Monday of last week, my eldest sister called to say “Get here. Dad’s dying.” I left at once even though I hoped he’d pull out of edema and heart failure the same way he’d pulled out of many things that had nearly killed him. In the past ten years alone, Dad survived bladder cancer, kidney cancer, esophageal cancer, a stroke, a broken neck, massive internal bleeding, pulmonary failure after a triple bypass, sepsis, covid, kidney failure, three “codes” where he had to be resuscitated, and I’m probably forgetting a few things. I’ve had to say “I’m leaving town, my father’s dying!” so many times that my friends probably thought I was either delusional or lying.
But, Tuesday night of last week, Dad passed away while listening to his favorite hymn, Amazing Grace. Reading the above, you’d think I wouldn’t be in shock over his passing, but I think I am. Still, I wanted to give this tribute because Dad wasn’t just a great father and an absolutely devoted husband–he was also a genuinely kind person. I can’t count all the times I’ve heard “Your father is the nicest man” from people, and if you knew him, you’d probably agree. We all know the saying “treat other people the way you want to be treated” and it’s usually said as an aspirational statement, or a theoretical concept. My father actually lived that, in the sort of effortless way that would earn you a questioning look if you asked him about it, because it didn’t occur to him not to.
It’s not that life was never hard for Dad. It’s also not as if he was one of those eternally cheerful, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened!” sort of people. He grieved when he lost loved ones, especially when he lost my mother. He lamented the random cruelties that life sometimes brings. He hurt when people were cruel to him; he went through periods of depression when life was at its hardest; he was afraid when Alzheimer’s started stealing his memories and ravaging his health. But he was never bitter; he never repaid cruelty with cruelty, and he never took out his pain on others. In fact, he did the opposite. Dad was there for some of the same people who’d hurt him, and he was considerate of others no matter what circumstances he was in. Even bedridden with his memories starting to erode away, Dad would crack jokes with the nurses taking care of him, or say how lucky he was because of the memories that he still had.
You’ll think I’m saying this because I’m his daughter and I’m viewing him through rose-colored glasses, but it’s actually the truest thing I’ve ever written.
On my wedding day, the Reverend read from 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8. That section is commonly referred to as “the love passage” in the Bible, so it’s often recited at weddings. However, it actually wasn’t about how married couples should treat each other. It was about how all people should treat each other. I haven’t come close to living up to those verses even on my best day, but with very few exceptions, my father lived this every day of the past forty-nine years that I knew him. So, I’m going to rephrase it, replacing the word “love” with his name:
“Bill was patient, Bill was kind. Bill did not envy, he did not boast, he was not arrogant or rude. 5Bill did not dishonor others, he was not easily angered, he kept no record of wrongs. 6Bill did not delight in evil but always rejoiced with the truth. 7 Bill always protected, always trusted, always hoped, and always persevered.”
Now, finally, he can rest.