This isn’t going to be enough. It isn’t because of the limits of time. It’s the limits of language to begin describe everything this man was, and all that he meant to us.
A few weeks ago my oldest son, Jude, who is 8, sat me down to say, “I need to know how Papa is doing and if he is going to be okay.” As we started talking about my dad, he was overwhelmed with emotion and said, “Mama, you don’t understand…I can’t be me, without papa.” We started talking about the things his grandfather meant to him, the things that even death cannot take away from my son. And then my son turned to me and said, “What has papa meant to you?” Immediately inside I knew that for me, he was the man who loved me.”
He was so many other things…
A few years ago my mom told us that the first thing my dad said every morning was “thank you, Lord.” I’ve tried it... Do you know how hard that is to do, no matter what happened the day before, or what think today might hold.
He told me that being a good man doesn’t mean doing the right thing when it’s easy. That was just common sense, he said. It was only character when it was hard and you do it anyway.
He was brilliant…his brilliance did not keep me from trying to win an argument. In our last few weeks in Houston, as he started to weaken, in an attempt at humor I told him I needed him to get better- when he wasn’t speaking I was finally winning all of our arguments and I wanted the challenge back. His eyes were closed but he grinned.
My dad was at home with those often overlooked, taken for granted or marginalized. A friend wrote that he could dine with Kings and make a taxi driver feel like a king-
If you were in front of him he saw you.
I love that the most intense I saw him in years of Q&As was when once answering a particularly persistent questioner and my dad was defending the God-given value of women.
He was so problematically generous - one of the sweet challenges of directing his philanthropy through Rzim was that he hated the paperwork. If someone had a need, we needed to help them and he was frustrated by the process that sometimes delayed it. And I knew that if the delay was more than he could handle, he was simply going to quietly pay it from his own pocket and he did that more times than I can count.
He was funny- like really funny.
My dad loved my mom – and he admired her, too. He said it was her strength and gentleness in her and that drew him to her. “…but I never could have known how amazing she would be, all that she would do, all that she would give...that she would be all of this to me.” I think mom, every time I walked in the room those few months in Houston, dad would give me one of his beautiful smiles and say “It’s so good to see you sweetheart. Look at your mother. She is an absolute gem.”
He wasn’t one of those parents that told us we could do anything we wanted. It was the particularity of our individual strength that he saw & championed.
Sarah, he recognized the leadership abilities in you years ago. But he trusted your judgement because he trusted your heart. He saw stunning your soul.
Nate, you made him laugh – like that head back contagious way he would laugh. He loved that your strength of person was shrouded in a gentleness that is rare. And he wanted you to hang onto that in a world that tries to destroy it on the ever more rare occasion it finds it.
He was a doting grandfather - this classy man with a mind for knowledge and poetry and philosophy who would look across the table to his grandchildren with adoration and randomly call out, “I love you little boy, I love you little girl.”
He had met with public leaders but I never saw him as nervous as he was the day he walked into my 4 year old’s class to be secret reader. he knew those little people mattered, and he had humility to know he had to earn their trust and respect - he knew it meant nothing to a little boy in there that he spoken at Princeton, but everything to him that his papa showed up in preschool that day.
There was such a goodness to him. A pure goodness.
If he believed in you, it did not matter what other people said about you. He had your back and sincerely stood in your corner.
This is a glimpse of him. So when I told my sister that my son had asked who papa had been to me, I said I know he was so many other things. But to me, he was the man who loved me...the man who loved us. And my sister said “But isn’t that everything in the end?”
At the end of his life when his body was suffering and declining, when medications struggled to ease his agony, when the windows to soul are open and exposed, what we saw was this:
He could not take his eyes off of my mother
He told us countless times that he loved us
He prayed constantly – and 9 times in a row for the same meal until my mom and I decided it was just too much trouble to try to eat
He marveled at how beautiful my sister was every time she walked in.
When those striking dark eyes always shining and full of life began to change and eventually close...when he was no longer able to converse, he whispered constantly about the Gospel, he called for my mother and melted into her with the little strength he had when she took his face in her hands.
He called out baba to my brother.
He whispered about kebabs that melted in your mouth, biryani and galab jamin.
My father was ready to meet his Lord. He fought as he did, only because he did not want to leave us. My sweet father- so faithful that although I am 42 years old, one of the last things he whispered to me was that he wished he could take care of me forever.
So when he exhaled his last breath, each one of us could physically feel a part of ourselves die with him. It was my mother who first broke the sound of our cries together and could say “what a beautiful man, what a beautiful life.” And my sister could whisper “we were the luckiest.”
At the end of Harper Lee’s book, To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is walking into the courthouse for the great trial. Sitting in the balcony, a caretaker urges his daughter “Stand up, Jean Louise, your father’s passing.”
In a different sense, my father is passing. Dad, I want to stand up in absolute respect, adoration, and honor for who you are- for who you have been in life and who you have been to me, dad. Who you have been as my father, to this daughter. You are one of the greatest loves of my life. I will forever be standing at the sound of your name, and standing to try to live my life in what will be only a fraction of the example you have set. When I am tired or so sad or weary, I won’t give up, Dad. I will think of you. And I will stand. For who you made me and taught me to be, for the example you set for me, for the love you have given for me, and for the God you showed to me.
Mom, to honor dad is to honor you. He wouldn’t not have been who he was without your belief and support. He was a part of your calling- a beautiful part of it- but your calling and purpose still continue. And we will surround you as you continue to live it.
When the hospice nurse told us my dad didn’t have much time, she said it can be a bit scary for him. The body senses something is happening, but the mind is not in a place to always be able to process and remember. She said, “Help him feel loved, help him feel strong enough to do this, and let him know he is safe with you.” We knew how to do that, because it is what he has always done for us. And what an honor it was for us to get to do this for him as together as a family we walked him home.
Dad, when I was a little girl and you were away, I missed you so much. It wasn’t the same when you weren’t there, and I couldn’t wait for you to come home. I always knew we were your home. The Lord had called you to a purpose, but he let us be your home. Now that you have gone, we miss you so much we have to think to try to breathe. But this time dad, we are longing and looking toward the day when we will all come home to you.
I think that maybe I will always struggle to accept that I couldn’t fix this for you. Not because I thought I was that powerful. But because you were so worth fighting for. And we wanted more time. Yet we will say thank you, Lord, for all that you have given us in this man who is hero of our hearts.
My son is right. None of us will be the same without you. We will do what you showed us to do - we will love each other, find strength in and for each other, we will be a safe place for each other.
And to the best of our ability we will live the way you showed us how to live and how to die- our beloved father, the beautiful embodiment of the words of the hymn writer :
I'll love Thee in life and I will love Thee in death
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow
If ever I loved Thee my Jesus 'tis now
This article was extracted from Issue 2 (Summer 2020) of the AVAIL Journal. Claim your free annual subscription here.
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