Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Eulogy for Dad

June 15, 1985

A verse in the Bible tells us, “A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.” (Ecclesiastes 1:4)

Another verse reminds us, “The years of our life are threescore and ten, or even by reason of strength fourscore; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” (Psalm 90:10)

A death in the family and a funeral service brutally remind us of this stark reality; that our time here is very short, and our years pass away very quickly.

Last summer Dad spoke about the brevity of life. He was astounded that he had lived 89 years but he was also very troubled that those years were gone; that they had gone so very fast.

About year ago when Dad was not well, he also talked about his wishes knowing that his remaining time was likely short. He said he wanted his memorial done at Westminster Presbyterian Church, he specifically mentioned Rev. Joe Reed, and in Dad’s own words, “And have someone say a few words over me.”

Dad would occasionally comment afterward during our Sunday lunch about a sermon he thought had been too long. Maybe that is the reason he deliberately said, “a few words.”

Seriously though, what does one say about a life that has spanned 89 and a half years?

The challenge is not to leave something out that should be remembered and said, and the danger is saying something that should be forgotten and left unsaid, so to Ted, Kathy and Alan, I ask for your forgiveness for my failures in this respect.

1924 - New mother holding Dad
Dad, who was known all his life as Stan Morrison was born in Montreal on May 30, 1924.

Dad would best be described as a typical Canadian for his generation.  He grew up going through the Great Depression of the 1930’s, but he rarely spoke about those times as being hard. Dad always spoke of those growing up years as the best times in his life and when he did the things he loved; playing hockey, started smoking; sometimes fighting; visiting his grandmother in Milan; learning to swim in a real swimming hole.

In 1939 Dad was offered a job and the opportunity to learn a trade at The Montreal Gazette. At age 15 he quit high school and began working.  He often remarked about his starting salary of $7.00 per week. If he ever had any regret about that life-defining decision, then it was not finishing high school… at least that is what he often told Ted and me when we were struggling through high school.

In 1942 at age 18 he joined the war effort and served in the Canadian Navy. Dad rarely spoke about his time in the navy until later years, which was so typical of WW II veterans. Nonetheless, he served as a signalman on a mine sweeper patrolling the west coast of Canada. If you have ever seen those WW II documentaries showing navy ships with blinking lights… then that is what Dad did. Dad always said he never saw active combat, but he once spoke about the ship rolling depth charges and shooting at unexploded mines in the water.

After World War II ended, Dad returned to his job at the Montreal Gazette. In those years that followed Dad really enjoyed life.

He loved sports; hockey in particular. In his home hanging on a wall is a picture of Dad and the Montreal Gazette hockey team celebrating their victory… Dad was the game star!

He also bought a motorcycle… and we heard stories about that… and later a car... and then he learned to drive. His journeys always seemed to take him eastward to Milan, a tiny, non-descript village in the southeastern Quebec highlands.

Dad loved Milan, He spent his summers and holidays there. He often mentioned that he was sent there to look after his grandmother, but in later years he admitted he rarely did that… because… in his own words, “I was always out having a good time with my friends.”

So it’s really not surprising that he married a girl from there, and as Alan has described, "Dad married the love of his life."

The usual story about how Dad met Mom has often been told. He was to take Mom to her high school prom, and being ten years older, Dad was trying to get out of it, saying that he had to meet and pick up Uncle Rod. Of course Dad’s Uncle Alec fixed that excuse by saying he would meet Uncle Rod, and so Dad went on that date he did not want to go on.

But Dad once told me the first time he actually met Mom was quite a few years earlier when she was a toddler. Dad was walking by her home in Milan and Mom was sitting beside the road. Thinking that place was too close to the road and too dangerous for a little girl to be alone, Dad picked her up, moved her away from the road and set her down near the house. Of course Mom was screaming. We cannot say it was love at first sight.

Mom and Dad in summer 2000 on the Tennessee side of the state line with North Carolina. Dad once said he never thought he would ever see Appalachians of the southern United States; scenes and locations often mentioned in the country music he loved to listen to.

First impressions notwithstanding, Dad and Mom were married in Milan, Quebec, on June 20, 1953.

Fifty years later on June 20, 2003, we celebrated the anniversary of that event here in this church, and after being asked, Dad and Mom refused to reveal to the four of us how Dad had proposed to Mom.

Through the decades that followed, they did what most married people did, started a family, bought a house in the suburbs, and grew older together. In those first ten years the four of us were born: me, Ted, Kathy and Alan.

In June 1985, Kathy and Bill were married here in this church, and the one impression of Dad that comes to mind about that particular day was this; Dad was the most nervous person present… and he wasn’t even the one who was getting married!

As more decades quickly passed, Dad’s four grandchildren, Kimberly, David, Liam and Aislyn made their appearances in his life. Dad was also blessed with a longevity that allowed him to attend one of his granddaughter’s weddings, and then later see one of his great-grandchildren.

Last June Dad and Mom reached sixty years of marriage, and the four of us as no longer young adults, had more to learn from Dad… about commitment to marriage while living the though the, “for worse” part of that  “for better or for worse.” vow.

One of the last pictures taken of Mom and Dad together. By the time this scene was recorded, Mom did not know who Dad was.

Watching the true love of his life suffer and slowly fade away from Alzheimer’s Disease was hell for Dad. Many times we would see Dad upset because Mom was no longer at home. He would go and visit Mom only to return home later hurting all the more because Mom no longer knew him; that really tortured Dad.

For those of us who remember those summers in North Hatley, surely by now the four of us have realized that Dad rented that cottage for us to enjoy because he spent so little time there.

North Hatley 1978 - Dad, as expected and with a cigarette going, was relaxing in the easy chair.

Let me share this scene of Dad with you from one of those hot July weekends.

Dad was up and had already made the morning pot of coffee. He had also driven into downtown North Hatley to pick up a copy of the Montreal Gazette from Earl’s. Dad always starts his days with the Gazette and, as expected, with a cigarette going he was sitting in the easy chair reading his morning paper. Many people take their work home from the office to work on during evenings, but Dad is probably one of those lucky few who can actually claim that he has someone else deliver his work to his home free of charge so he can look it over the next day after the work has been finished by someone else. Then again, employment with the Montreal Gazette did provide that unique benefit, except during vacations when Dad had to go out and buy his paper like everyone else.

In 1985, after 43 years at the Montreal Gazette, loss of sight in one eye compelled Dad into retirement a few years earlier than he expected. Many people who met him afterward never knew that he was totally blind in one eye. Dad must have truly understood the expression ‘to turn a blind eye’ because he rarely complained, learned well to adapt to unwanted circumstance and never behaved as if he was visually impaired.

Almost a third of Dad’s life was spent in retirement and for the most part he was content to stay at home and find things to do there; he lived in the same house for fifty-three years. That said, Dad really enjoyed his retirement years. He and Mom drove across Canada; not just once but twice! Dad and Mom really did get to do the few things they truly wanted to do when retirement came.

Another thing that Dad started doing after retirement was getting involved here at Westminster; helping to look after the building and sometimes fixing things that needed attention. Dad also helped with getting some larger projects done… the heating system here was legendary… and Dad was often on the phone with Jack Smith talking about the heating system. Through those years Dad and Jack Smith became good friends. Although Dad was always friendly toward people Dad did not readily open up to people, so Jack was an exception.

Who was Dad?

What a person says, what that person does, and more so, how a person is actually seen to live, reveals much about who a person is.

That expression, “What you see is what you get.” That really was Dad! What you saw truly was what you got.

Dad readily complained about things he did not like but he simply put up with them rather than doing anything to go out to changing things.

Dad was hard-working and honest… he rarely missed work or stayed home even when sick. He never brought anything home that did not belong to him.

Dad long had an interest in stamps and stamp collecting until his eyesight became too poor. For years people would come up to Dad and hand him an envelope stuffed with stamps they had clipped saved for him. Stamp collecting was something he started after his father passed away. Dad took over Grandpa’s collection and kept it going. A few times Dad mentioned that his wish was that one of his children would take over and continue the collection. Dad we’re sorry because this is one area where we have disappointed you.

When we were younger Dad would tell us tales about some of the people in Milan. His Uncle Alec, who was probably the one person in life he looked up to most… Johnny Doak who told jokes and laughed harder at them than anyone else did… Mom’s Uncle Walter who knew where to go fishing and when to go to catch the fish… Dad’s stories made these people come alive when he talked about them… people who had made life-long impressions upon him.

During our visits to Milan, Dad would spend hours driving us around on every two-rut back road he could think of. Occasionally he would stop the car, point at some non-descript location that meant nothing to us and then tell us a tale about something that had once occurred there… the farm where his mother was born… or someone catching a large fish in a small brook… or someone else who killed a porcupine… or someone unusual who lived in a house that no longer existed… a beaver dam that flooded the road his car once stalled in. These were all small events that had made an impression on him and he shared them with us.

Milan, Quebec, in the mid 1950's

In later years Dad no longer wanted to visit to Milan; he simply said it wasn’t the same. For a time I thought perhaps Dad was becoming too old to travel and visit but the true reason is that Dad had loved the people there who were no longer there. Milan was never just a place to go to; it was a way of life that had vanished because the people he loved had also departed… and now he too has left to join them.

Dad could find humour in very unusual circumstances. Another particular scene of Dad that comes to mind was soon after Alan was born. Dad came to talk to Ted and me and he had this large wet spot on the front of his shirt. Dad informed us that Alan had peed on him while they were changing the diaper. Dad was laughing because he said his three sons had all peed on him in the same way.

Looking back over the decades, especially as the four of us went through our teen years, at times we certainly did worse things than just pee on Dad but he never reminded us later about those incidents. Dad had an amazingly good memory… but he knew what to forget.

David wearing that T-shirt Dad had made
Dad never wore T-shirts or any type of shirt that did not have buttons in the front but this did not mean he never bought a one. Dad had a T-shirt custom made with something David said that Dad had found amusing and he never let David or the rest of us forget it. Dad laughed about that for years.

When Ted was in grade one at school he was having trouble learning how to read. Dad spent some frustrating evenings with Ted but eventually taught him how to read. Mom always said she could never have done that.

If only one word could be used to describe Dad, then that word is patient… and that was the one word that Mom had used more than once to describe him. She called him, “The most patient man I know… except when waiting in line.” Dad hated waiting in line-ups.

When we were growing up I remember Dad giving us our independence early and the freedom to do things we wanted to do, or go to places we wanted to go, but he expected us to work and earn our own money to pay our way. Some days that seemed harsh… at times unfair… but looking back… that was a valuable lesson about the responsibility that goes with independence.

Dad always seemed to have an opinion about most things, but he rarely offered his opinion on some of the things we would do. That afternoon when he drove me to Dorval Airport, that day I was leaving for Indonesia to marry someone I had never met,  Dad never said a word on that subject… not one single word!

Quite some time later I heard from Kie that Dad had been curious and had asked her, “Did your parents think you were crazy?”

Early in 2013 we saw signs that all was not right.

For years Dad always insisted, “TV is the greatest thing ever invented.”

Dad would spend hours watching TV and channel surfing with the remote control; we could only wonder, “Did he ever watch anything from beginning to end?”

He suddenly lost all interest in TV, refusing to watch it. We were disturbed by this sudden change of behavior and suspected that something was wrong with him.

Dad's 89th birthday - in the smoking room.
He also quickly lost strength in his legs and lost his ability to walk. Alan obtained a wheel chair and Dad adapted to being wheeled around the house. He complained more about pain in his arms and legs, his right leg and left arm in particular, but he just asked for his Tylenols and endured the discomfort. Dad spent more hours sleeping, saying that he did not hurt as much when he was asleep.

During his waking hours Dad would mostly sit in the kitchen, and later the smoking room and smoke like a chimney while he worked on his crossword puzzles; these are what he truly enjoyed doing. As his final months and weeks passed he found the crosswords were more difficult, slowly becoming all day activities, and then some days he was unable to complete them. He said he could no longer see them.

God’s Fifth Commandment is this, “Honour your father and your mother…” (Exodus 20:12)

As Dad’s health and strength continued to decline he needed full time daily care. Alan left his job and provided that care.

In his last months he also started revealing some of his regrets in life.

A few times Dad said he wished he smoked fewer cigarettes, which seemed strange to hear from someone who had been a steady smoker for 80 years, and then he would light up another one.

One thing bothered him most and he often said, “I wish I had not been such a worry to my mother.”

Kathy and Alan were with Dad in his final hours and then minutes. Earlier, perhaps it was the day before, Dad had told Kathy that he had lived a good life and he was ready to go. On Saturday afternoon, December 7 2013, Kathy called to let us know that Dad was gone.

Here is one more scene about Dad and how others saw him:

While I only met with your father a few times over the years, I really liked and admired him. I remember sitting in the TV room with him while we watched hockey, and chatted quietly about his life, his time in the Navy and his years with the newspaper. It was inspiring for me, how humble he was about his service, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing his stories in the candid way he delivered them. I appreciated his wit, humor, and the endless facts he knew to complete his daily crosswords.

Final words...

If there’s a single defining image of Dad that stands out more than the others, then a scene in Milan in July 1976 remains after other memories have faded.

Before dawn that morning Dad had driven me to Megantic to catch the train. I was heading back to Vancouver but Dad simply dropped me at the station, said good-bye and quickly drove off before the train came.

About 30 minutes later as the train approached Milan, I went to the rear of the car I was in, opened the top half of the door and leaned out because I wanted to see my grandparents’ home once more as the train sped through town.

I was astonished to see that Dad was outside, standing on the verandah, holding his hat and waving at the train; Dad had never done anything like that!

Montreal Gazette photo
In the language of Dad’s mother…

“Is e Dia fein a buachaill dhomh, cha bhi mi ann an dith.
Bheir e fainear gu’n luidhinn sios air cluainibh glas le sith:
Is fos ri taobh nan aibhnichean theid seachad sios gu mall,
A ta e ga mo threorachadh, gu min reidh ans gach ball.”
(Psalm 23: 1-2)

No better words describe the Milan Dad remembered and loved.

The Lord’s my shepherd I shall not want,
He makes me down to lie,
In pastures green he leadeth me,
The quiet waters by.”

No better words describe the love that God has for each of us in the language we now know.

So let’s remember Dad as we see him in some of the photos Mom took: Dad smiling and waving his hat.

The Oddblock Station Agent

May 31, 2014 - Dad's wake - the day after what would have been his 90th birthday.

Dad wasn't always old... but some things did not change.

Winter 1959 in Milan, Quebec... and that always present cigarette.

Addendum May, 30, 2016

Today would be Dad's 92nd birthday if he was still with us.

Mom and Dad at the Serampus Falls rest area on Highway 27 in Maine. Although not known at the time, that short vacation in Rangeley would become their final Maine visit together.

Addendum May, 30, 2018

Today is Dad's 94nd birthday even if he's no longer with us. 

This year's different though because Ted too has gone.

Anyway, I've selected this one from those dozens of photos Mom took, photos that I don't know what to do with because both Mom and Dad have gone, as have their memories of the scenes they recorded together.

July 1989 and Dad in Nova Scotia

Today I can only speculate if Mom and Dad recorded this scene because it's very reminiscent of the scenes of the Milan, Quebec, area they recorded together back in the early 1950's.

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