My dad passed away three weeks ago. It was relatively fast, being about two weeks after learning he had stage four cancer, but dying can be one of those things that takes both too long and not long enough at the same time. The times he got to play with my kids on the floor certainly weren’t long enough, and the times watching him be in so much pain felt like they would go on forever.
My dad was born in 1931, into a family that was pretty much broken already. When he later got a stepfather, they got on so poorly that dad ended up in an orphanage, which evidently people did at the time. He wandered most of his life, tallying up two failed marriages and five kids in his travels back and forth across the country. He met a girl who introduced him to the Church, but it he wasn’t really interested in religion. The young missionaries didn’t impress him, and he was used to his life doing whatever he felt like doing. Eventually he was befriended by an older couple, who taught and fellowshipped him. He quit smoking and drinking cold turkey, got baptized, and wholeheartedly turned his life to God.
He eventually met and married my mother, 20 years his junior, and they’d been married for 45 years. He could never seem to figure out how to do the whole “parenthood” thing, but one of the biggest lessons I got from him was how to be a Dad. Nothing tangible or easily explained, it just is. Though I don’t recall ever hearing how he personally felt about his faith (aside from various testimony meetings), he did every calling ever requested of him as completely as possible, no matter what the challenge. He was scrupulous in his Home Teaching and often looked for other ways he could serve people around him. His last assignment was managing to get through speaking in Sacrament Meeting the day before he died. He could barely move and had a hard time concentrating on the talk he wrote, but he did it. I have no doubts he knew (and knows) the Church is true, and is now enjoying the time with his parents and deceased children, looking for what work he can be doing.
Mourning has been a bit different in our family. It was sad when he died, but it was also a bit of a relief because of the pain he was in. I think I did most of my mourning when we found out about the cancer in the first place. When my older brother died from cancer 25 or so years ago, all of us in the family kind of mourned on our own, breaking away from each other as if it would be better to not have that connection so we couldn’t hurt so much ever again. This time, it’s been much different.
My living brother and sister were able to be here before he died, and mom and dad lived right across the street from us, so we got to band together in those hard days. Afterward, we were sad, certainly, but we spent a lot more time falling into our old habits of being together as a family. We made really bad jokes. We played cards. Even jokes about death and dying were interspersed through brief times of introspection. I had to go through the mass of genealogical work he’d collected over the years. It was more a wake than weeping and wailing, though without the drinking. We knew he was gone but part of our family forever, and we got to come together like we’d not since before my brother died.
That’s one of the great things about the LDS Church. We can be sealed together forever. Marriage does not end with death. Children can be sealed to their parents in part of a chain back to the beginnings of the world. We can return home to our Heavenly Parents, together, as a family. Death isn’t the end. It’s just a temporary and unexpected journey. The time apart may be hard, but we know it won’t last.
My dad got to live two lives. Most people will never get such a second chance, but he certainly made the most of his. Our family has a long history of fathers who had a hard time staying with their families. I hope that I can take what I’ve learned from my dad and do even more to break that history and make something new.