The past two and a half weeks have been an absolute blur. From the moment my mom hysterically called me while I was happily eating my favorite avocado toast for lunch, to the moment we got the news from the neurologist that Dad would never be the same, to reading his will that he left in the top desk drawer for my mom to find, to walks in the rain to clear my head during his 5 day hospital stay, to an awfully lonely night of insomnia in the hotel I was staying in, to hearing Dad's last heartbeat, to the phone calls and texts and messages that I could barely keep up with, to planning two services for his celebration of life, to the shock and denial I am experiencing, to the food cravings and nausea that nearly coincide, to endless phone conversations with my beautiful mother I'm so lucky to call my best friend and am so devastated for her sudden loss of her life partner, to consoling my sweet boys and answering their questions...I just want it to stop. I want it to not be real. Please, make it go away!!!
One of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life was deliver Dad's eulogy. Not once, but twice! Twice we celebrated Dad's life. Both times were tragically beautiful. My main consolation in such a horrific time was being in the presence of my incredible friend Pastor Jackson. I don't know what I would have done without his guidance, support, and love. Our family is truly blessed to call him a bonus family member. He prayed with us, consoled my sweet mom, and delivered the most beautiful services. I am truly at a loss for words in my gratitude for him.
Here I am sharing my eulogy so that you too can see what an amazing Dad I had. Yes, I had two dads who both died tragically, but this dad is the one who supported me the most and raised me from the time I was 8 years old. In the first paragraph I reference our attire, as we all wore Spartan tee shirts and jeans to honor his wishes. He would have been so proud.
I’ve never celebrated someone’s life in such style and so comfortably – Dad would be so honored. He never liked going anywhere where he was supposed to dress up, and even when he did, he often rebelled and still wore his signature jeans and Spartan tee.
I’m here to tell stories about what it was like growing up with him and having him for a Dad, since he helped raise me from the time I was 8 when he married my mom.
My earliest memories are of him reading to me, playing guitar and singing, listening to the oldies radio station on the way to school in his Ford Bronco, celebrating Christmas with his family in East Lansing each year, learning to cook and enjoy eggs over easy, mushroom hunting, playing numerous card games, lying under the stars while he taught me the constellations (and even though he told me multiple times, I still only remember the dippers and Orion’s belt - sorry Dad), attending numerous rendezvous (which are gatherings based on specific war times) complete with re-enactments and delicious food, and visiting Civil War battle-sites and graveyards.
A particular memory I have is of visiting our Grandpa’s cottage, where we would go every summer on Turk Lake in Greenville, MI. One day, my cousins and older brother and I had the brilliant idea to all pile on the small paddleboat that Grandpa owned and head out to the middle of the lake. No sooner had we reached the middle did a speedboat begin circling us, the driver having his fun while his waves rocked us back and forth. We thought it was fun too – until we began to sink. Never had I seen 80 year old Grandpa run so fast, and never had I seen Dad so pissed.
You will also notice a couple of pictures on our family poster board of how cool my dad was – making pancakes for us on a griddle over a fire in the snow, and building the chicken
coop that still stands on my parents’ property by hand. He taught me how to use a hammer AND how to sew and cook.
He also made me laugh a lot. While I frequently rolled my eyes at the time, I will never forget our family walks in the orchard, when I would inquisitively ask what each hole in the ground was, Dad would retort, “Why don’t you stick your hand down there and see what bites you?”
Dad also had a way of making us do things on his terms. He never liked waiting around much. Every morning, as I was dilly-dallying getting ready for school, Dad would get in the car and begin driving down the driveway, going a little farther each time until I would finally catch up and jump in. (Mark loves this and threatens to do it to me now but fortunately he knows better.) Dad would also walk way ahead of us when going to events or on trips because we were too slow for him (and his legs were much longer). Fortunately for us, Dad was a pretty distinguishable dude, so we always managed to find him.
I often called Dad a combo of Jerry Garcia and Santa Claus. In fact, on more than one occasion, little children would approach Dad wide-eyed, saying “Santa??” Dad loved it. He always loved children. Mark was so surprised when we had our Adam and Dad scooped him up and began singing to him and rocking him. Not me. I knew Dad was in Heaven. While I wish my boys could have gotten to know him better, I cherish the moments they had together. A favorite memory is of Dad and my boys at my brother Daniel’s wedding – you will see a few pictures of them dancing and sitting together. Dad later posted a picture of him with Noah, stating that he was his dance partner and “stronger than he looks.” He was 2 at the time and running around in his light-up Batman shoes.
Dad always challenged me to think for myself. He was a lifelong learner and was always reading. Genealogy and history were two of his favorite subjects. When I would bring home school projects or writing assignments, he was eager to contribute. One of the papers he challenged me to improve was so well written that my English teacher accused me of plagiarism!
Dad was such an avid MSU fan that he influenced my decision to go there as well, for which I am forever grateful. Some of my best memories were made on that campus in East Lansing, where Dad grew up. MSU was home to him and he bled green to the core. We loved walking the botanical gardens, along the banks of the Red Cedar, and then of course finishing up with a trip to the MSU Dairy Store to get our beloved ice cream.
Not one for I love yous or public displays of affection, Dad became more sentimental over the last several years. Getting a cancer diagnosis made him realize how precious life is. You can see the change in Dad’s expression in pictures as he got older. What once was a grimace or a stoic expression became a ginormous smile – especially after my kids were born. Just look at those pictures of Dad with his grandsons. His smile is contagious in them.
There are a few moments that I will cherish from the last decade with Dad. The first occurred when I married my incredible husband. Not only did Dad manage to corral a couple dozen of Mark’s family members and get them to sit down for the ceremony, but he said to me before walking me down the aisle – “Walk slowly and let them bask in your beauty.” Of course, in my nervous state, I quickly forgot that advice, so you will see Dad gripping my arm tightly in that picture using his weight to hold me back from running down the aisle! Shortly thereafter, one day while chatting in my car, Dad let me know his high opinion of Mark and basically insinuated, “Don’t mess this up Celeste!”
I also remember going out to breakfast with Dad while Mom was in the hospital in 2015. He told me stories of his life I had never heard before, and he expressed his overwhelming concern for Mom’s health. For many years, Dad did not demonstrate his love for my mom in public ways, so it was much to my delight these last few years that Dad “got all sappy” on Facebook and posted that he wished he would have met my mom sooner. He would have chosen her over and over again.
The last meaningful memory I have of Dad is when he tagged me in a post of top influential women. He said there was a mistake because I was missing from the list. The fact that I made him that proud with my activism made my entire year. I will miss his messages and tags on Facebook, as well as his witty comments. Even though he rarely said I love you, I know how much he did.
I love you Dad. May your soul rest in peace.