life and I thank-you for sharing a little bit of his life with us.
    Peace to you and your family.
    Chris

    • Rosemary Says:

      When I think about my Dad, his goodness and kindness shine through. These simple virtues seem under-rated these days; people are ambitious and strive more to be successful, as if that is a measure if their worthiness. Dad was a good role model.

  3. Gretchen Sand Says:

    Rosemary,

    I was touched bu the visit you had with your dad last year and the many vignettes you shared of his simple abundance on the farm. He was, as you said, a good steward of the land.

    May his memory be a blessing to you, his family and all people he touched.

    Gretchen

    • Rosemary Says:

      Thank you for your words of comfort. Over the years when I returned home to visit my parents, I strove to photograph the ordinary things in their lives. For much of my life, it seemed that photographs were taken only on birthdays, holidays, weddings, etc. and did not reflect the day-to-day little things. Digital photography helps make it easier to take lots of pictures, and not just of formal occasions. Now I’m doubly glad that I have so many memories captured in my photo archives.

  4. Janet Foss Says:

    I’m so sorry about your dad, it’s been a hard winter for us too. I loved all the blogs about your dad he seemed like a nice person I know he raised a wonderful daughter.

    • Rosemary Says:

      Thank you, Janet. This was an especially long and cold and snowy and endless winter in Minnesota. I was hopeful that, since Dad made it through the worst part, that he would enjoy another spring and summer. But it was not to be. Although it was not his choice, he did move to the nursing home in town in October, and that relieved some of our concern about his weathering a cold winter isolated on the farm. He adjusted, and I think appreciated the warmth and security of his new situation. The staff was loving and caring. He was WARM! And he had frequent drop-in visitors.

  5. kittybluhm Says:

    Dear Rosemary thank you for the comfort of this beautiful post, and for allowing us to stand with you

  6. Pat Says:

    What a beautiful father, Rosemary. You will miss him a whole lot, but your memories will help fill that void. How fortunate you are to have had him as your father. Hugs for the painful times.

    • Rosemary Says:

      For some reason, your comment made me think of the phrase, “the sins of the father . . .” But perhaps the virtues of the father are also visited upon his offspring. It would be nice to think so. We were lucky in the lottery of life to have won this father.

      • Pat Says:

        Your writing tells me that his virtues have been planted in your memory where they will live and grow – and continue to impact future generations.

  7. Eileen Says:

    It sounds like your father was one remarkable man with one remarkable family. May he rest in peace, and best wishes to you and your family at this difficult time.

  8. Elisa Says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and experience. The images are poignant and amazing at once. I was just thinking of your posts about your father and wondering about your trip to visit. I had not recalled seeing one in a while. Thank you for your story.

    • Rosemary Says:

      You are so very welcome. I think writing about my Dad these past few years helped me reflect on universal human themes — growing old, losing a spouse, the meaning of place and home, the demise of the small family farm, etc. I’m glad my stories had some meaning for you, too.

  9. Deb Says:

    Thank you for sharing your dad with us Rosemary. Your posts from your visit with him last year were some of my favorites. I am so sorry for your loss.

    • Rosemary Says:

      Thank you for your interest and words of sympathy. I don’t think my Dad really understood the weird thing called a blog, and he never realized that his simple life reached people far and wide.

  10. garden2day Says:

    Rosemary, I am so sorry to hear of your dad’s passing. What a lovely memorial you have posted. What a life and what a treasure. Please take care.

  11. Adrienne Says:

    I’m so glad you shared your last visit with him and us. I enjoyed meeting him.Those of us with good men for fathers are so fortunate.

  12. shoreacres Says:

    I was moved to tears by this, Rosemary. Your posts about your father, and your visits with him, always left me with a mixture of wonderment and anxiety. Clearly, he was one who lived life to the fullest, and clearly, that life was coming to an end. How well I remember those days when things “just weren’t quite right.”

    Your lovely combination here of personal words, photos, poetry, and prayer, communicate healing and peace. May they increase in your own life.

    • Rosemary Says:

      Thank you, Linda. Our family’s experience with an aging parent was not at all unique. We struggled with knowing what was the right thing to do, just like many other families do. Here are some quotes from Katy Butler’s memoir, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, about working through the challenges of her father’s last months and days. Her words really resonated with me:

      “”We came from a long line of doers and strivers, and from now on, doing and striving would carry us only so far.”

      “… my father had walked through the invisible gate that separates the autumn of healthy old age from the hidden winter of prolonged and attenuated dying. The time for fixing was over.”

      “My father could no longer strive and do. He could only love and be loved.”

      I was helped by reading the words of such a gifted writer. Dad had lived so capably and independently and responsibly for so long. This all worked just great — until it didn’t. All of my siblings loved Dad. We tried to advocate for his interests and wishes, but his health and safety were our concerns, too. Not all of us advocated for the same course of action, so this was a difficult time for our family. In the end, I feel at peace with our solution, and I am thankful for Dad’s acceptance of his new living situation in the nursing home.

  13. Cindy Dowdell Says:

    Rosemary, I was so sorry to hear of your Dad’s passing, but relieved that he died peacefully in his sleep (in a warm and safe environment). You and your Dad have shown us all a way to age with grace and dignity and I am grateful to you for sharing your thoughts and struggles as well as your moving photos. All the best to you and your family.
    Love,
    Cindy

    • Rosemary Says:

      Cindy, thank you. It helps me to write about these important things, even if I struggle with knowing where to draw the line of privacy. You are a good friend and I appreciate knowing I am not going through these things alone.

  14. Diana Studer Says:

    my sympathy to you and your family. I remember that last week in my mother’s life. She wasn’t ‘there’ and couldn’t see to read. My mother without a book, or some knitting, wasn’t my mother.

  15. Irene Lem Says:

    Dear Rosemary

    That was such a beautiful tribute to your dad. Peace and comfort be with you and your family.

    Irene


  16. Dearest Rosemary, I am so sorry for your loss. Your Dad’s legacy continues to shine through you and your family with the wonderful memories, talents and love shown here. Thank you for sharing his wonderful story through your posts.

  17. Shirley Riley Says:

    Rosemary – I was thinking of the cherry trees tonight and that led me to check your latest postings. I am so sorry to read about the death of your dad. I know his welfare has been on your mind and in your heart much in recent years. Add me to the list of people who have come to know and love him through your words and pictures. I hope you and your family are at peace with his passing.


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