Thank you so much for your cards, your emails, your texts, your thoughts and most especially your prayers. Perhaps it was the last, especially, that flew me to Atlanta just in time to kiss my Dad goodbye.
Two weekends ago, I was back in Atlanta to celebrate and remember his life at a memorial service. This was not what I’d call a traditional service. He was not that kind of guy. It was held at the Atlanta Athletic Club where he played his golf and had belonged for many years. This is where he found community. We were instructed to come in “golf attire” because “he wouldn’t have wanted anyone to get dressed up on his account.” He was that kind of guy.
I had been offered the opportunity to speak at his service. Though I am not a speaker by trade or training, testimonials were by invitation and testifyingtelling the truthseemed right to do. But what do you say to a room full of people, most of whom you don’t know, about the death of your father in light of the life he lived?
For church-going people, you talk about salvation and heaven and God’s grace. You talk about the assurance they have because of the promises they made to God while they were living. While Dad was living, I never heard him make those promises. So, what assurance do you have about your father, Wendy?
Talk about tough questions.
I prepared all I could. Poured over the writings I had done, pondered the exchanges we had had, wracked my brain for recollections of conversations we had shared. Nothing seemed right or complete. But I did have a book. Five years ago I had picked it up on a whim, and taken it with me on a visit to Dad’s house. It is called Questions for my Father (by Vincent Staniforth). In it I had scribbled the answers to questions like, “What makes a good Dad?” “What’s it like to have grown children?” “What is the biggest risk you have ever taken?” “Should I strive to be happy or strive to be successful?” Even, “Have you found it possible to forgive people who have wronged you?” and “What does God mean to you? What happens when you die?”
Not casual conversation, as you can imagine. But totally fair when you have a book and a pen and you’re poised to scribble down the answers: I, the journalist and he, the subject.
So I traveled to Atlanta with this book, my papers and my “travel Bible.” Soft-sided and worn, it goes with me when I go. The morning of the service, I awake, unsteady and unsure. I mean, this is my Dad. These are final words. Who knows Dad better than me? This has got to be the best I have ever done. But I’m no speaker. God, what to do? Finally I toss the whole lot of papers and books into my bag. It is time for the service. Somehow, what I have will have to do.
I arrive, put down my bag near the front and begin greeting people as they come in. This feels more like a wedding reception than a funeral. I am exceedingly grateful that my daughter has put together a marvelous PowerPoint slide show that is now projecting on a large screen in the corner of the “St Andrews” room. Pictures are worth a thousand words.
As we all enjoy them, someone approaches me and asks, “Do you have a Bible?” I had suggested the three scriptures to be read, but country clubs are amazingly devoid of Bibles. “Actually, I do,” I am able to say, and I dig through my bag’s contents for the familiar pliability of the 9×5 inch, burgundy-colored, naugahyde volume. From it are read the verses God had suggested months ago as words for this service. Not from an iPad or paper printed out in the office, but from the worn book that has traveled with me for decades.
I listened through tears and smiles to people offering fond and honoring memories of Dad. When it was my turn, I shared answers Dad gave me to some of those questions, even the one that began, “What happens when you” I am so grateful to God who gives me strength in these moments to tell the truth and leave it at that.
After the service a kind woman introduced herself to me saying, “I didn’t know your father, but now that I’ve seen you and heard you I feel like I do.” It wasn’t till later I realized the power of those words. What a privilege we have as Christiansto make the father known. But first we are invited to ask questions, even the tough ones.
As for me, I just jot down the answers. I’m not a speaker but I am a writer.