trib·ute - ˈtribyo͞ot
noun: tribute; plural noun: tributes
1. an act, statement, or gift that is intended to show gratitude, respect, or admiration.
I just discovered, in one of the books that we had brought to my father over the time he was in nursing home care, a note. The book was To Make Ourselves a Home, a collection of stories his father -- my grandfather -- would tell the family about his early childhood in northern Canada. As he ailed, my father had him write them down to occupy himself while bedridden. The handwritten manuscript traveled with my father and then me from house to house until, with time on his hands in retirement, my father sat down and edited it. We then had it produced as a book by our publisher as a Christmas present to him.
The note was a little piece of paper, handwritten by volunteers from Hospice who sat with my father as the end approached. "On Tuesday, vigil volunteer Lu Dooley read pp 1-35 out loud to Dr. Young," it said. "Then Ted B read pp 36-49 to him -- although he appeared to be asleep the whole time."
It was a nice image for me to take with me, that as he drifted away, it was hearing the stories he had been told by his father as a child.
At this moment, I'm left to wonder what to say. People come up sympathetically, telling me how sorry they are for my loss. I don't know what to tell them: that I've been bracing myself for this moment for years -- since my Mom first developed Alzheimer's, since she died in 2007, since my Dad first showed signs of dementia or when he went into full-time nursing care? I really don't know how to be satisfactorily distraught, how to give them what they're searching for, but I want to play my role so that they can go on with their lives feeling they have done their part.
However, I also want to show my father the respect he never properly received in life. As I said when announcing his death on Facebook (and what a modern and inadequate thing that statement is), "He was a successful and frankly rather important man." He reached the highest levels of his profession and saved and earned his way to become, at least technically, a millionaire, thus achieving the goals he set himself as a child. Once, when we visited the campus of a university where he had been Dean of Students, he pointed out that all of his contemporaries now had buildings named after them. There was no Kenneth Young Hall, however.
He gave me a comfortable life, one in which I was free to pursue an offbeat profession and start a business without the concerns and anxieties he suffered in youth. For me, that was a spectacular gift which I never adequately repaid.
So now he's gone, and I still don't know what to say (though I seem to have spun out a lot of text doing it).
It was my father who told me that, at the end of every funeral, there's always somebody who says, "What's for lunch?" His point was that life goes on, no matter how tragic and central the loss. A resolutely logical man, I have no doubt that he, like I, would simply march on, going to work and getting the minutia of life handled. When his father died after a long battle with heart valve problems at 48, I think he (then only in his 20s) acted similarly ... though oddly we never really talked about it.
He was and is a huge influence. As shown above, I cite him regularly, and I hope never to forget the moments when I received the wisdom that I cite, but I also hope to always have the man close to mind, as if I had just spoken with him.
"As a day well spent brings blessed sleep,
So a life well lived brings a blessed death."
- Leonardo da Vinci