Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Perfect End to a Perfect Life

Carrying out some one's wishes is very fulfilling. Knowing that my dad had planned his own funeral, made the time between his death and the service peaceful. He had arranged the prayers, the songs, the speakers, and the pallbearers. And can I say, "He did a wonderful job!"

A few days before the funeral, we went to choose the flowers. My mom chose "The Yellow Rose of Texas" for his casket spray and adorned it with a ribbon that said, "Loving Husband." The flowers from the grandchildren were patriotic in honor of his and our love of this great country. Their ribbon said, "Perfect Papa", which he was to them. As daughters we gathered to pick out the children's spray. We wanted it to be perfect, to have meaning. This meant going back and forth through the books trying to determine what our last tangible gift to him would be. We finally decided on a custom bouquet. I picked sunflowers for his ever-sunny disposition. My sister Lori chose yellow roses to continue the theme of his heritage, and my little sister Ginger chose some blue flowers to symbolize the Texas blue bonnets. Our ribbon said simply, "Our Daddy". The flowers were all beautiful and meant something deeper to us.

Tuesday night, December 28, 2010, was the viewing at Metcalf Mortuary. We stood in our family line, oldest to youngest. As different friends and family members walked in, I was overcome with love. My dad was a joy to be around; he loved people. But I was still surprised as people drove hours round trip to pay their respects to this great man.

I kept gravitating back to the casket. It seemed like the only place I wanted to be. It was a sacred place. Although there were many people there, I had the opportunity to spend much time alone there. I was touched by the note that my 6 year old nephew Jake had brought all the way from Tennessee and tucked into the casket beside his Papa's arm. He shared the note with me, it said he loved him and that he had lost his two front teeth. I know my dad would have loved that.

The viewing room was anything but reverent. We had over 100 family members come from coast to coast. The grandchildren were great in number. Although my father lay there and everyone took multiple turns strolling back and forth from casket to family to chairs, there was a feeling that my dad would have been happy. He loved laughter, he loved to see people enjoying each other, he loved family...but he most especially found joy in his grandchildren.

For his display table, we each did a picture frame of our life with him. There was one from his family growing up, one of him and my mom, and one for each of us kids. We also included his Air Force awards, his cowboy hat, and other memorabilia from his life. It was easy after browsing the table to see he had a very fulfilling and rewarding life.

As the night wore on and people began to disperse, we began to make preparations for the funeral the next morning. We knew that would be the hardest day of all. The viewing on Wednesday morning, December 29, was much more reverent than the night before. I knew, as did everyone else, that this would be the last time I would be able to physically see and touch my father. At the conclusion of the viewing, my mother, me and each of my siblings, went up to say our final goodbyes. The crank on the casket was turned, lowering my father lower into the casket. The top was closed, and one final lock was twisted to seal him safely inside. It was so hard to experience all the emotions at that time. The sights, the smells, the sounds of that moment are etched into my memory. My Uncle R.B. gave the family prayer and then we slowly followed the casket into the chapel.

The service went just as my father had directed. It felt good to be able to fulfill his wishes. My brother Jon gave an incredible eulogy. He talked about how my father lived, loved, learned and left a legacy. It was truly a tribute to my father both as a husband, father, comic, hard worker, priesthood holder and Son of God. My daughter Brooklyn wrote a beautiful poem for him titled, "Through My Eyes" and he had requested she read it. The grandchildren sang and sobbed through, "I Am A Child of God" and "Families Can Be Together Forever". His testimony was evident through his hymn choices of "I Believe in Christ" and "I Know That My Redeemer Lives". My cousin Allison played the guitar and sang my father's favorite song, "His Hands". I was surprised when my dad had requested we sing, "Have I Done Any Good in the World Today?" It seemed an unusual song for a funeral. Yet as we sang that hymn, I was overcome with tears as I knew that every word of that song represented my dad. He truly went about serving others. His final concerns before he died were had he been a good man and had he endured to the end. He had!

As the service let out, we walked to the entryway to watch the pallbearers put the casket into the hearse. It was raining and it did not let up for us. As I was driving to the cemetery with my son and his fiance I said, "Some say when it rains it is because the angels are crying. But I don't think they are crying today." My son, Brandon said, "Yes they are mom. Papa is telling them jokes and they are laughing so hard they are crying." I could see that being true.

As we arrived at the cemetery, what I saw took my breath away. There were many uniformed men standing at attention. All for one father. The feeling was one of utter sacredness. Even the drizzling rain seemed to add to the feelings I was feeling. We stood silently as the flag draped casket was carried to the grave site. The gun salute was given, "Taps" was played on the bugle, the flag was folded and presented with some comforting words about service to God and country to my mother. Then my brother Jon dedicated the grave to be a place free from destruction and to house my father's body until the resurrection when spirit and body would be rejoined to form that perfect union. Tears were shed.

The pallbearers laid there boutonnieres on the casket and my mom, I and my sisters and the granddaughters placed our long stem yellow roses on the casket.

Then I was able to pay the final tribute. Texas is our homeland. It is the land of my father's birth as well as my own. My Aunt Elaine and my cousin Maria, were kind enough to send some dirt from their Texas gardens. I poured this dirt under my father's casket so he could be buried on Texas soil. It seemed only fitting that if he couldn't go to Texas, Texas could come to him. What a feeling of home that provided.

Slowly the crowd dispersed. I kissed the casket as my final goodbye to my perfect father. I am so grateful to live just a mile away from where he is buried. Even though I know his spirit no longer resides there, I look forward to the days I can go there and talk with him and feel close to him.

There are some things I will really miss. I will miss kissing my daddy's bald head. I will miss seeing his twinkly blue eyes and his great smile, I will miss hearing his jokes - he got better at remembering the punchlines, and I will miss his thumbnail. Last year he accidentally drilled into his thumb. His nail never healed properly and was wavy and bumpy. While he was in the hospital and while he lay at rest in his casket, I would keep rubbing his thumbnail. Call me crazy, but it gave me comfort. But more than anything, I will miss just knowing he is there...on the other side of the door, or on the other end of the phone, or ready to twirl me as we danced, or anxious to lay his hands on my head to give me a father's blessing, or his open arms just waiting to envelop me in a comforting hug. My dad was always there ready to receive and love me in any way I needed.

The day of my daddy's funeral was one of no regrets. I wouldn't have changed a single thing. He lived his life beautifully and this day commemorated his life in the same beautiful manner. How blessed I was to have had him for my 45 years, and how grateful I am to know he is my daddy forever. I will always love and honor you. Rest in peace Dad, and I will try to find peace as well, until we meet again.