It’s been a long time since my last post–and there’s a reason for that. I felt like a fake if I posted about adapting to life with a baby and work and all the millions of posts I’ve thought of in the past 6 months but have been unable to stomach until I covered off on one topic. One that, a few months ago, was really hard to even think about nonetheless write about.
Now that some time has passed and I’m ready to get back to blogging (haha, like I have the time) I think I’m ready to share what it felt like to raise a newborn and take my Dad to his grave.
My Dad died on September 15, 2015, just 4.5 months after he shared with us his first symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as stage IV kidney cancer. I was going into my third trimester when his symptoms became something more than symptoms and turned into major surgery. It was only 10 weeks after I had my baby that he passed away. In many ways, I was very fortunate to be able to spend the last days of his life by his side. I would like to think if I wasn’t on maternity leave that I would have left work behind, but I don’t know if I can say that with 100% honesty. I literally had no other care in the world except taking care of my baby all day, and there was no question I could be by my siblings’ sides, and my Dad’s side, as he left us.
I was not present in the summer for my siblings or for him. They didn’t expect me to be, and I couldn’t go there. I was steeped in the life of a newborn baby: the overwhelming emotions, intense love, sleepless days and nights that never end. It wasn’t until one day when I was on a walk when she was eight weeks old that I started crying, realizing my Dad was not going to beat this damn cancer. I can still picture exactly where I was on that walk and I think of that moment every time I go that route (which is often). That moment I came out of my shell and realized what was going to happen.
Having a baby and taking a loved one to their grave have many eerie similarities that only bring more meaning to the circle of life. For one, the moment you get “that call” to come now because it may be the last chance is like getting the green light to go into the hospital from the doctor. Then you hurry to get there, only to be waiting in misery or agony or <insert any emotion here> for “it” to happen. Groundhog’s day upon groundhog’s day of wondering when it will happen is like waiting to go into labor. Wanting “it” to happen but not wanting “it” to happen because you’re afraid and scared of all the pain ALL.THE.PAIN. to come. But knowing you want him or her to pass along and be in comfort, peace, where they should be. Of course there’s also all the meals and visits from friends to aid you in difficult times: while in very different pre-tenses, it’s an example of basic human nature at its best — feed someone!
I don’t want to go into detail about how I made it through, all I know is my baby was given to us by God at just the right time. If I didn’t have her sweet self to hug and kiss on every day, I don’t know where I would be. I have written several journals to her to tell her this — just how much she meant to me and my family in the darkest of days. She is a light and will always be a light. I know that.
Today is my Dad’s birthday, and so with that, I celebrate his life and death. I had the honor of writing and delivering my Dad’s eulogy, at not one, but two funerals. I would love to share that here so that these thoughts will never be forgotten.
My name is Lizzy, and I’m Mark’s youngest daughter. I have the honor and privilege to speak on behalf of my siblings today: my sister Sally and her husband Harris and children Molly and Gus; my sister Leslie and her husband Jonathan and children Ethan, Addie and Nolan; my brother David and for me, my husband Sean and our dad’s newest granddaughter Sloan. I also would like to acknowledge our family from Ohio, my grandma Mary, my uncle Mike and his wife Jan, my aunt Julie and her husband Mike, my aunt Tricia and her husband Roger, and all his nieces and nephews, when I say thank you for being here to honor my dad. It’s humbling to see the outpouring of people here today who knew him, who were a part of his life, and who were touched by him in some way.
No matter how you knew my dad, whether it was from his long career with Cincinnati Insurance Company, growing up with him in Ohio, from Moeller High School where he was a star basketball and football player, his favorite spin class at the rec center, from St. Peter’s where he and my mom raised our family and later in life he ushered mass, or as a mentor or voice of support at an AA meeting, from his work with Seniors Helping Seniors, or whether he held that special place in your heart as a friend, undoubtedly you knew my dad’s sense of humor.
His smile was contagious and he had that special way to make anyone smile and laugh, even if it was at their own expense. And sometimes, let’s admit, dad’s greatest jokes were those that made him laugh the most. One of our favorite memories is the way Dad addressed our Christmas gifts. Over the years we’ve received CDs from Michael Jackson, wallets from Donald Trump, and footballs from Nick Saban.
Speaking of Saban, I couldn’t get far into this without talking college football, which was without a doubt the highlight of my dad’s year. If you were on the receiving end of his smack talk, and who wasn’t at times, then you know what I’m talking about. His love for sports taught us to be driven, self-sufficient and do our personal best in everything we did in our lives. Maybe it’s fitting that today is a college game day.
My dad meant so much to so many people. I can tell that just by checking his Facebook page. But I also know that because we talked on the phone a lot and he often told me of how he was helping a friend this weekend or going to dinner with someone going through a troubling time. Even now, my siblings and I are humbled to learn just how many people dad helped. I think that’s one of the things my dad did best: he was always there to listen and he did so with serious intent. One of the things I loved most is how he would respond in those moments. His encouraging words were always simple, composed with care, without judgment and delivered with a calmness that is only my dad.
We can never know exactly what each of you means to him, and in turn, what he means to you. However, we feel very fortunate knowing just how proud my dad was of his four kids. He would tell anyone who would listen about our lives, how all four of us graduated college and are living healthy, happy and faithful lives.
And then there’s his grandchildren. Pops thought of [Name], his oldest grandson, as his mini-me…he found great joy watching him score touchdowns, knowing he was a strong athlete just like him. [Name] is his oldest granddaughter. He spent an entire weekend in March driving between soccer fields at a tournament in Georgia. With [Name], his next granddaughter, we can say without a doubt he enjoyed her soccer games more than the piano recital, but he was always there. [Name] shared Pops’ obsession with Alabama football, probably buying him a new jersey or three every year, and they always had a lot to talk about. Dad’s goofy sense of humor was not lost on [Name], sharing many laughs and jokes together. And he was able to meet his newest blessing [Name] a few weeks after she was born. I will have so many wonderful stories to tell her about how loving and funny her Pops in heaven is.
Over the past few days as I have reflected on the type of man my dad is, the one word I keep coming back to is simple. What exactly does that mean? To me it means he was uncomplicated. He lived a simple life. But most importantly the simplest things made him smile. Like the call on the way home from work to talk about nothing and everything, how he called to sing us happy birthday at the time of our birth every year, it was the handwritten note on yellow legal paper in the mail, it was the quick text thanking us for calling him because it made his day, the way he always started a voicemail, telling us the exact time in our time zone, how he just wanted barbeque for dinner or German chocolate cake for his birthday, how he loved buckeyes at Christmastime and you couldn’t trust a bag of Oreos around him for longer than five minutes. How he could sit at the pool or beach for hours on our annual beach trips and go through a book a day. How he would eat M&Ms by the handful if his beloved dog Buster didn’t get to them first. Those are just some of the fond memories we will hold on to forever.
We are all trying to make sense of my dad’s untimely passing. How can God take from this earth a man who loved so simply and genuinely and lived a life serving others. Someone who brought laughter to every situation with the slightest remark? I don’t know if there’s a reason. I don’t know if there’s a way to explain it. But in these times, in search of an answer, when the one person who I could always count on for practical words of wisdom is no longer here, what do I do?
Not long ago on June 30 my dad sent me an email. It was the day before my baby was officially due. I didn’t even have to tell my father I was anxious for her arrival, he just knew. And only now do his words truly make sense to me and bring comfort. I’ll share that email with you now:
Ms. Liz – You can ignore or maybe this will make sense. Or I could be all wrong but…. I know you have been looking forward to your due date. I can’t comprehend your discomfort. I have yet to learn how to easily accept disappointment. Maybe you are better? Regardless, Markita (my dad’s nickname for Sloan) will get here in God’s Time. I have learned if I can accept His Will just for today my days are easier. I am here to think of Him and ask Him for the strength and willingness to accept His Will for my life today. I’m not in charge and God knows best. This is where our personal relationship with God gives us strength and hope. Good luck! I am thinking of and praying for you throughout my days.
His words bring me comfort knowing that this is how my father lived. And he accepted the will for his life, even if it means his fight with cancer ended too soon. If he could say one more thing to all of us here today, would he say Roll Tide Roll, or would he give us one last piece of advice “Live simply and do good for others.” I’ll let you decide.