Friday, August 17, 2007

Ceremonial Sorrow

Today was the day of Dad's funeral.

Our original plan was to have someone from Jennings Oaknoll deliver a fairly non-religious eulogy, but plans changed. Last night, at the funeral home, Aunt Jean brought us a copy of Dad's column from 11/27/1983, a piece entitled "If we only look, there are many reasons to give thanks." Kim thought it defined Dad in so many ways that she read it at the funeral today.

Here is that piece:

As we prepare to pause from our daily labors to observe another Thanksgiving--hopefully with our loved ones--it is only appropriate that e also reflect on our many reasons for giving thanks. Oh, the reasons are there, if only we are willing to look beyond the troubles we somehow allow to occupy our lives.
And if you'll permit me the opportunity offer several of my own reasons, I think you, too, will agree.
I'm thankful for a wife who is the one person I can always count on for support when I need it most and for two wonderful children who have grown into equally wonderful adults.
I'm thankful for the excitement that stirs in an old body when my daughter tells me I'm going to be a grandpa.
I'm thankful for true friends who are not influenced by my many weaknesses.
I'm thankful for the cup of coffee that gets me started each morning and for the one that helps me unwind each evening.
I'm thankful for deadlines that are easily met and for stories with happy endings. The former is a relief; the latter is a pleasant rarity these days when so much bad news is being reported.
I'm thankful for sheets that have been warmed by an electric blanket on a cold winter night.
I'm thankful for fifty percent off sales on those things I always wanted but thought I could never afford.
I'm thankful for the winter grass that forces its way out of the soil and creates a green blanket beneath bare trees.
I'm thankful for the aroma of hamburgers cooked on outdoor grills and for my wife's homemade chili that makes it a special meal.
I'm thankful for the coolness of an unexpected breeze on a hot summer day, and for the sun that sneaks out of the clouds to brighten these dreary winter days.
I'm thankful for the sound of rain dripping out of the downspout next to our bed and how it stirs memories of those old tin roofs.
I'm thankful for birthdays and all other special occasions that bring the family together fora few precious hours.
I'm thankful for the smile of a stranger who passes me on the street.
I'm thankful for someone in sports like Dale Murphy because it reminds me that not all athletes are spoiled brats.
I'm thankful for traffic lights that remain green on those days when I'm running late.
I'm thankful for someone who telephones unexpectedly with a kind word.
I'm thankful for nature's magic that transforms tiny plants into delicious tomatoes, and little seeds into giant ears of corn.
I'm thankful for the quite time I can spent just sitting out on the back porch, forgetting for the moment all that remains to be done.
I'm thankful for a restaurant meal that is all the menu claims it to be.
I'm thankful for vacations that provide a weird sort of relaxation even though I stay on the go much more than I ever do at home.
I'm thankful for street lights and for the kids who use them as their playgrounds after darkness has taken away the day.
I'm thankful for movies that make me laugh and those that bring a tear to my eye.
I'm thankful that the music of the 1950's is still around to enjoy.
I'm thankful for being able to voice my opinion and vote for whomever I please.
I'm thankful for grocery stores and gasoline stations that stay open all night.
I'm thankful for utility bills that are less than I had imagined they would be.
I'm thankful for a friendly face that emerges from out of the crowd at some out-of-town place.
I'm thankful for the Falcons, who possess an uncanny ability to win or lose in the final seconds on any given Sunday afternoon.
I'm thankful for those rare opportunities to visit with farmers and walk over the land.
I'm thankful for family reunions and the chance to exchange small talk with those I haven't seen since the last family reunion.
I'm thankful for politicians who admit they don't know everything, or that theirs isn't the only answer to any given problem.
I'm thankful for delivery and repair men who arrive when they say they will.
I'm thankful for the smell of freshly mowed grass that brings back memories of watermelon.
I'm thankful for friends who drop in and for neighbors who know and care when everything isn't right.
I'm thankful for a snow that paints the lawn an antiseptic white.
I'm thankful when the final leaf has fallen and has been hauled off, just as I am thankful when a new season's growth begins to emerge on trees and shrubs.
I'm thankful for those who poke fun at me, because I know they care.
And finally, I'm thankful for those minutes when my wife and I can reflect on all we have to be thankful for.
--Don Biggers

Kim read the piece with grace and power, conveying a tranquil serenity that Dad had intended with this piece. I could hear Dad's tone in her voice, and I took comfort in it.

I had prepared nothing in writing, but I related two brief experiences, which I will recreate here.

I remember when my Dad's sister Barbara--who became involved in genealogy long before the Internet made research quick and easy--discovered the Biggers family crest and motto. I remember that Dad was a little bit surprised; "I didn't know that plain folks like us had crests and mottos," he remarked.

The motto was only three words. "Giving and forgiving." And no one ever epitomizes those three words more than my father, who was the most giving and forgiving man I ever knew.

I also remember that, whenever anyone asked Dad how he was doing, he would look at them earnestly, smile, and say, "Just wonderful."

I can still hear Dad saying, "Just wonderful." The difference is, today it's true. He's healthy and happy and whole again, and he's with Mom, and at last, he really is "just wonderful."


Tredekka said...

I was hesitant to compliment you on how beautifully written these blogs have been--worthy of a book, certainly--because I didn't want to seem to make light of what has been, for you, a terrible journey through darkness. But I will do so now that I can extend the compliment to your father's excellent piece as well. There is such serenity and goodness in his words that it alternately made me think of the image in Twin Peaks of majestic Douglas fir trees blowing in the wind and the calm decency and genial wit of the early Peanuts. In short, it sounds like it was a wonderful service and a great honor to his memory.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Your dad was a wise, wise man. I'm going to add some of those things to my own list next time I'm thinking of things to be thankful for.

Brett Brooks said...

That is a truly wonderful piece, showing exactly what type of man your father was--and what type of children he raised.

Jessica said...

What you and mom both said were amazing and perfect. You both captured the essence of Papa's spirit and soul in the most elegant and graceful way. I see so much of Mimi and Papa in you and Mom. We speak of their wonderful qualities and deny our own. I have respect for both you and Mom, and strive to share the intelligence, strength, and compassion that you both possess.

cliff said...

I appreciate the kind words. What surprised me as I typed out Dad's words for this piece is that his sentence construction, his pacing, his phrasing--it was remarkably reminiscent of my own, even though I was never directly influenced by his own writing.

And Jess--your words are incredibly kind and comforting, since you knew Mom and Dad as much as any of us. Thank you...

Dale said...

That's a beautiful post. I'm sorry for your great loss.