My Dad and me on my wedding day in 1992.
Last week, I released my Dad’s ashes into Lake Michigan with great reverence, love, and gratitude. Samhain and the one year anniversary of his death felt like the perfect time to release his remains. To commemorate this day, here is the post I wrote shortly after his passing. I pray he rests in peace.
On Tuesday, November 2nd, 2015 not long after my daughter got home from school, a Leelanau County Sheriff came to my home for a visit. I opened the door thinking, uh-oh, what have I done? The officer introduced himself, asked me if I was Shann Vander Leek, and went on to tell me my dad had passed away. What? My dad died? I was in shock. I have no recollection of the officer’s name or what he looked like.
My dad’s friend Mike hadn’t heard from him in a few days and decided to stop by his house to make sure he was okay. He was not, okay.
My dad is dead, that is so weird, has been running through my mind since the day the officer (with the shitty job of telling people their loved ones are gone) shared the sobering news.
In the last month, my husband and I have traveled to and from my dad’s home several times logging over 1500 miles on the road. We secured his home, packed up his belongings, donated his clothing and fully stocked kitchen, to the Vietnam Veterans Association, and then hosted a celebration of his life at his favorite watering hole. We were in the eye of the storm making things happen.
It is wild how your internal operating system kicks in and begins to prioritize what needs to be done in times like these. I went from receiving sad news, to making bizarre phone calls to doing all I could to honor my dad’s last wishes…Then there is the awkwardness of engaging in conversations with people who shared stories of a totally different version of the man that was my father.
Everywhere I turned, people told me how upbeat, funny and generous my dad was. From the private banker to his dentist, (who waived his final cleaning bill), my dad had a lot of friends and made a positive, long-lasting impression on the people in his circle of influence.
For the last few years since my dad and I reconciled (after a decade-long hiatus of my choosing), he began sending me lots of legal paperwork for my signature. I signed beneficiary papers for safe deposit boxes, IRA accounts, annuities, his last will and testament etc. At one point during our last visit in the fall, I jokingly asked him if he was planning to check out soon? I think we both knew he was ready to leave his body. He simply said he didn’t want anything to be out of order when he did pass away. Taking care of his final affairs is an honor. My dad was a proud Marine and banker for most of his life. He made it a priority to have all of his affairs in order so I could easily navigate through his accounts and follow his final wishes, right down to genre of music he wanted me to play at his ‘After Party.’
My dad lived (and survived) more than 9 lives and his body showed every mile. Before he passed, he barely resembled the man I once knew and looked well beyond his 72 years. No longer the ass-kicking, HOORAH Marine, he had trouble walking more than 50 feet. His still had a sharp mind and wicked sense of humor; but after years of heavy smoking, drinking, and heart disease, his body was spent.
Family I hadn’t seen in more than a decade came to celebrate his life. All of whom were kind, helpful, and supportive. Their understanding of my difficult choice to walk away from the relationship blew my heart wide open. People really can surprise you. For years…a lifetime really, I was sure my dad’s side of our family were all judging me harshly. Growing up my aunt, uncle, and cousins seemed to have a perfect life. To my young eyes, they were whole and stable. They were kind to each other. My aunt made sure they had Jesus in their lives in a BIG way. I often visited them on the weekends and holidays when my dad had me for the weekend; I was a catechism drop out from a broken home with a new stepmother every few years (five, including my mom), and a dad who’s personality could change in an instant. I never knew whether Jekyl or Hyde was going to make an appearance. I realize now that I was often embarrassed, afraid, and ashamed.
I lovingly referred to my dad’s celebration of life as ‘The Baptists and the Bar Flies.’ He was loved by all walks of life. The best statement I heard about my dad was from a man who said he hadn’t known my dad for very long, but man, he sure made an impression! Ha Ha! He was right on the money. There was never a person in the same room with my father that didn’t know exactly what he was thinking. Every unfiltered, conservative, and shocking racist thought which was always delivered with expletives and hearty laughter.
Nothing can prepare us for the loss of a parent. I was never super close with my dad. For a time, I chose not to have anything to do with him while I came to peace with our difficult past. I am grateful that we reconciled and started fostering a new relationship before he passed away. I can’t imagine experiencing his passing without the support of my sisterhood and all of the deep healing and cord cutting over the last decade.
No matter what has happened in the past, we all deserve to forgive ourselves and our parents for poor choices, cruel words, and devastating mistakes.
My dad is dead. That is so weird…
We honored the life of Tommie Dellow Booth on November 23, 2015. The day began with the Marine honor guard at the Great Lakes National Cemetery and was followed by friends, family and golf buddies gathering to tell stories about his larger-than-life personality, the way he told it like it is, his infectious laugh, generous heart, and how much he loved his granddaughter.
I miss you dad.
How Do We Forgive Our Fathers?
by Dick Lourie
How do we forgive our Fathers?
Maybe in a dream
Do we forgive our Fathers for leaving us too often or forever
when we were little?
Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.
Do we forgive our Fathers for marrying or not marrying our Mothers?
For Divorcing or not divorcing our Mothers?
And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning
for shutting doors
for speaking through walls
or never speaking
or never being silent?
Do we forgive our Fathers in our age or in theirs
or their deaths
saying it to them or not saying it?
If we forgive our Fathers what is left?
* This poem is read during the last scene in Smoke Signals. It was originally published in a longer version titled “Forgiving Our Fathers” in a book of poems titled Ghost Radio published by Hanging Loose Press in 1998.