We laid Dad to rest last week on a cold, snowy day in central Alberta, a day that saw Canada gripped by news of COVID-19. He was a month shy of 89 and was beleaguered with several health problems but he did not die of the Coronavirus; the doctors suspect an aortic aneurism that he carried for a decade finally let loose. He died quickly and peacefully, and for those two things, I am grateful.
I had been with him six days before at a doctor’s appointment in Red Deer. The cardiologist seemed shocked to learn Dad’s age and told him he looked really good for being almost 89. I wondered what the doctor saw because to me, Dad looked tired. He was moving slower and breathing harder than when I saw him three days before. I was worried, but Dad had surprised us so many times recovering from near-death medical emergencies that we often referred to him as “the cat with nine lives.”
Apart from the typical farm accidents like losing a finger and breaking his nose three times—once by a horse, once by his 1-year-old son and once by a baseball player who threw his elbow as he rounded the base—he broke eight ribs when he fell off a church roof, broke an ankle skiing, had both knees replaced, and underwent a triple bypass a month after my mom, his wife of 50 years, died in 2005. He suffered a stroke coming out of that surgery which made him lose half his eyesight, his sense of direction and his driving privileges. A few years later he fell prey to a scammer in charge of his personal care. By the time we figured out what was happening, $48,000 was gone from his bank account and the state of his health so jeopardized that had we not gotten to him when we did, he would’ve died. A couple of years later, he fell down a set of stairs and put his head and his arm through the drywall. He crushed his vertebrae, fractured bones, lacerated his extremities and ended up having emergency surgery a few weeks later to save an infected leg that had ballooned to three times its normal size.
We had become fiercely protective of him since the scammer incident so there was never any question about being there for Dad after that. It was our turn to give back, to care for him like he’d done for us most of our lives and that’s what we did for over a decade until last spring when he moved into the Senior’s Lodge.
The move to the Lodge did not come easy. He didn’t like the idea of giving up his house to be around “all those old people” even though he was depressed and lonely. He said he wasn’t the social type. We knew different. Dad had a great sense of humour and was really cool to be around. He was silly and such a good sport. We knew people would love him and we knew the move would be good for him, but for years, he resisted.
He finally relented in April of 2019. My sister, Cheryl, and I popped in several times to check up on him in that first week. We made sure he showed up in the dining room for meals and even sat with him for a couple. We introduced him to other residents and we started conversations to help ease him into the social setting. It took him about five weeks to settle in but once he did, he became the guy everyone wanted to sit beside. In fact, he spent more time out in the front room having coffee than he did in his room—the room he was so scared to leave, at first.
Us kids began to enjoy the Lodge as much as he did. We loved sitting down with the residents and finding out their life stories. It was such a relief to know that Dad was happy, safe and well-fed.
When I showed up at Thanksgiving, I found my father in the front room with 18 residents sitting in a circle around him. He was in fine form, spinning some tall tale. When a woman told my dad I was coming down the hallway, he craned his neck and said, “Ohhh, here comes the party crasher.”
It was obvious that Mister “I’m Not Social” was having a blast being social. He also had no qualms about dissing his daughter to get a laugh.
On Remembrance Day, I witnessed a fellow salute him and call him Commander. Dad returned the salute and said, “Colonel!” Dad was never in any war or a part of any military organization, so it made me wonder what conversation had preceded these salutes.
Another time he stole a spray bottle from the janitor’s cart, filled it with water and started a water fight. We were horrified when he told us—a water fight in a senior’s home where the average age is 85 and everyone (including him) uses a cane or walker to get around. Imagine the possible horrible outcomes of that, and yet, there he sat, so proud of himself.
Floyd Sebry moved in a month after Dad and the two formed an instant bond. They became best friends and would meet for coffee several times a day and talk about farming.
Dad began to do things simply because Floyd was doing them. Floyd wore a light down-filled jacket because he was always cold, so Dad asked my sister to bring his down-filled jacket from his house so he could wear his, too. Floyd still wore his wedding band even though his wife had passed away a long time ago. Dad thought that was pretty nice, so he asked my sister to bring his wedding ring from home. He hadn’t worn it for years.
We took Floyd to my sister’s house for Christmas dinner so he wouldn’t be alone on Christmas Day. To thank Dad for being such a good friend, Floyd’s daughter brought him two sweet shirts that no longer fit her father. Dad favoured the blue shirt. It was a Wrangler brand and he wore it day after day after day. He looked fantastic in it. It was the shirt he wore to the cardiologist appointment the last time I saw him, and it would be that shirt he wore when he called an ambulance a week later.
Physically, my dad was a pretty tough guy. We were often frustrated that he didn’t tell us if he was in pain or if something was bothering him but this stalwart German farmer had been conditioned to not complain. When we learned later that it was he who requested the ambulance on the night of March 3rd, we knew it must’ve been bad. We also learned from some residents that he said he hadn’t been feeling well, but knowing Dad, he probably didn’t let us know because he wouldn’t have wanted to trouble us.
My sister got the phone call that night from the hospital that Dad had been admitted but by the time she got there he was unresponsive. She was at his side making phone calls to the family and watching him breathe, and then, just like that, he stopped. No more breaths came. He was gone.
When I saw him the previous week, I could see that the twinkle in his eyes had diminished, and I could see by the way he walked that his body was shutting down. For months, I had been preparing myself for this day by saying I’d be able to handle his death when it came. I even told my sister that if Dad were to “die tomorrow”, I’d be okay with that because we knew his months in the Lodge were the happiest since Mom passed in 2005. Knowing that he went out singing and having laughed in his final days with his buddies, I might not even cry, I said.
Well, that was good in theory. The reality is, no matter how prepared you are for death, you’re never prepared for the moment it happens. I cried buckets.
To accommodate my dad’s brother and his wife, and my daughter, Paige who would all be returning from trips to the USA around March 15th, we set the memorial service for the 18th. At this point, there were no pandemic-related travel warnings. People were still going about life as usual.
On March 15th, the government asked travellers returning from out-of-country to self-isolate for two weeks which put my my aunt, my uncle and my daughter nowhere near Lacombe, Alberta. Not only were we grieving the loss of my father, but my mother’s instinct of having my child close in a time of crisis kicked into high gear and yet I was powerless to do anything about it. I was well aware that other people were suffering and going through hard times, too, but knowing that did nothing to lessen our grief or stress and this new “social distancing” only added to the misery.
How do you not cling to each other during grief? How do you not touch your face when tears are coursing down your cheeks? How do you not wrap your arms around a sibling who is crying? The act of touching has so much healing power and yet all we could do was stand six feet apart and nod in understanding as the tears flowed.
The rapidly changing pandemic situation affected everything. Every day we received phone calls or texts from people saying they were electing to stay home in an attempt to help “flatten the curve” and all we could do was say we understood. By the time the memorial service was held, only five people outside my immediate family sat in the pews.
So much had transpired since March 4th. It felt like we had lived an entire year in those 14 days.
On the day of the service, I looked at the people who gathered in the chapel because of this man: three generations exposed to his compassion, his humour, his kindness and his deeply rooted faith. Three generations who share his traits.
I watched as friends all over the province shut their restaurants and laid off staff and the only energy I had to spare went to my family and into writing a eulogy that would honour a man who taught me not only to be patient, compassionate and respectful, but also how to hold a bat and swing like Ty Cobb, how to start a flooded car engine by propping open the carburetor with a screwdriver, and how to try and fix things first before just throwing them away.
What I realized, too, was that what he taught us are things we should be doing right now during this pandemic.
- Be a good neighbour; help those who need help
- Turn the music up and sing
- Trust in God if you choose but be fair and kind to those who don’t
- Maintain your equipment so that you’re never left unprepared
- Wo sind deine gedanken (use your head).
In this time of COVID-19, I wish for more of us to be like Dad: To be humble instead of arrogant. To be patient instead of quick to rage. To be generous instead of greedy, to think of others instead of only ourselves, and to stop over-consuming and just use what we need. Imagine that world. Imagine how different it could be.
I would love to be able to tell my dad that some of his salt-of-the-earth beliefs touched someone outside of our family. He’d get a real kick to think that he somehow had an impact on someone. “Well, by golly, isn’t that something,” he’d say.
On March 18th, we turned up the music and sang. We cried and we said our farewells to a decent, kind and honourable man. He was buried in his favourite shirt, the blue one given to him by Floyd’s daughter. He looked so good in it. He looked at peace.
Dad’s Obituary can be found here. Thank you to Wilson’s Funeral Chapel in Lacombe for your kind-hearted and professional help in arranging Dad’s memorial service.
A beautiful tribute to your dad, Twyla. Please accept our deepest condolences.
Thanks so much, Cathy.
Deepest Heartfelt Condolences Twyla. To celebrate your Dad’s life journey hope that all will be turning up the music🎤🎶 and singing!
Coffee when Covid subsides!
Thanks, Eva 🙂 I’ve been singing his favourite songs for a week. And yes, coffee post-Covid sounds fantastic! Thanks for the note. Stay safe.
A beautiful tribute to your father. My condolences to you, your family and his friends.
Thanks very much, Cathy, I really appreciate that.
Hello Twyla, You are the first person I have seen on the internet who can truly relate to where I am. My mother passed away in Edmonton on March 5 of a cruelly swift pancreatic cancer. My siblings from out of town, who’d been here for weeks, went home for a few days to regroup and rest, with the intention of returning for the celebration of life on March 21. The world, already moving quickly towards a crisis we didn’t see coming because we were hyper-focused internally, fell apart before that could happen. We postponed the celebration and I was left to deal with so much without a full goodbye yet. I feel this weird sense of being caught between two crises, often overwhelmed by trying to cope with both instead of just one. Thank you for sharing your story, so I could see that I am not alone. I wish you and your family comfort at this time.
Oh gosh, my heart breaks for you. Caught between two crises — what an apt description. I am SO sorry for your loss. Just dealing with the cancer, alone, is too much to bear. I can relate…we lost our mom like that in 2005. I know how out of control you feel. I know it 100%. You are definitely not alone. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need more room to express your thoughts; you’ve got so much going on. Something that might help you in regards to the memorial is to livestream it (I just read that this morning on a CBC News article) and to do a slideshow of pictures of your mom taken over the years so that you can share it with people who can’t make it to the service. My niece did one for my dad and its absolutely beautiful and such a lovely thing to look back on from time to time. But really, please email me if you want to talk further. I’m just sitting here watching cute cat videos anyway 😉
This is such a lovely tribute. While I was reading this I couldn’t help but think of my dad – we lost him a few years ago. His generation was like no other. My most sincere condolences to you and your loved ones. Stay strong.
That generation, right?? Such gems. We’ve been told we can still come to the lodge and visit the other moms and dads even though ours is gone, and I’m just so happy about that.
A wonderful tribute and I see a book in there. Sorry I could not attend. My thoughts are with you.
Thanks, Roben. These are such crazy times. I know you wanted to be there, and yes, I have many more pages I could write about this guy. 😀
Oh Twyla. I am so sorry for the loss of your father. Your eulogy is filled with warm heart felt memories. What an amazing father, man, human being and friend. What a beautiful legacy he has left behind.
Indeed. I look at my kids and see so many of his traits. It’s amazing. Thanks for your kind words.
Beautiful. How lucky you are to have had such a great dad. My thoughts are with you, your family and all those that loved you dad so much.
We sure were lucky, thanks, Su.
A lovely tribute to your dad, Twyla. Ich hätte ihn gerne kennen gelernt.
Thanks, Jens. Yeah, it’s too bad you never knew him. He would’ve LOVED your humour. 🙂
Twyla-as we were close during ”the scammer days” and because my moms family hailed from Clive and Lacombe and because I also wrote about the passing of my dad and felt your sorrow and because I wanted to give you a hug – I read every word, such a lovely tribute. My dad would have been 90 last Sept. So close in age, similar integrity and humor. Oh my! And my Grandmother lived in the Lacombe Lodge from 74 to 84 then we moved her up to Edmonton her last 12 years. I think our dads could have been great pals, Twyla. Hope once again, you can feel my hug.
I’m sure they would’ve been great friends! I know you know my pain, Valerie, so thank you for these kind words. I’ll take that hug, for sure.
What a blessing you are Twyla. That was a beautiful tribute to your Dad. Deepest Condolence to you & your family.
I appreciate that, thank you so much.
I’m so sorry for your loss, Twyla. Thanks for sharing your Dad with us through your reflections of his life; you are a beautiful writer. Sending my love to you and your girls. ❤
That’s so sweet, thanks, Joveena 🙂
Oh my oh my Twyla, you have once again gone above the call of duty in honoring your Dad and the Love you and your family had for him. He will be smiling down and saying, ” that’s my girl who wrote that!!!
I am so saddened for your loss and also the devastating time for your Dear Dads farewell not being attended like it normally would have. But he certainly would understand, I’m sure.
Always remember that you are 1 of the LUCKY “girls “that had the privilege of calling him “DAD ”
Always here for you Twyla
Thanks, Dot. I know he would’ve been proud of us. We gave him a beautiful memorial service, as was his due.
Such beautiful words sending love to all. I cannot imagine a funeral service with no hugs.
Thanks, Laurel…and yeah, it was an awful thing to not be able to wrap your arms around someone. Such crazy times 🙁
Beautiful way to honour your father, Twyla. And what an amazing woman he raised. Love you
Aww jeez, thanks, pal. Love you, too.xoxo
My father, who passed away in December 2004, started his long career with Alberta Agriculture in Lacombe in 1958 as an assistant District Agriculturist calling on every farm in the county. My parents loved their short time in Lacombe. He never got to 70 but his humour and his love of rural Alberta lives on in us. As I read your article, I had no problem picturing my Dad as he might have been. You paid a beautiful tribute to your Dad and frankly to all those who make the reluctant adaptation to care facilities. To know that he was a part of his community for a lifetime and that there are many who mourn him but could not come out and share your grief, their stories and pay tribute to your Dad is heartbreaking but to know that he was loved by many, lived a long happy life and has a left a legacy that lives on in you makes it easier to have that final goodbye. We have never met but your story touched my heart. May your memories make losing your Dad just a little easier.
Hi Karilyn, It does give me comfort to know that so many people realize what a lovely person he was. He would be so touched by all these comments. There are many old-timers like him out there. I have such a soft spot for the elderly, especially for ones like our parents who grew up on the prairies. The roots of a farmer’s daughter run deep. 🙂 Your dad was so young when he passed; that is so difficult, I know — my mom died at 71. It’s never easy, and like I said in my article, you are never prepared no matter the circumstance. Talking about him with people (like you) makes it more bearable because reliving the great memories always brings a smile to my face. Thanks again.
Beautiful & moving tribute to your dear Father.
A life well lived, memories to cherish forever.
Sincere condolences to you all.
Thank you. Much appreciated.