The word eulogy comes from the classical Greek word for praise. It is a speech or writing that expresses praise or a term of endearment (Wikipedia).
This Eulogy is from me for, and about, my Father, Jeffrey B. Smith, Sr. This is my way of praising him for being the Father I needed at every turn. Sadly, I spent the early part of my life avoiding, even pushing away his dedicated concern for my well-being.
Before I speak about Dad I want to share this observation. Of all the lessons I am learning about letting go of a parent to death, the most impactful is, that you don’t know until you know. To all of my friends who have lost parents in the past, I say to you, I had no idea how much you were hurting. My fumbling to find the just right words to comfort you fell short, I am sure of that now. This is not meant to be an insult to those of you who reached out to me in this time of mourning. However, if you have not lost a parent, I am here to say that it is a confusing time. It is a time for which, no matter how braced you feel, you cannot prepare. My experience.
I am finally feeling the surface of the outside world. Having spent the last 22 days walking around in a fog, numb mostly, my body aching like I had the flu this is a welcomed sensation. The emotions move up and out without warning and I do my best to cry and let go. I am so very aware of how important it is to let it flow. Stuffing it down will only reap havoc at a later date. I know what I have done that helped and that which hurt me in the healing process. I am thankful that I have found yoga and meditation as a way of tapping into the innate peace that resides within me. Hurtful to my mind and body, too much food and wine in an effort to numb the pain that was hard to manage. Now, about my Father…
On my Father’s Death Certificate the cause of death is Alzheimer’s Disease. That is no surprise. I am sure it would be typical in these circumstances to find fault with the Disease that killed my Father. However, during this time of reflection, I feel grateful to Alzheimer’s. When my Father received the diagnosis, we already knew what he seemed content to deny. Why would a man as strong and competent as my Father be okay with accepting that fate? I don’t blame him. I am sure, if he had a sense of what was happening, he was pissed to say the least. The years passed and we increased the care for him commensurate with the state of the symptoms. When we moved him into a long term care facility, it stands out as one of the most difficult days of my life. I remember that day so clearly. Removing him from his cottage home in the retirement community, standing in the living room acknowledging that he would never return there to live with my Mom. It was so incredibly heart breaking!
Eventually, we settled in to our new normal. There was a routine that developed for visiting with Dad. Bringing Mom to see him. They remained connected so intensely. To say that the connection between Mom and Dad was a blessing is a huge understatement. Their connection changed the lives of those around them. It changed me, of that I am sure.
Along with some very incredible and gifted caregivers, we managed his symptoms for years. The pace of my working a full-time job, being a Mom and caring for my parents filled my time, hobbies and self-care soon fell to the wayside, ultimately pressing me to make a conscious decision to change the way I live.
In February of this year, I recognized that the exhaustion from the stress of my job, and the commuting for same, wore away my ability to spend quality time with my parents. Faced with a challenging decision, yet blessed with the faith that I could not fail, and the support of my family, I left my paid position and began my new normal, launching a business and spending time with my parents each week.
I built my weekly schedule to allow me to spend two days a week on which I cared for my Mom, which included taking her to visit with Dad. Those moments, mostly good, were filled with deep connection. I can’t help but question, what if I had kept up with the status quo? I thank divine guidance for pushing me to realize the changes and the timing necessary to have time - quiet, connected, end of life - time. Each day was a gift. I remember times when I felt angry at the disease. Then anger would lead to reconciliation. If not for the disease would I have ever connected with my Father so intimately? Seemingly simple things like looking into his eyes to understand what he was communicating because he couldn’t speak the words. I never would have had the experience of laying my head on his chest and listening to his heart beating. He would, with great effort, raise his hand and place it on my head in a comforting gesture. Those last months of his life provided the moments in which I felt the closest to him. Complete irony. He could have been worlds away but he was there with us, though words and physical movement mostly escaped him.
When I play my life from the beginning of my earliest memories, I acknowledge that my Dad was front and center, directing my growth at the end of his long days at the office, on weekends around Tanglewood, on family trips in our RV, and during annual holidays and events when the family was gathered. As I continue to process this man and our relationship, I expect I will remember other pivotal moments but today there is just one.
I was twenty-six years old and I decided to move out of state to be with a boy I hardly knew. I thought I knew him and I thought I loved him. We met at a training out of state. He lived in Indianapolis and I, at the time, was living in the apartment in the upstairs, back of our family home. The night before I left to drive to my new life in Indiana, my Father stood with me in the kitchen and said very few words. We were alone, he looked at me with tear filled eyes and said, “Julie, I believe you are making a mistake. However, once you are there and settled, should you ever find yourself wanting to return home, I want you to know that the door is always open to you.” He hugged me tightly and retired to bed. Early the next morning, before dawn, as I hugged my Mother goodbye, Dad stayed in bed. I think I cried for the first hour of driving thinking about how deeply I hurt him with my decision. Also, I believe it took me until now to understand that he had excellent intuitive capabilities. Three weeks later, I phoned home to ask if I could come back. The answer was, “Of course, please be careful driving.” Not a question, not an “I told you so," just love.
As a teenager and into my twenties, my Father was a serious, sometimes terrifying man. Our connection was intermittent at best. Through Alzheimer’s, through watching him die, through celebrating his life I am as close to the man as is humanly possible. He was not a tyrant, he was not strict, he was a man who operated from a cellular level of love, love, love for those he held most dear. Thank you Daddy, for every part of the life we shared together. You were always right and I thank you for that. Each day I catch glimpses of you through my thoughts, my words and the way I express love to those in my life. Before you left, I asked you to show me you're close by sending me feathers. I have never come across so many feathers before in my life. You are in my cells, in my mind, in my heart….you are everywhere and I feel you. I love you Daddy.
Your Julie Lynn XO