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Monday, January 19, 2015

Farewells

I have never liked funerals. In fact, I tend to avoid them. The fact that I attended my first funeral at the age of seven, and that the deceased was my mother, certainly set the precedent for how I would come to feel about funerals. I remember having to look at my mother, who was dressed in a pink, filmy nightgown and had makeup on her face. That wasn't my mother! My mother never owned any item of clothing remotely resembling that gown, and never wore makeup. 

I also remember seeing our Johanna Tante, our Aunt Johanna, who was related on my mother's side of the family. Her comment to me was that I would be all right; she'd send me a doll and I would be all better. There was no doll, and it would not have made everything better. But I learned first-hand that sometimes it might be better to say nothing at all at such a time rather than saying something that is dismissive or simply makes no sense. I didn't realize at the time that I had learned it, but I knew it later in life.

Yes, I've gone to some funerals over the years, and experienced various emotions and thoughts associated with them. There was Joe's funeral, when the priest asked if anyone wanted to share some thoughts about him, and nobody did. It wasn't the family's way, I guess, but it made me quite sad for him. And of course, there was Gram's funeral, the funeral of the woman who was essentially my mother. The funeral at which she was dressed in dirty clothes. The funeral at which some of her family members turned their heads the other way when Liz and I walked past the receiving line, or whatever it is called officially at funerals.

Trent and I recently went to a funeral for someone we have known for several years. We also know Lee's wife and some of his children and grandchildren, and consider them to be precious friends. It was important for us to go and show our support, respect, and love for the family. I can't speak for Trent, but I am very glad that we went. I can't believe I am saying this, but it was a beautiful experience. There were hundreds of people there to say farewell to a wonderful man.

Lee was eighty-eight years old, and had spent the last eight years of his life living with Alzheimer's. His lovely wife, children, and grandchildren saw him change over the years as his memories and health were ravaged by this illness. There was a beautiful thing that everyone would have noticed right away at this gathering. His wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, although suffering from loss of their beloved family member, had expressions of joy on their faces. Their father, husband, grandpa was no longer suffering.

During the funeral, each of Lee's seven children spoke about their father. One of his daughters briefly told the story of his life. He was a kind and generous man who enriched the lives of many others. His other daughter told about many things she had learned from him. She talked of his large, strong hands that worked on a farm, changed diapers, washed dishes, and could squirt geysers of water in the swimming pool. No one else, in the family or out of it, could do it the same way he day did. There were stories of how he wrote poetry for his wife all of the years of their life together. How he always called his older daughter on the week of his wife's birthday, or some other special occasion, to go shopping with him to buy her a gift. And how he would act like she had no idea what they were up to. 

Lee was born and grew up on a farm in this area, a farm that he eventually bought from his father. After deciding he didn't care much for milking cows, he got a Realtor's license. Eventually he bought the office he worked for, and it became a true family business. He would come into his brother's office and say, "What's new?" This became a catchphrase among the family at work. After he became unable to drive, his sons took turns taking him in to the office. One day, one of his sons went into dad's office and said, "What's new, dad?" Lee shrugged his shoulders, smiled, and said, "I don't remember."

Although he was a busy man, he made time for his children and all of their sporting and social events. All of his children said that they never heard him raise his voice in anger. They remembered riding on the tractor, and getting crawdads out of the irrigation ditches. They spoke of his capacity for fun, and told of how he would drive out on the ice on their lake and try to make the vehicles spin in circles. How he came down to the same lake in the summer while his kids and their friends were water-skiing and wanted to join in on the fun. He was fully dressed in his overalls as he was doing farm work that day, and had no swimsuit. He got in the water fully dressed, took a turn on the water skis, and got back in his truck, dripping wet, to go and do some more work.

After his funeral, Lee was laid to rest about 1500 feet from where he was born. His family and his community will long treasure their memories of this truly great man. He raised a family, he helped improve the local school district, and he created scholarship funds, among other accomplishments. Most of all, he was simply a genuinely decent person who loved his family and loved his fellow man. He never considered himself to be better than anyone, or too good to perform and chore or task. He taught his family the value of love, family, hard work, and helping others. What a great legacy from a great man. So for all of the warm memories everyone who knew him will have, I quote Lee and say, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"