Goodbye, Dad

Do not fear death so much, but rather the inadequate life.

~ Bertolt Brecht (1898 – 1956)

It’s like he saw it coming and didn’t want to go without one final whopper of a shindig, one everyone would enjoy. So he loaded up the car with grandkids and a cooler and met us at Six Flags in Chicago. He had a cough that gave him trouble most mornings, or if he walked too much, but he didn’t seem worried about it. He swam in the pool at the motel, rode a few rides at the theme park, and ate pizza with typical gusto.

July 24th, 2010.

We sat on the hotel bed and chatted after a long day. It came up that I had quit smoking, and he gave me the most intriguing look. Not a smile, so much, but an acknowledgment of sorts. Where one looks at another and changes ever so slightly their estimation of them. Then he reached over and patted me on the back.

Today, the wait is over.

My father-in-law Gary passed away this afternoon, just minutes after a family/doctor conference call where we decided to let him go. We agreed that his life had been too large to have it now squandered away tethered to wires and tubes in a too-small hospital room. His cancer had ravaged him quickly, and he went with no hesitation. His ashes will be spread among the giant redwoods of California, his own heaven on earth. I’ve never been there, and I will meet him there one day.

Before we left his side this past Monday, I paid him one last visit. I gave him a hat sporting the logo of the place where I work. You see, for as long as I’ve known him, he made sure that each time I visited, I got a new Lund hat. The latest model. We often looked like the goofiest and most unlikely pair of twins when we went out on the town. We’d sit at the Eagles café, drink coffee, and tip our matching hats to the waitresses. I wore each hat with pride, and still have a few here and there. But there in the hospital, he had no hat. So I left him one of mine. A gift for when he decided to wake up.

He never did.

But I like to think that he knew I left it for him. I sat it beside him, leaned in to kiss his cheek, and told him I loved him. I thanked him for the gift of his daughter, and for that pat on the back. Such a casual thing, yet it meant something between us. More than I will probably ever be able to express.

It has been an honor to call him dad . . .

Gary Lee Harper
March 3, 1946 – October 21, 2010

[Flickr photo is by Tim Pearce and is protected]

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27 thoughts on “Goodbye, Dad

  1. The hat…whoosh, took the wind out of my sails and made my heart flutter with the significance of your gesture.

    Wishing you memories and strength and peace. All of you.

  2. Anyone worthy of a tribute like this must’ve been one hell of a guy.

    I’m sorry for your family’s loss, Brian. But deeply glad to hear of the relationship you two had. Sounds like something really special.

  3. I am so sorry for your loss (and I hope this isn’t posting twice as I tried to comment from my iPad earlier).

    I lost both my parents at a very young age and my inlaws are now may family. I can’t stand the thought of losing them. Like you, I found myself lucky to know them.

    I hope you and your wife find peace in this and that you can look back (as it seems you do) and cherish the memories. It all passes and ends so quickly.

    You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

  4. I am so sorry for your loss. This is a beautiful tribute that lefte crying for a man I didn’t know, and now wish I could have. Sending peace and comfort to you and your wife.

  5. A beautiful tribute to a man who obviously lived a good life. I’m sorry for your loss, but glad you were able to enjoy your time with him.

  6. Sounds like he had a wonderful life and will be missed greatly! I am sorry that you had to lose him, but it sounds to me like it was an honor to know him. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  7. We too had to make a conscious decision to let my FIL go. It was wrenching, but given the circumstances and the way he lived life, it was the right thing to do. It sounds like it was definitely the right thing at the right time for your FIL as well.

    I am so sorry for your loss. May you and your family receive the comfort you need at this time. May your memories of him sustain you and your family in the future, when his presence is sorely missed.

  8. What a wonderful tribute to an equally wonderful man and the relationship you shared with him. I don’t think you have to explain “the look”. We all know it and you got it across beautifully. What a precious moment.

    Thinking of you and your family and hoping you will each find comfort in the memories of this wonderful man.

  9. A beautiful thought…you meeting your father-in-law under the giant redwoods of California one day. And it will be as whole, healed, and glorious beings.

    You and your family are in my prayers. The prayers of others can be healing, too.

  10. We should all be so lucky to have a tribute like this written about ourselves when we’re gone.

    I lost my mom to cancer when she was 56 so I know what your family is living through right now is not for the faint of heart.

    Lovely post.

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