My mom asked me to share the eulogy I gave at my dad's funeral. It seems so personal and I almost didn't put it in this space. But I think mom is right about posting it here. You have all become such beautiful parts of my life. I can trust you with this as you have trusted me with so many of your emails, cards and thoughts of good heart. Thank you.
It is an odd thing, speaking at the funeral of the man that has served as the narrator of your life. In the hours and days since his death, I feel as if I’ve lost my words. I suppose it is because he was the person that provided me with so many of them. So many times over the past few days, as we’ve struggled or hurt or hoped I’ve thought, I should call Dad. He’d help me see this all the right way.
He was good at that. Helping me see things right side up. When I was seven, he took me to Jurassic Park. After the first kill (poor dino handler) he had to spend the rest of the afternoon explaining to me that the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park weren’t really real. When I was 15, we sat on the floor of this office and he put his arm around an incredibly awkward me while I cried because I wasn’t “cheerleader material”. (Keep crying meg. That one is never going to happen.) Just five years ago, he held my first baby and rocked back and forth in our glider while I rocked back and forth through postpartum depression. He held Zuzu with his eyes shut tight and in that deep softness his voice got when he truly meant something, he said, “Don’t worry, meggi. This baby girl is your best friend. Yes, you have a best friend right here. Don’t worry, sweetheart. I am right here. You can do this.” It took months for me to understand what he was saying, but as I waded through the murkiness of depression I held on to the sight of him rocking in my house with his eyes closed.
My Dad always closed his eyes when he spoke about the truths that meant the most to him. I used to think he closed his eyes to keep the tears in. Anyone who knows my dad, knows the man could cry over paint drying just right. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve changed my mind. If keeping tears in was the reason he shut his eyes, they would hardly have ever been open. No, rather, I think he closed his eyes when he spoke so that he could see more clearly. At the dinner table when he cleared his throat and squentched his eyes shut, we always knew it was time to put the forks down and listen. My dad had a way of gathering the beautiful aspects of mortality and immortality and holding them up for all of us to see.
My dad. For me, He is cowboy boots and fancy dancing with my mom. He is chile rellenos under the shade of a pecan orchard. He is biscuits and gravy and John Wayne. He is laughing until you lose your breath and the promise of a long talk on a short drive. He is a papa to my babies. The giver of big hugs and pink plastic rifles. He is a trip to Kentucky where I learned that the mountains really smoke and that time can stop long enough for you to breathe in the moments we have been given with one another. He is not enough days and so much blessing it hurts. He is “I see you, Nkosi” and a fast sailing ship. He is whiskers and encouragement and Christmas all shined up bright. He is the man that first taught me how the Lord must love.
Everybody here knows my dad in a different way. As a teacher, businessman, dreamer or seeker of the best hole in the wall restaurant. Me? I know my dad most truly as kimmy’s husband. My goodness, he loves that sweet, sassy, crazy lady.Whether talking about the way she looked in a pair of jeans walking across BYU during their courtship or holding her hand in a cramped hospital room, that woman put the light in his eyes. He lived for her in mortality and I can feel him living for her on the other side of this life. My brother, sisters and I learned to love by watching our parent’s marriage.
When I was little my dad brought home a box of chocolates for my mom. It was heartshaped and all red velvet and gold ribboned. It had also been opened. He said he had gotten hungry on the way home and had just needed one of the little candies. The gold wrapper from the chocolate he ate was still in its plastic heart molded place. Mom laughed and yelled at him. But when she picked up the wrapper to throw it away a lovely necklace dropped out of the tinfoil. I remember thinking that was the most romantic thing I’d ever seen. (Which honestly may have been more of a comment on my limited five year old experience at the time, than on the gesture itself.) But really, in so many ways that moment summed up my dad, always finding a way to make the good a little bit better.
My mom believed my dad could do anything. I remember long drives across town and country. My parents in the front seat, holding hands and talking about their dreams. Me in the backseat, listening because even when I was tiny, I understood I was witnessing something special. My dad hoped he could do great things, My mom knew he would do great things.. My mom has always had absolute faith in my dad. I think that sometimes when we hear that word, we think of some sort of passive, domesticated inertia. In truth, Faith is a principle of power and action. My dad was propelled to the heights of his mortal life by the active faith of my mother.
It wasn’t all gold encrusted chocolates. My goodness, that marriage took good heart and hard work. I think they will both agree that the other was worth it. There were financial setbacks and little misunderstandings and real sorrows. They fought and kissed and fought some more and kissed some more and well, you know...more. Even when my parents hated each other, they couldn’t stand to be apart. For the bystanders, it was both adorable and completely exhausting. Personally, I think for my parents just thought it kept things interesting.
Last night, we had a viewing. Dad was there in his cowboy approved pinebox and mom sat in a chair next to him. My little Dewey and Kimmy. For just a moment, the two of them were alone in their corner of the room. It was like something out of a picture book. The faithful woman standing sentinel over the man she loves. A very dear friend and I took in the scene together. It was, as he pointed out, pretty damn heartbreaking. But when I squentched my eyes shut, I could see it was also beautiful.
A long, long time ago, a benevolent God gathered spirits together and presented them with the opportunity to become like Him. Born of water and blood and clothed in mortality those spirits get to experience life on earth. Mortal life! A gorgeous heartache full of pain and joy, light and darkness, love and loss. I think sometimes we see this life as an exercise of the Lord’s test giving ability. As if he is nothing more than some sort of eternal proctor. I just don’t think that perception could be more wrongheaded. In reality, this earthbound journey is a loving testament of our Lord’s unflinchingly active faith in every single one of us. Faith in our eternal potential, faith in our unvaried worth, faith in our illuminated destiny.
Even as our hearts beat their way across this temporal expanse we are given glimpses of an innate and ever present spark of divinity. We create, we hope, we seek, we understand, we strive, we love. And oh my goodness, the godly blessing of two hearts that choose to create and seek and love together! My parent’s met while under the care of our Heavenly Father’s faith. It is a faith so powerful it shaped the water and the land, it is a faith so earnest it sparked the stars, it is a faith so complete it provided an atonement that revives and sanctifies through the blood of His only begotten son. It is a faith so fierce it has sustained my parent’s love and forged it into a gleaming thing that is unbreakable and without end.
They belong to one another. They are bound and there is no disease or accident or course of this little thing we call life that can do a darn thing to change that beautiful, soul saving truth. This separation is a matter of temporary circumstance. My dad still exists and as he goes about the Lord’s errands, I know my mom is still the thing that puts the light in his eyes.
What a blessing.
Yes, it is a blessing and that is all well and good, my heart says. But what about now? How do we survive until the reunion, the sanctification, the fulfillment of our Lord’s faithful ways. What about today? It is a good question and one I expect to ask and answer by the day, by the hour and sometimes, like right now, by the minute.
What about today?
Well, today, following the example of Dewey Conley, I will close my eyes so that I can see more clearly. And there in that place, absent from distraction and dismay, I know what I will find. There is a daddy whose body has been taken, but whose heart is near. There is a mom that has a Godly mission and earthly joy still waiting in this life. There is love and the blessing of time given and time taken. There is hope and faith. There is the brush of something greater than you and me, something that carries the smell of stars and the impression of truths strait and gleaming and multi-dimensioned.
And there is the quiet assurance of a Father’s voice, rocking back and forth against my heart, “Don’t worry, sweetheart. I am right here. You all can do this.”
I have a five year old that loves my dad with that special fierceness given to children. She thinks that man lit the sky. When she was younger she had a hard time saying goodbye every time we left my parent’s house. She’d kick and cry and protest. And who could blame her? Why would any of us want to leave that sanctuary of love and chocolate milk and gifts of toys and laughter? My dad is a smart man and found a way to make the parting a bit easier. As we’d walk out the door he would shout, “Not goodbye, Margaret!” Smiling at their game she would yell back, “Not Goodbye, Papa!”
So today, with my heart and hopes kicking and crying and protesting against this early farewell, I am learning from my dad and my little girl. This parting is not forever.
Not goodbye, my Dewey Conley.
Let's end the scourge of blood cancers. Please donate to my mom's Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Woman of the Year Campaign today. Every little bit helps. With all my heart, thank you.