[This was a talk I gave at my dad's funeral].
My hero has always been this cowboy. Today, though I deeply grieve his passing from this life, I am honored to celebrate him.
In looking back at the many memories I have of my sweet dad to decide what to share today, I was amazed that what stood out the very most was how he made me FEEL.
He made me feel safe. He made me feel supported. He made me feel accepted NO MATTER WHAT. He didn’t want me to be a certain way or to be like anyone else. He only wanted me to be ME. He would always say, “You’ve got a good imagination! You’re so creative!” when others might have just said, “You’re so weird!” He made me feel smart and capable of anything. He made me feel like I took life a little too seriously and needed to take extra time for what would bring joy.
I will always be grateful to him for everything he did for me and with me, but I have come to realize in the past few days that what I will cherish most is how he made me feel. That is how I have been able to realize he is with me still. In those sacred moments when the veil has been so very thin, I experience every one of those feelings again.
Dad had unique and particular ways of doing and saying things. Let me name just a few of his sayings that were common place that I will desperately miss. He didn’t say hello, he said ‘howdy howdy.’ He didn’t call me Tara, he called me ‘daughter daughter.’ He didn’t say I love you to the grandkids, he said, ‘love-uh love-uh lots.’ He didn’t say okay, he said ‘obakaybee.’ He was always whistling or humming and even his yawns were melodic “ah-ha-ha-ha-ha.” He could often be caught playing finger drums on any available surface.
Unless he was singing, he was a pretty quiet guy. I can’t really recall ever getting a lecture of any sort. If I asked his opinion, he would give it to me. But he didn’t give unsolicited advice… except about two things:
I can think of a handful of times that Dad told me how important it was to pay tithing. One time in particular he said, “If you want blessings, pay your tithing. You will see the hand of the Lord. If you want gross blessings, pay tithing on your gross income. You will see miracles." [I followed this advice and testify that Dad was right].
Many, many times, in word and by example, Dad taught me not to judge. In the scrapbooks Mom made for him, there are two talks he wrote to give at church. I can't imagine what it took to get him to give a public talk, but apparently it happened at least twice! And guess what BOTH of the talks are about?... not judging. This was so important to him and he lived it. He met people where they were and loved them. Well, let me clarify. He didn’t judge people, but he would judge judging aaannddd bad driving haha.
Teaching me to navigate
One specific memory that has come to my mind happened at our family cabin in the Uintas. Though as a little girl I liked driving 4-wheelers and snowmobiles, I much preferred riding behind my dad. I would wrap my arms around him and stick my hands in the pockets of his coat or jacket. It was warm and safe holding onto him as we meandered through the wilderness and took in the beautiful scenery.
One time, I remember he and I had gone alone on a short ride to our favorite lookout point. As we stood there taking it all in, he told me it was important that I learn to navigate. I remember thinking he was about to give some allegorical sermon about life, which would not have been like him at all. But as he explained further, I realized he was being literal. He said that as we rode back to the cabin, I needed to tell him at each fork in the road which way we needed to go. He said he wanted me to start having more awareness of where I was, where I was going, and figuring out on my own how to get there.
So off we went on the dusty trails and sure enough he stopped at that first fork and waited. I said, “right,” and off to the right he went. We did this many times at many forks. Most of the time I remembered correctly and took us in the right direction. A couple of times I got it wrong and though he knew it, he didn’t correct me. He took me just as confidently when I chose the wrong way as when I selected the right course. He waited for me to figure it out and get us back track. At one fork in the road, he stopped and switched spots with me. At that point, I was the driver and he was riding behind me. I took us back to the cabin. I’m not sure how many times I got lost that day, but we did eventually get to our desired destination!
Only in hindsight do I see that he similarly instructed me on how to navigate life in a much broader sense. With him, there were no lectures, demands, or black and white instructions. He simply showed me the way for a time, then under his care he let me try things on my own a little bit. When it was my turn to take the driver’s seat of my own life, I wasn’t truly without him. He was still along for the ride. I was still safe with him. I certainly took many wrong turns, but he was there and trusted me to figure things out. Though he has passed from this mortal sphere, I continue to feel him as I try to find my way to my heavenly home. I know he still has my back.
In the past four months, though it was devastating to watch my dad’s body fail, it was my privilege to watch his admirable response to his circumstances and witness through these trials how many of his natural tendencies changed.
Instead of getting angry or complaining about his illnesses, he peacefully and patiently accepted the Lord’s will and pressed forward in faith. Instead of feeling frustrated that his life plans were altered and replaced with doctor’s visits and treatments, he chose to enjoy making friends with all the medical staff and came to see visits to Salt Lake as opportunities to stop by to see my kids or to go out to lunch with my mom and I. Instead of feeling entitled to being cared for when he was sick, he showed incredible gratitude and grace. He didn’t want to burden anyone, even when it was their job to help him. Instead of worrying about daunting procedures and treatment, he was brave and unafraid. Instead of discouragement when his condition worsened rather than improved, he focused on finding different solutions. Instead of being negative about dismal odds, he was positive and excited about trying new options.
As his illness progressed, his priorities shifted even more. Instead of watching Western movies, he wanted my mom to read the scriptures with him. Instead of listening to his music, he liked to sit in quiet to ponder and reflect. It was only the last week of his life that he accepted his fate and when he did, he didn’t talk about unfairness, question what to expect at his passing or worry that maybe his beliefs weren’t true. Instead he talked about the joy he would have to finally meet his mother-in-law and brother-in-law that he had never known in this life and to reunite with the dear friends and family he would get to see once again. He gave the assurance that if and when it was the Lord's will, he would come to us, comfort us, and assist us when we needed him, especially Mom. With eagerness he promised to help his grandchildren as much as possible. Instead of fear about death, he had certainty of eternal life and COMPLETE trust and confidence in His personal Savior and Redeemer.
On a much deeper level, I came to understand the paradox of 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, which reads:
“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities …and in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
I saw how my dad became strong in his weakness. It was as if he were a diamond in the rough that had been under pressure for the right amount of time. He was pulled from the darkness and polished. This final polishing appeared harsh and unfair, yet as his body slowly diminished, his beautiful soul seemed to rise to the surface and shine bright, a jewel prepared for glory. In his declining state, he came to rely fully on the atonement of Jesus Christ to strengthen him.
We prayed mightily for his healing. Though it may seem this day as we lay his body to rest that those prayers remain unanswered. Yet I can assure you with absolute certainty that he was, in fact, healed. Spiritually, he was made new in Christ.
We prayed for him to be able to be home with us. That prayer was also answered. He is home. And he is with us. In his quiet, kind, and humble way through enduring well he became LIKE His personal Savior and had become ready to be received by Him.
Mom, watching you be such a wonderful caregiver to Dad, especially in those last months, was also a privilege. I hope and pray that now you will let Jesus Christ be your caregiver. Let Him bandage your wounds. Let Him help you stand. Let Him hold your hand. Use the words in Alma 31:31 and ask,
“O Lord, my heart is exceedingly sorrowful; wilt thou comfort my soul in Christ?”
In Him and because of Him, you truly are not alone. I hope you know how much all of us love you. And by us, I don’t just mean your family, I mean ALLLL of US, seen and unseen, on both sides of the veil! You are loved and you are not alone. We are here for you always and so is Dad.
Families really are forever
Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said,
“How grateful I am to my Heavenly Father that in His plan there are no true endings, only everlasting beginnings.”
On this day especially, I am also grateful for the beautiful truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This week, I have had some lyrics stuck in my head:
“I know my Father lives and loves me too. The spirit whispers this to me and tells me it is true.”
Now that this song has double meaning to me, I would like to give my witness that I do know my earthly father lives. I know his fatherly love and care have not come to an end, but have been altered to include additional power and glory. I have a personal testimony that through the atonement of Jesus Christ we can be made new and I bare witness that my dad did become 'a new creature in Christ.' I know we can live and progress as eternal families. Of these truths I bare witness with more gratitude than I have ever had before and I do so in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.