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]