Tomorrow is never guaranteed. We don’t always get second chances to choose the right words, or actions. However, there is no need to live in an anxious state of uncertainty. We are called to live in the present, compassionately, and with purpose. We must also learn to be content with being enough.
In February 2020, the doctors told my dad he was in the late stages of congestive heart failure, estimating he had weeks, maybe months to live. We prepared for the inevitable by calling on hospice care. We embraced each day as a celebration. We laughed and reminisced often. We shared meals, listened to music, and hugged. One day, I surprised my dad with a special place where we could play endless games of pinball, for which he declared, “felt like heaven.”
Living a year longer than expected, my dad passed away peacefully on March 27th, 2021. Knowing his quirky sense of humor, he would have appreciated that his obituary was published on April Fool’s Day. I can hear his giggles and see his goofy grin. I’m always editing and rethinking my words. He never got the chance to read what I wrote in honor of his legacy. I hope it was enough.
No matter how much time we have to prepare for a loved one’s transition, the loss still feels sudden and unexpected. We are reminded to treasure each moment, but we look back wanting just one more day. As I scroll through videos, photos, and messages from my dad, I cherish each one while wishing I had more. The love for my dad is infinite, and the depth of my grief is equally so. I’m left to wonder, did I do enough for him in his last year?
I’ve been struggling with being enough in other ways too. As I write my thank you notes to those who expressed their condolences, I question if I have adequately conveyed my appreciation. And in my gratitude for the outpouring of love I have received, I wonder if I have equally shown enough support for my friends in their times of grief.
I am thankful for the conversations I had with my dad in his last few days. He expressed his faith in me to handle all the details surrounding his memorial service. We made some of those plans together, and I believe the final event surpassed his expectations. I can feel him reassuring me that it all was, and is enough.
Fathers’ Day is weeks away. Not only will this be our first Fathers’ Day without my dad, the holiday always comes with an extra heaviness. The last time we saw my sister alive was on Fathers’ Day, 1993. My mom and I are comforted knowing Stephanie and my dad are reunited. We will continue to celebrate their legacies.
In honor of my dad, I am sharing what I read during his memorial service. As with everything I write, I hope my words will bring comfort to others who are going through a similar journey.
You can read my words of remembrance below, or click on Gene’s Celebration of Life to view the full service. My message starts at the 36:46 mark.
“Love is Sharing Your Popcorn.”Charles Schultz
May 5th, 2021 – Gene’s Celebration of Life
We are so thankful we can gather here today to celebrate my dad’s life. It’s wonderful to see everyone in-person again, and to know others are watching the live stream, and in the overflow room. What a gift to connect with people in different ways. Connecting with people was my dad’s mission in life, especially with anyone who was willing to laugh at his jokes. I admire his lifelong friendships, and his ability to naturally connect with strangers who ended up as friends.
I am grateful for the close connection I had with my dad throughout my life. While we didn’t always agree on everything, we found common ground when it came to family, love, and music.
Both my parents said their greatest accomplishment was creating our family. Stephanie and I were blessed to have such a strong example of marriage. And I am thankful for the early years when we were a complete family of four. We supported one another in our milestones and hardships. The core of our family did not change even after we lost Stephanie. Our love gave us the strength to pick up the broken pieces following her untimely death. It is that same ability to celebrate and support one another that helped us through the last few years of my dad’s life.
In addition to the loss of my sister, I have experienced many more unexpected and tragic deaths. I am thankful we were given a chance to prepare for my dad’s passing. While we never knew exactly when his life would end, we were given the gift of time and we embraced every day as a celebration. I strive to live in the present, but nothing will challenge that more than the emotional roller-coaster of watching a loved one during the end-of-life process. I had to remind myself to pause and be open to the beautiful moments that can happen.
On the morning of March 27th, I was walking towards the hospital elevators knowing it was time to say goodbye. I was filled with questions, regrets, and anticipation. I took a deep breath and told myself to just put one foot in front of the other and walk. I prayed for clarity and courage. A new young dad was stumbling onto the elevator with all his baby gear. I could tell he was filled with clumsy excitement. He invited me to ride on the elevator with him. I thought to myself, this is the last person I want to be around. We were experiencing very different energies and emotions. I decided to ride along and observe his joy anyway. I asked him if this was his first child. He said: “Yes – and I have daughter!” I loved the beaming pride in his voice. Then he said, “I am in heaven. I am so in love with her.” He was glowing with happiness.
The elevator stopped for me at the ICU. I walked towards my dad’s room, smiling through my tears. I felt like I had just walked through a perfectly scripted movie. I had been blessed with a glimpse of the same joy my dad experienced when he met Stephanie, then again with me, and later in life meeting his granddaughters. The elevator ride provided me with a beautiful comparison – A parent embraces their child at the transition of birth, and the feeling of love is immeasurable. Then one day, it becomes the child’s turn to guide their parent with endless love through the transition of dying.
My dad was mostly unresponsive that morning, but he squeezed my hand after I shared my elevator story with him. It was a meaningful gift. My mom and I experienced several more gifts that day. Dad was able to briefly break through his unresponsiveness to make occasional eye contact with us. His face would light up with a huge grin when he saw our faces. I explained to him it was okay to let go. When I asked him if he was ready to see Stephanie, through closed eyes, he clearly said, “yes.” He was also able to generate enough breath to expel the words, “I love you guys.”
The love my dad carried in his heart could always be seen in his bright eyes, and smile. My dad’s love language was often expressed through sharing gifts with the people he met, and anyone who frequented their home. People rarely left my parents’ house empty handed. At some point he probably gave you a pen, a bag popcorn, lollipops, or in a couple cases, a Christmas tree. In honor of my dad, you will not leave here empty handed either. My mom and I had fun making his signature popcorn for everyone. And, please do not forget to keep your pens.
When we started planning his funeral a year ago, my dad told me he wanted to put the fun in funeral. He insisted on having personalized pens for everyone. My mom initially said no. My dad turned to me for reassurance, “You’ll get the pens, right?” I honored his request, and I chose the words, “Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile,” they are lyrics from the Grateful Dead song, “He’s Gone.” These words capture my dad’s giving spirit, big smile, and love of music.
My dad appreciated all kinds of music, he especially enjoyed live concerts, for which we attended many together. We saw Bon Jovi at least five times. And it was his idea to get painted in full makeup for a KISS concert. And while we never saw the Grateful Dead perform, I’m convinced deep down he wanted to hop on a bus and travel with the band. He personally selected many of the songs for today. I hope the music will connect you with my dad’s spirit, and when you hear the songs again, I hope you’ll smile.
A parent embraces their child at the transition of birth, and the feeling of love is immeasurable. Then one day, it becomes the child’s turn to guide their parent with endless love through the transition of dying.”Jeni Cosgrove, speaking in memory of Gene Schmidt.