Remembering anniversary pain not forgotten

I swore I wouldn’t write about it again, but it will haunt me one way or another, so I might as well share what’s been on my mind lately: July 7 is the 25th anniversary of my father’s death.

Working at a funeral home means experiencing somewhat of a “Groundhog Day” movie effect when it comes to grieving the loss of my father. Hearing others’ stories of loss on a regular basis triggers thinking about my own loss(es). It’s only natural and has been aided by the growing number of his friends and relatives we’ve said good-bye to in recent years.

I’m not seriously traumatized by this. I don’t lose sleep over it and rarely shed tears anymore. Thoughts of my dad’s dying don’t interfere with my living. He died a relatively quick, albeit painful death in 1991 after being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. We had time to make our peace and share our love. Friends and family couldn’t have been more supportive. And in typical Smith fashion, we had more fun together than should be allowed at both the hospital and when we brought him home under hospice care.

When people share stories about my dad, it’s with huge smiles on their faces and difficulty containing the laughter associated with his memory. Women tell me what a good dancer he was. Former classmates and his siblings say he was musically talented on saxophone and clarinet. We loved his singing and whistling, as well. Former opponents recall his card playing skills.

People talk about how compulsively my father loved to talk and how hard he worked at running his dairy and crop farming operation. They share how he diplomatically handled property owner complaints on the township board of review and speak of his generosity when someone needed help.

To me, he was a bigger-than-life figure who was well-read and intelligent on a variety of topics. He always had something to say, and occasionally was right. He had a friendly, accepting quality in interacting with others. He did not gossip. Dad was also too busy to hold grudges. And as farming allowed, he was at as many of my sporting and musical events as he could be.

That said, he wasn’t a conventionally supportive father who voiced his love daily and bought us Christmas or birthday gifts. Perhaps that’s why I cherish the small, copper piano pencil sharpener he purchased for me out west: a rare display of gifting. There was no point in waiting for him to facilitate a Fred MacMurray-style, understanding discussion when I was troubled. Nevertheless, I sensed his dairy-laced relational advice meant he genuinely cared, “That boy will never buy the cow if he can get the butter for free” and “don’t get your teats in a wringer!” Other advice tidbits remain too colorful to print.

My father was a one-of-a-kind person and an important influence in my life. Watching him die was unbearably awful. He spent over two weeks on a respirator within the hospital ICU, unable to talk. It was torturous for everyone. He’d just received a cancer death sentence and couldn’t share his feelings with us. Plus, with the chemotherapy and heavy-duty painkillers, we had no idea how cognizant he was of his situation.

Somehow, Dad communicated he wanted paper and pen. With a rapidly-weakening grip, he scrawled a list of names: Dale, Dale, Greg, Norm, Donnie and Homer. We figured out he meant Spooner, Schrader, Hull, Korn, Hoenes and Mandoka. Then he wrote what we assumed to be a seventh name: Pal. “You spelled Paul wrong,” my mother told him. So he added another “l” on the end. He was listing his funeral pallbearers!

Those memories got stirred up recently when our community lost Dale Spooner’s son, Denny, and Greg Hull helped eulogize him. The same feelings register when I chat with Hoenes family members at funeral visitations, run into Joyce Schrader socially, sit by the Korns at their grandchildren’s activities, or hang out with the Mandokas.

Twenty-five years later, there’s still no escaping all the relational connections to my dad’s death. Laughter and losses are the common threads, but that’s okay. Sometimes you simply can’t keep all your body parts out of the wringer.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Sharon
    Jul 08, 2016 @ 12:23:46

    Again you amaze me Dearest Kristy…… so well said…. so true!
    I agree fully with your assessment of the Good Man your Father was~ I lovinly remember him especially right now, as our birthday were the same day, July 11th……


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