My father passed away today. I’m a little nervous about his first day in heaven. It’s reminiscent of my daughters’ first days at kindergarten. Did he get along? Did he eat lunch? Did he miss me?
My father was a love maker, he took most any situation and somehow turned it into an opportunity for love. I loved that about him. See what I mean?
He died peacefully in his home surrounded by those who loved him – many who could be there and many who could not. He had left the nursing home only days before – primarily because his room was a fire hazard with standing room only and the threat of a mosh pit…so we took him home.
My father was the kindest man I’ve ever known. He was a giver of many things, but love, trust, compassion and encouragement were the silver lining of his pockets and he gave generously to all he met — and the recipients were forever grateful.
I have no idea how I’ll live without the sound of his voice, the touch of his hand, the music of his laugh and the warmth of his soul—I will have to keep you posted on that. In the meantime, those who have read this poem in previous posts, please forgive me for the redundancy. Those who have not seen it, save it — it helps when the time is right.
I have shared this so often, I think Henry Van Dyke owes me lunch.
Gone From My Sight
by Henry Van Dyke
I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone”
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me — not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”
And that is dying…
I found this poem quite by accident as I had sent it to a treasured friend who was on the brink of loss. Little did I know that I would need it first. I take comfort in my fit of jealousy for those who wait to welcome him. I so want to be a guest at that party — but his voice says “No. There is work to be done. Writing to be shared, hugs of encouragement to be given in as selfless a manner as you can muster.”
And so my friend asked I share a piece I wrote for him while he was very much alive, huggable and loving and my own – very, very, very special Dad.
I miss you so very much. Save me a place.
There are only a handful of scents that send me on a journey straight back to my safe and content seven-year old self. Among the most powerful? A real Christmas tree, freshly mowed summer grass and Aqua Velva – Ice Blue.
Monday through Friday I woke to the smell of what I imagined only a perfect day on the ocean could rival, and the sound of the morning news as it streamed from my parents bedroom. Not the “…and now for your entertainment” type news we get today, this was the real stuff; Viet Nam, the height of the crisis in the Middle-East and civil rights.
The scent pulled me out of bed Pepe Le’ Pew style and floated me down the hall where I would catch a glimpse of my father getting ready for work, as he listened to Harry Reasoner tell tale of the crumbling world around him.
The smell of Aqua Velva lingered long after he was gone to win the bread to ensure we continued to feel safe in a chaotic time.
He wore suits.
My favorite was the navy blue. He looked so handsome in his Rob Petrie tapered slacks, crisp shirt and carefully chosen tie. The vision combined with the smell of Ice Blue let me know that despite what Harry Reasoner said, all was well with the world. At least for me.
For him? It was a different story.
He watched the news less to find out what was going on in the world around us, and more how the world around us might affect him on that very day. Born in 1931 near Jaffa, Palestine, he was well aware that all eyes were on the Middle-East. The six-day war had dimmed his hopes of one day returning to the home he had been forced from at the tender age of 17, just 3 years after the sudden loss of his mother and 1 year after losing his sister.
The morning news often clued him in on how he might be received at the office where he served as vice president. A retaliatory move by the Palestinians might mean a few cold shoulders were in the immediate future, a hit by Israel meant a few puffed chests around the water cooler. No matter, he went to work with shoulders squared and Aqua Velva chin held high.
I remember a morning in June of 1968. I rounded the corner of his room prepared for a hug and a whiff of Ice Blue, but was hushed by a vision of him with his hands to his horrified face and the image of Robert Kennedy on the floor of a Los Angeles hotel kitchen on the TV screen.
A Palestinian was involved. I think he stayed home that day.
I’ve often wondered how a man who lost so much at such a young age could understand how to navigate a foreign land, marry a Danish beauty, have four children and face each day with the grace and faith required to get through it and get up the next day to do it all again.
He never let on that the losses took their toll.
No matter how taxing the day, or brutal the Dan Ryan Expressway, he pulled into the driveway at 6:30pm with his tie still knotted and a hint of a shadow on his chiseled chin. He kissed his bride and hugged his kids before trading in his suit for something more appropriate to inspect his roses, fruit trees and tomatoes, or take a paintbrush or screwdriver to the home he was so proud of.
He taught us to ride two wheelers, fly kites, lob tennis balls and play cards. He forked out $1.26 every Sunday for six cones at Baskin Robbins. I remember the Sunday it was $1.32 – we were stunned.
He was kind to every single person he encountered (still is). Women found him handsome (still do), men found him inspiring (still do). He taught us the importance of God, a good sense of humor, loyalty and integrity.
He taught us our heritage, but let us blend into the world of the American teenager, because he knew it was where we would feel most comfortable. He took us to London and Paris and Egypt where my breath was taken by the great Pyramids and the powerful Sphinx. It was as close as we would get to his home in Palestine.
I learned that true fatherhood was less blood and more a desire to teach children well at any opportunity. A trait I find noble and necessary to this day. He embraced our friends as if they were his own, worried about them, ensured them they always had a second home. Rescued them when needed, but not without a two-minute lecture stressing the importance of good judgement.
There’s only a few I know who can carry this off with a certain kind of grace, they are invaluable and they know who they are.
My father has given us countless gifts. Gifts you can’t stuff into boxes in the back of closets, these are gifts, that once you have them, you carry them with you forever.
They linger. Like Aqua Velva-Ice Blue.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Thank you. I love you.