A Tribute To My Father
My father died this week, at the age of 81, and this past weekend we held a beautiful memorial service, in which we celebrated his life as a doctor, a father, and a grandfather. In place of a question and answer, I offer some thoughts and memories of my Dad.
I remember Dad tickling us, giving us “airplane rides,” laughing with us. I remember his subtle sense of humor. I remember in England sneaking out with him early in the misty morning, sometimes with my brother along, going “poaching” for rabbits in the misty fields. I remember sneaking into the lounge where he sat quietly after work, escaping from the din of all the younger children, reading. I would sit quietly and read beside him.
I remember the time I went out with a boy I didn’t trust, and I asked Dad to come to the front door and tell me in a loud voice to be home by 10. This wasn’t his usual style, but he did it for me. He trusted me, and that gave me confidence in myself.
Dad and Mum met through the Student Christian Movement. They were planning to be medical missionaries to Nigeria when war broke out, and after much thought, felt Dad should join the army to fight the evil of Hitler. He and Mum took me to Hawaii twelve years ago, and on that trip I talked at length with them about their lives before and during my childhood. Dad talked about the war, how as a new young doctor he had to treat very badly injured men, and felt he didn’t know how and might be responsible for at least one man dying. On a more recent occasion I was talking about how I abreact memories with victims of severe trauma (having them relive the trauma until all the emotions are released), and he said that he used to do that with soldiers during the war. He was a pioneer in my own field!
The war disillusioned Dad about some aspects of his Christian faith, but he never lost his concern with the basic spiritual issues, the meaning of life, its purpose, and how he could make a contribution. He thought about things deeply. One of the things I most enjoyed was a deep talk with my father, where he tried to be as intellectually honest as possible. During my teens when I first consciously followed a spiritual path, Dad bore with my immature zeal with patience, seeing the positive in it and discounting the superficial. His wise and witty approach to important questions was very stabilizing. He was also always humble, believing he had something to learn from others in this area even when they were younger. He believed in dialogue between equals. Sometimes in mundane matters Dad could be the “Grump” that he liked us to call him. But in deep and spiritual questions he was a humble seeker.
Dad was always a model for me of honesty. He said what he thought, he didn’t cheat, he didn’t cover up dishonesty with rationalizations. Early in life I wanted to be like that. Dad’s integrity and unpretentiousness were central to his character. I have a photograph of Mum and Dad and all the family on their 50th wedding anniversary. All the rest of us are dressed up; Dad is in his jeans. That’s how he was : very real, unpretentious, humble, not trying to be anything he was not.
Several years ago, Dad had a near-death experience when he was stabbed by a crazy patient in the hospital in Smithers. During that experience, he felt a wonderful sense of oneness with the universe. Although he believed it wasn’t time for him to go, he knew that “going” was going to a place of goodness and peace and joy. Since then he has not feared death, in fact has looked forward to going back to that place. Since the onset of his illness almost four years ago, Dad began to feel his usefulness here was over. He was no longer able to practice his beloved profession or his favorite sport, golf. During his illness, he and Mum found Burns’ poem “John Anderson my Jo,” which expressed the love they had for each other for almost 60 years.
Dad wanted to die with dignity, at home among his loved ones, and he was fortunate to be able to do so. As family members gathered around him, we all had a chance to say goodbye to him, in his own bed, in his own home. He joked with me about being like King David of the Bible, who was given young women to warm him up on his deathbed. Dad felt he had plenty of young women doing this just with the family, although most of us weren’t so young any more! Dad died peacefully in the arms of his beloved wife. In the last few weeks he was looking forward to where he was going, moving on to the next stage of his life, firmly believing he was going to a welcoming, loving place where he would no longer be in pain. His faith was based on his experience. I know he is in that place now.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded.” My father succeeded. He showed us the way, in life and in death.