Dad passed away in December after a very long battle with vascular dementia at 92 years old. I am finally ready to tell you about him now.
I have counseled people on dementia, the loss of a loved one, the grieving process, what to expect, telling them it was okay to feel all the emotions they were feeling, providing comfort and words of wisdom, but this was my Dad. Even though I know he is not suffering anymore and he is in a better place, I am still a little numb. I am however, ready to share a little of his story.
He lived a great life. Lots of friends, close family and many adventures. He was a farmer since birth practically and loved working the land and tending the crops. This was not an easy living and he was the toughest man I know. He was also the kindest, funniest and most honest person I’ve ever met.
We used to have talks about everything. I miss that. Nothing too deep, but things about life, family, friends, religion and knowing what you stand for. We steered away from politics and money. I still don’t like to talk about those things!
He always told me to do my best, take care of those I love, make lots of friends, be honest, love God, go to church (I need to be better at this), and was always proud of me. I don’t know if I ever told him how proud I am of him and the life he and Mom made for us.
If you ever wanted to see devotion, look no further than my parents. Dad lived long enough to celebrate 70 years of marriage with his bride. He also stayed with us for her 89th birthday. Within weeks of these two events, he passed. My parents lived for each other. I saw it every day in little things like Mom taking lunch or dinner to Dad in the fields. Dad brought her orange juice or an orange almost every night before bed, even when he was so far along in dementia, sometimes he couldn’t remember how to peel the orange. He called Mom cutie right up to the end and always told her he loved her and kissed her goodnight. Dad looked at Mom in a way that was endearing and warm and there was so much love. The fact that he stayed with us in those last few weeks to celebrate their love is exactly what I would expect of him. He never let us down.
Dementia made him mean and angry sometimes. The teddy bear we knew changed. Mom and I talked about that a lot. It hurt. We both knew that it was the dementia talking and not Dad. Did we always handle it right? No, we didn’t! Did we wish we hadn’t said something or been hurt by what we knew wasn’t his fault? Yes, a lot. I need to give Mom so much credit and gratitude for being his main caregiver throughout his entire dementia journey. She honored his wish to be at home right up to the end and he passed with most of our close family at his bedside. This was exactly what he wanted.
I had the priveledge of doing Dad’s eulogy at his funeral. I talked a lot about his life and how he made others feel. I asked many family members what they wanted me to tell the congregation about their fondest memories of Dad. Several told me about his patience with them. Others talked about his sense of humor and that they enjoyed just being around him. Some mentioned how they loved to come to the farm for a visit because Dad taught them so much and made them laugh. He taught us all many lessons in trust through his gentle ways and the way he lived. Seeds planted would grow to be a fruitful harvest, but it would not be easy. Hard work, faith, patience and resilience were all necessary to make it to the harvest. And such is life.
I talked about Paul Harvey and his “What is a Farmer” speech. Farmers are the only ones who will work 40 hours by Tuesday and go on to work 72 more hours that week before calling it quits. There was no lack of hard work from April to November. Even in the “off” months, as I called them, there was bookwork, planning, maintenance, ordering, rotating fields, and much more. Dad had to be an engineer, mechanic, banker, accountant, lawyer, scientist, horticulurist, shrewd negotiator and jack of all trades. Farmers do it all and my brother and he farmed side by side for many years. Our dad was able to pass on everything his own dad taught him about farming and life.
Faith was always present. There were good years, bad years, hail storms, too much rain, no rain, wind damage, but I do believe he knew that things would work out. Did he get worried and depressed? Yes, sometimes. Did he keep going? Always. Patience, resilience and hope were always there.
Proud. I am so proud of him. He lived his way, uncompromisingly. In fact one of the songs we used for his funeral video was Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” It wasn’t “my way or the highway”, though. It was just his way of life that he knew and that was that. Like it or leave it. Do what you want, becasue he wasn’t going to falter.
I am proud of the way he lived his life, the way he loved mom and us kids and the entire family. He taught many lessons to my brother and me, gently and lovingly. He had to be tough with us at times, but we always knew it was out of love. He set the example of what it means to be a strong, honest, and kind and live a purposeful life.
Speaking of purpose, this is a blog about dementia so I also want to say that I am proud of the way he lived with this disease, too. We didn’t talk about it much. My family was not one to dwell on it, especially in the early days of his diagnosis. His progression was slow. Were we lucky that is was slow? I think so. We lost him slowly and his mind was strong until it wasn’t. Was this the best for him? Probably not. I think he would have wanted to go quickly if he had his choice, but alas, it wasn’t his choice. What was his choice is that he never gave up. I think most people would have given up five years ago and just faded away. Dad fought. Dad persevered. Dad had faith. He died slowly with the same priciples that he lived. It was sure hard to watch the decline, but not anything like it was for him. He was a proud man. He stayed a proud man. He died a proud man.
Dad, I hope I have made you proud. I am bawling now and you would probably laugh at me. I am going to keep my faith, humor, love and honesty that you taught me all the days of my life and hopefully pass these on to my kids and share with everyone I meet. I don’t think I ever actually told you I was proud to be your daughter. I wish I would have but I think you knew.