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My father is gone. I go back and forth between despair that he is no longer on the earth and the hope that he is now a part of the earth.

We held the visitation at my mom's house all day on Tuesday--his 71st birthday. It felt like he was still there, not gone, because we displayed his wood projects and bear skin coat and hunting boots and people from all parts of his life came and told stories and filled the house with his presence. ARH's wife, LH, made a picture show and it was striking to me that so many of the photos showed him with a big smile on his face. I mostly remember my parents being unhappy together, but the slides made it seem like they had many good times and a happy life. It is powerful the way others' recollections and images can change my own memory. KW suggested (practically insisted) that I sit down to write a bit about the past few days because I do have a very bad memory, and there were so many positive impressions of my Dad that I do not want to forget.

We held his funeral service at the graveside at PF. My favorite part was when anyone was invited to speak and tell a story or share a memory of Dad. A couple people said how generous he was, always willing to give money or lend a hand when there was a need. His best hunting buddy described him as a great friend who loved the outdoors. One guy described how Dad was quiet but thoughtful. He did not say much in their church home group, but when he did it made everyone pause to think. Similarly, Dad's first wife, SH, described how he would take so long to answer a question, even a simple one, and it drove her crazy. So she was glad he found my Mom and she was a better match for him. I was surprised Mom stood up to speak, and she shared about Dad's keen sense of humor (even at the end), his generosity, how they grew close and he appreciated her over the past few years, but also how he had kept part of his life separate from her. This was always apparent in the way he spent time alone in the basement wood shop and off at camp with his hunting buddies, but it was never verbalized before. There were friends of his at the visitation that I never even heard him mention and stories I never heard. Everything said at the graveside was especially touching to me because I recognize these same traits in my own personality, and usually view them as a negative part of myself, but now I know I come by them honestly and it makes me feel closer to my Dad so I am less inclined to try to overcome these "flaws". I am a loner, just like him.

Now I know as much about him, and I am as close to him as I ever will be. Our relationship is still and all I have are objects and memories. He encouraged me a couple of times to ask him what I wanted to ask him while he was still around to answer. I couldn't think of much I needed to know, but I asked what some of his best memories were of the time we were growing up, so that I could remember the good times, too. He mentioned the cruises we went on, going to soccer or softball games, and being at the beach in Nags Head.

We were all in the room when he died--ARH, LH, Mom, and me. He was peaceful at the end, with the morphine to sedate his agitation, and it was a relief to know his struggle was over. We kept him at home as long as possible, so he only spent the last 36 hours or so at the inpatient hospice. I feel peaceful about how everything worked out through the past few weeks. I have no idea what the next few months or years will be like without him, but I hope I can maintain the good feelings I have about his life, and keep all the good memories alive.
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