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Notes toward a Eulogy
Aug 2nd, 2017 by Dr Karma

This weekend, we will put my Daddy’s ashes in the ground.

It will be the first time I’ve been home since we buried Grandma.

And I feel awful about that–and guilty. I know Daddy would have wanted me to come home more often, but it was logistically and financially difficult (and the onus to fly to see family has always been 100% on me).

I also didn’t get to say anything to him the day he died. I called, but he was asleep–I was going to call again, but before I got the chance, he was gone.

We hadn’t been able to have a good conversation for a while–his mind had gone so much that he couldn’t follow the thread.

But he did say goodbye to me, in his way, last year.

We were on the phone; when it was time to go, he said, “I love you. The way you are.”

I was stunned, and found myself quickly in a conversation with my therapist.

Therapist: He said that?!?

Me: Yes. It means he’s getting ready to die.

He’d said he loved me before, but I know that I was a disappointment in so many ways, so I wasn’t expecting the second part.

I wasn’t always a disappointment, of course. I went to live with him when I was two–his memoirs say he became a father again that year. He had just retired from the military–as a very decorated man–to take up his dream of being a gentleman farmer.

And that made him a different dad from the one he’d been before. I, the oldest granddaughter/youngest daughter, was treated differently than my mother and her siblings had been. I got to be with him 24/7. He was nurturing and patient–and didn’t physically discipline me as he had the others. He taught me how to milk goats, how to make concrete–because I followed him from task to task.

He taught me to rhyme and to find new ways to end the stories we read.

He threw marbles into the deep end of the pool to teach me to dive. And them built me a box–by hand–to keep my marbles in.

When my mother took me back several years later, it was awful–because I wasn’t with him. One day, I told her I felt like Heidi–despondent, taken from her loving, gruff grandfather and the mountain into the cold world of the city.

She slapped me.

Which, let’s admit, proved my point.

It was me growing up, and making choices and mistakes, that really messed things up between Daddy and me. I read the platforms of the two major parties–and discovered I was a Democrat. I spent my summers working instead of basking in his light. I got pregnant and had my child.

He wanted me to go to college so I could support myself, but he and the rest of the family put pressure on me to be an accountant. He didn’t want me to like “liberal arts.” When I showed him the recruitment letter from UCD, one that promised me healthcare, which I could not access in Florida, he said he was disappointed in me and went to his room for the rest of the night. When it became clear that I would be a teacher in higher education, he was disappointed again–he said college makes people communists and said I’d been brainwashed into being progressive.

And as I was getting more progressive, he was moving to the other side–toward racism, hysterical gun rights fears, thinking he needed a garden again for when Obama started that race war.

I wrote him a letter a long time ago, asking him to consider that my job–my beliefs–are my efforts to make this country better–that they are in fact acts of patriotism, not the intentional dismantling of the country. I tried to argue that we wanted the same thing–a better country–but that we went about trying to get it in a different way.

He wrote back and said he knew I’d come to my senses when I left academia.

(I pictured myself, leaving my packed up office several decades from now, having a flash of insight: oh, right! I do hate people who are different from me! And fuck the poor! They deserve it! Even if you’re an orphaned infant with severe health issues, my tax dollars shouldn’t be used for your benefit!)

So it’s been hard.

And I know I’m not alone–all of his children are afraid of disappointing him. And people kept parts of themselves and their pasts from him (like one person’s couple of weeks on public assistance forty years ago).

And now I am in the process of mourning–him and the closeness we once had.

I become an absolute puddle when I think of him being disappointed in me–it’s why he never had to spank me, I guess.

This man had a truly happy marriage.

This man used his words carefully.

This man was a decorated war hero–one who didn’t want a gun salute–because that’s not how he wants us to think about him this weekend.

This man had a wonderful sense of humor.

This man cut a flower from the garden every morning for his wife in the last years of her life.

This man tried to retire from the military after serving in Korea. Then his wife got pregnant–with triplets. And so, needing to provide for his family–he went back in for another two decades and another war.

This man worked hard to get my weight up when I was small–when a doctor said I wouldn’t make it to five feet.

This man pocketed cigars on the way to taking me to the ER when I couldn’t breathe. He told grandma, “If she has to stay, I’m staying with her.”

This man then gave up smoking. Cold turkey.

This man showed me what strength was–what dependability was.

This man is the only one who hasn’t abandoned me.

May we all have the romance, the humor, the wisdom, the devotion, the intelligence, the determination, and the sisu to honor his legacy.

 

My brother, Granddaddy, and Grandma

 

 

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