The CHERISHED Life of Heather Leigh

Thursday, February 10, 2011

God put his hands on your shoulders way too soon

For those that attended the funeral, here is how the Eulogy was written. I did not want my dad to be entered into the Guinness World Book of Records (Amy, that was for YOU!) for having the longest funeral ever so I cut some thing out during delivery.

For those of you that didn't attend the funeral, you missed a good show. We'll charge a cover next time.

Happy (shouldabeen) 67th Birthday, Dad.

The Eulogy:

Brain Tumors Suck.

It’s true. If you don’t believe me, just Google it. The search results will show you that there are stickers, tote bags, coffee mugs, and t-shirts all emblazoned with this sentiment. And folks, everybody knows that if it’s on a t-shirt, then it must be true. Brain tumors do indeed suck.

When we first found out that there was a suspicious mass on Dad’s thalamus, we were all shocked and devastated. We didn’t fully understand what “suspicious mass” meant in those first few days Dad was in the hospital, we just knew that it could not be good. And even before we learned that it would end up being a brain tumor that would eventually claim Dad’s life, it just didn’t seem fair.

I am so thankful that during that time, when we had one of our first family huddles in the private waiting room of Royal Oak Beaumont’s Surgical Intensive Care Unit, that my mom said this to us….”If life was such that bad things ONLY happened to bad people, then it would be understandable for us to be mad and get angry at this situation. But life doesn’t work that way.” In Dad’s case, a terrible thing happened to a terrific person. Thank you, Mom, for saying that. I have called upon those words of wisdom many, many times during these last four and a half months. And thank you for not only saying those words, but for living them as well. I did not see you get angry AT ALL during this very difficult time…OK, well, maybe once or twice when Shawn or I was irritating you. But during this whole thing, you have never been bitter or angry at life or at God. Your grace and faithfulness is amazing.

Mom, I know that you have lost your very best friend. Dad loved you with a passion and a loyalty that fairytale romances are made of. How lucky you are to have been loved so completely by such a wonderful and loyal man.

Not only was my mom a pillar of grace and faith during Dad’s illness, but my sister, Shawn was, as well. Shawn, you and the Spry kids basically moved in with mom and dad for the last several months. I know how important it was to you that mom never feel alone, and how important it was to you to spend as much quality time with Dad as possible. You sacrificed so much of yourself to be there for them. Whether it was helping Dad with his physical therapy, or singing hymns with him, or stretching out his body as it got weaker and weaker, your selfless acts of service were an honor to witness.

Shawn, I know that you have lost your coach and your mentor. Your commitment to Christ was one of the true joys of Dad’s life. He was so very proud of you as you demonstrated daily to your kids and to all those around you how to live your life filled with purpose and faith.

And Jeremy, I know that you have lost your biggest fan. How many other dads out there have turned their front yards into dirt bike tracks for their kids? Motorcross was your passion growing up and Dad did everything possible to help you pursue your favorite past time. When your chips were down, Dad was always on your side and always gave you the benefit of the doubt. Whether you needed help watching the kids or advice on how to build something, Dad was there for you. He was constantly rooting for you to become the best man and father that you could be. You surely had a shining example of how to provide for and love your family above all else.

And to all of the grandkids, Jordyn, Bailey, Jacob, Aaron, Liam, Kayla, Owen, Bella, Lillian, and Ashton, I know that you have lost the best Poppa ever. Each and every one of you were the lights of his life. We expected Poppa to witness high school graduations and weddings. We expected him to attend many more plays, concerts, dance recitals, tea parties, and ball games. While he might no longer be here in body, he will continue to be with each one of you in spirit. Even when baby Ashton takes his first steps and has his first birthday, Poppa will surely be with us.

And for those that might not know, please bear with me as I digress a bit. When I found out that I was pregnant with Ashton, I was extremely upset. I was DONE having babies!! My youngest at the time was five and we were OUT of the diaper phase and infant stages. I didn’t want a fourth baby. I was depressed during my entire pregnancy. And then Ashton arrived. And we all fell in love with him. He was perfect. And four months after Ash was born, Dad got sick. Dad lost his ability to communicate or initiate emotion pretty early on in the illness. During that time, Ashton was the only thing that would make Dad smile without being prompted. Dad would make duck noises at him and interact with him in such a lively way. It was such a blessing to see Dad’s personality shine through when Ashton was around. Ashton may have been an “accident”, but he was most certainly meant to be.

Someone mentioned to me yesterday that they were impressed with how well the family was holding up. It’s not that we aren’t sad. We are. We all are. But, for me, personally, I have been grieving and mourning the loss of my father for many months now. While his illness was most definitely a burden, we have had many blessings as a result. We have been showered with an outpouring of love from all of our friends and family – visits, food, flowers, cards, prayers, kind words. I cannot thank you enough. We were given this precious gift of time to properly say goodbye to Dad. I take comfort in the fact that we were able to surround him with love, that he- for the most part- had no pain, and because he didn’t realize that he was dying, he wasn’t bitter, scared, or angry. I take great comfort in knowing that Dad lived his life in such a way that he had no fences left to mend. Back in September, when we were planning Dad’s celebration of life party, several of my girlfriends pitched in to help. One of them said to me that while she was going through pictures of my dad, she (who is typically NOT a “crier”) found herself crying as she went through the photos. Even though she didn’t know my Dad all that well, she said to me “Heather, as I was going through the photos I could just tell that he loved you all SO much. And I never had that with my father.” How fortunate we are to have had this man who loved us so much.

Shortly after Dad passed away, I was surprised to learn from my mom that he never felt like he made much of an impact or contributed much. Ludicrous, I know. Especially because one of Dad’s favorite movies was “It’s A Wonderful Life”. He identified with the scene in which George Bailey saves his younger brother from drowning because Dad’s older brother Carie had saved Dad from drowning when they were young. In the movie, George thinks that the world would have been better off without him in it. George’s guardian angel shows George how different life would have been had he not been born, including the fact that had he not been born, there would have been no one there to save his younger brother from drowning. Dad certainly had an impact…just look at this room. There are people here from over nine states…Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee, Kansas, Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and of course, Michigan. I’d say that’s a pretty big impact.

After Ashton was born in April, Dad came and spent a few nights with me to help take care of me and the baby and the other kids while my husband was out of town for work. After Dad passed away, a friend shared this with me which demonstrates the impact that Dad had on people, even those he only knew for a few minutes. She wrote: “I am happy to have met your dad, albeit just briefly, when Ashton came home. Our visit was short and not at all intimate in nature, but his tone was gentle, his laughter deep, and his eyes kind.” She was able to capture Dad in a nutshell after meeting him just that one time.

For everyone here today, I know that Dad has had an impact on each and every one of you, and that you all have lost your “favorite”. Your favorite uncle. Your favorite cousin. Your favorite brother-in-law. Dad was quite simply everybody’s favorite. And while there has been a lot of lively debate amongst some of the nieces and nephews (you know who you are), as to which one of you was Dad’s favorite - I would like to settle that debate right now by revealing to you the answer….EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU. Dad genuinely liked people. He was happy to help in any way he could and he did so without any fanfare or desire for recognition. I can’t think of a time where Dad has had anything negative to say about anyone (except for maybe a crooked politician or a criminal). He took joy in others’ successes and cheered for each of you to be the very best you could be….just as long as the best that YOU could be did not surpass HIS best in a game of dominoes or a round of golf!! And speaking of golf, one of Dad’s friends said to me yesterday that Dad is surely now on the most beautiful fairway he has ever seen. …and if anyone could get Jesus to play golf, it would be Dad.

As for me, I have lost my strong, brave, sweet Hero.

When I was young, I remember how Dad used to lie on the floor on his back, with his arms stretched towards the ceiling, holding tightly onto my 4, 5, 6 year old little feet. I would stand there with my arms out for balance, suspended in the air, in the palm of his hands. Just like it was yesterday, I can see his smile and hear his laughter as he playfully exclaimed, “Don’t look down, now! You’re NOT gonna fall! Stand still! YOU’RE not gonna fall, I’ve GOT ya!” Sure enough, Dad, you never let me fall. I thought you were the strongest man alive.

But Dad possessed more than physical strength, he had an amazing strength of character. I remember the story he used to tell about the woman he picked up on the side of the road. He asked her where she needed to go and she responded “Anywhere you want to take me.” He quickly realized that his intention to HELP this woman by giving her a ride was not the same intention that she had had for that ride. He apologized to the woman for the mix up and promptly dropped her off at the next corner. His strong character included a work ethic like none of I’ve ever seen. Not only was he a full time firefighter, but he did several other “jobs” to provide the best life possible for us. He cleaned houses, he laid tile, he helped Uncle Jimmie and Uncle Hurley lay brick, he drove the school bus on field trips. How many of us have had Dad fix something or build something? He has built Bailey’s desk, bed, and bookshelves, my desk, shelves, and a storage bench, Aaron’s train table, Jordyn’s desk, my hope chest, Shawn’s hope chest. He built the house we grew up in. He was Mr. Fixit. Whatever needed to be done, Dad would do it. And dad would do it right. If you wanted it done fast, Dad was not the person to call, but if you wanted it to be perfect, he was the one for the job.

And even though Dad was so much more than a firefighter, I was always proud to tell kids at school that MY dad was a fireman. He didn’t talk much about the fires he fought, but I always imagined him saving lives EVERY single day, even though some of his days at the fire hall were probably spent making spaghetti or pushing a broom, in MY mind he was saving lives. I remember asking Dad once upon a time, “What was the worst fire you ever fought?” He told me that while the lumber yard fire he helped fight on his second night on the job was definitely the biggest, the worst fire was the one in which a couple of kids were found hiding in a closet because they probably got scared and thought that would be a safe place to go get away from the smoke. Just like it was yesterday, I can see the sorrow on his face as he told me that story and I can hear the concern in his voice as I recall what he said to me, “If there’s ever a fire, don’t you go hide in a closet, now. You better just get down and get out.” There were times in my “tween” years when I would get myself all worked up with worry that Dad might not survive one of his shifts at the fire hall. But, Dad, you always came home unscathed. I thought you were the bravest man alive.

While Dad didn’t talk much about fighting fires, he DID talk a lot about delivering babies, something he got to do on three occasions as a firefighter and EMT. With all of my pregnancies, I can remember him telling me that if I needed him to, he could deliver my baby. I know I’m not the only one here that he has said that to! Just like it was yesterday, I can see the twinkle in his eye and hear the excitement in his voice as he eagerly told me, “Now, you just give me a call in case you can’t get to the hospital in time. I’m only 20 minutes away. I’ve delivered three babies, I can deliver yours, too.” And while it never came to that, I know he would have delivered any one of my babies. Dad, remember when I was in labor with Liam and you came to the hospital and rubbed my feet? I thought you were the sweetest man alive.
Dad, for your strength, your bravery, and your sweetness, you are…and always will be, quite simply, my hero.

If we all could have an even ounce of Dad’s strength, bravery, and sweetness, the world would be a much better place.

Before I go, I’d like to ask that if you have any memories of Dad that you want to share with us, please write them down and send them to us. Email them, send them in a letter, send them in a text, just put them in writing. They truly are gems for us. Even something as simple as two sentences can bring a smile to our faces. For example, a friend of mine shared with me on Facebook that she remembered when we were young and learning to drive, she was nervous about driving and Dad said to her – Driving a car is EASIER than riding a bike because you have FOUR wheels instead of TWO! Please, share those memories with us.

And finally, I’d like to leave you with this quote that a friend shared with me earlier this week. The quote is from Kahlil Gibran and it goes like this. ‎"When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight"
Dad was certainly a delight to everyone he met. And we can all honor him by delighting in our friends and family the same way that Dad has delighted in each one of us.

I love you, Dad.
Make sure Aunt Marie makes you a coconut cream pie today,


~Amy said...

Simply beautiful. I was so touched by how you spoke to each member of your family specifically. You really showed so much grace and courage. So proud of you! XOXO

PS: Thanks for making me LOL with the G.W.B.R shout out!!

April said...

I have to read this in stages. Too many tears. LOVE to you.

Queen of her Castle said...

Wow, that was beautiful. I'm glad I was by myself when I was reading it because I was crying halfway through. What an incredible man your dad must have been. I am sure he's looking from from heaven and watching over you.