“On Letting Go” is a personal story series of 2023 about releasing people, work, and personhood to God; therefore, it is also a story of God’s kindness and the beauty, comfort, and joy received in return.
In March of last year, my father was diagnosed with stage four brain cancer, and as one might expect, with that one phone call, my attention turned. All thoughtful plans for the year quickly fell by the wayside, including my work here. I didn’t even think to leave you a note, dear readers.
As Elizabeth Elliot neatly phrased it, “The measure of our love is the measure of our willingness to be inconvenienced.” By the end of the Spring, my five siblings and our families had gathered in and around our childhood home, half of us relocating for the summer, all of us rearranging our lives to help love and care for our parents and one another. As you can imagine, there was so much joy in the midst of our sorrow as a result. Over the course of a summer of record-breaking heat and harrowing around-the-clock care, we children and grandchildren would return in service the nurturing love we had all received from my mother and father for so long. What a gift to experience the fruitfulness of my parent’s efforts found in our cheerful camaraderie in painful circumstances.
My father passed away in August, just as the school year was beginning. Being at his side was a precious gift.
I wish sometimes to be one who processes aloud with the world and easily brings others along with life’s storms, but I tend to hear and respond to God better in the silence and within the private circles of my daily living. Thus, here is my humble effort to enter the public square with my voice again and fill in a few gaps. In many ways, 2023 was thematically a story of letting go. My father’s passing is only one part of this story, yet a significant backdrop to the year as a whole, a reason for writing serially.
Below, I have included the eulogy I wrote and delivered at his memorial because, knowing the efforts in faithfulness that you are making in your own life and home, dear one, I think you will find courage with what God has done with one humble person’s life given in service to him.
My Father’s Eulogy, delivered September 2023 (names have been removed for privacy)
We are here today to honor my father and it’s impossible to adequately do so without also honoring my mother. She has been the love of his life and greatest encourager for nearing a half-century, and I wanted to say publicly to you, Mom, well done. You have loved and served Dad so well until the end of his life with us, and to see you experience your most disappointing loss and turn your pain into worship and deeper trust in God’s lovingkindness is quite a legacy to pass on to all of us. We’re so very proud of you.
My father was a man who understood faithfulness, what Eugene Peterson referred to as “a long obedience in the same direction.” Dad exemplified loving faithfulness to God in the way that he loved my mom, in the way he loved us as his children and grandchildren, and in the way he loved those around him, whether family, friend, or stranger. As I look around the room and see your faces, I know he would be humbled by your presence here. He was that sort of guy, always surprised by the ways others loved and admired him. I loved that about him.
When the world considers great men, we often look to history books and legends, those who charged the hill, led movements, or accrued social influence and wealth. While I don’t intend to detract from any man who has accomplished such things, it seems to me a limited scope of greatness. My father was a great man, not because of his prominence but because of his humility and love.
Over the course of my childhood, I witnessed Dad and Mom give housing to single mothers and infants, to former convicts and those displaced from homes. They loved and often fed our childhood friends, and gladly opened their home for any gathering of saints. On the weekend, it was common for him to mobilize us to help a neighbor with yard work or some other project. This would naturally extend to each of us children once we had our own homes, as he could never visit without having helped us build or fix something. Dad loved to give his time to us in service. I remember on one occasion, years ago, when he offered to drive out of the way to pick up something for my grandmother on his way home from work. She replied, “Oh, don’t do that; it’s so inconvenient.” He responded, “It is inconvenient, but this is what family does.” That was my Dad. Loving others with simple acts of service wasn’t an obligation but a norm.
That said, Dad was not perfect either. He sometimes made mistakes or said the wrong things. He would grow weary of talking with people–even those he loved!–which might be why he enjoyed service projects and fixing things so much. Ha! My point is: Dad was human, with flaws and shortcomings just the same as each of us. It wasn’t his perfection, but his lowliness of heart that made room for God to be great in him. Because of his acquaintance with his own faults, he wasn’t afraid to receive others with their own. He knew God was a redeeming God, healing the broken, the sick, the outcast. Often during his cancer treatments or hospital stays the last few months, Dad would pray on the spot for others, sometimes another cancer patient in the waiting room, sometimes a nurse or technician, sometimes one of us. Even in his greatest suffering, he wanted others to know the lovingkindness and hope given to us in Christ. I’m thankful for the way Dad modeled the gospel at work in ordinary, imperfect people.
In the final lines of her novel Middlemarch, George Eliot writes, “The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” Dad’s legacy is full of faithful, unhistoric acts, small conversations or quiet acts of service that were rarely noticed, but made our lives a more lovely place. He loved people best by listening to them and by fixing things for them, things such as broken cabinet doors, wobbly tables, or clanking cars. His faithfulness in hidden places is what allowed the love and kindness of God to encounter so many of us here.
Take a look around the room for a second—don’t worry, I won’t make you shake a hand or hug anyone—just look. Each of you is here today because you have been directly or indirectly impacted by my father’s quiet life. Many of you have reciprocated and imparted gifts to him as family, friends, and colleagues. Thank you. As you read in the program, my parent’s married life together began with a brand new faith in Christ, some clothing, a record player, and only $300. My favorite part is that they thought they had so much! Although 47 years later, we can all admit how small their beginning was, we can also be encouraged as we look around the room to remember this: never underestimate what God can do with a person fully submitted to him. Thanks be to God!
Our hearts have been broken by Dad’s passing, and we will miss him in our daily lives in such tremendous ways. Yet here, in this threshold of worlds, our hearts are also enlarged and strengthened by the hope of Christ and his defeat of death. The reality is we can never experience the miracle and joy of resurrection without first experiencing death. Dad knew this. So even on the day we transferred him into hospice care and wept at his bedside, he turned to us with his quirky smile, and asked, “Hey! What’s with all the doom and gloom?” Until his last breath, Dad was buoyed by the joyful truth of God’s Word, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” Cancer and death are not the final word here. Death has been swallowed by life.
St. Paul tells us that “to be absent in the body is to be at home with the Lord.” Dad is home with the Lord now, in the place all of our hearts eagerly await. Or as my four year old nephew so simply exclaimed this week, “Papa’s having a great day in heaven today!”
We love you, Dad, and will see you soon.