My dad passed away last week

Jack Brouwer watercolor

My dad passed away last week, and I can’t quite believe I’m typing those words.

It’s not that I thought my dad would live forever, any more than I think I’ll live forever; it’s just that his death seemed like an abstraction, much like my own death. It’s out there in the distant future, you’re vaguely aware of its possibility, but you don’t think that it will ever, really, finally happen, until last week when it did.

My dad was 88 years old when he died, a good, long life by any standard. He had been married to my mom for more than 66 years. I thought they would easily make it to 70 and beyond. He worked for the same company for more than 40 years. In fact, he worked there so long that eventually he owned the place. He was chairman of the board when he retired, having done every conceivable job along the way.

Everything my dad did – and this was true, I realize, for many men of his generation – he did it with the idea that it was the right thing to do and that he would keep doing it no matter what, until he couldn’t do it anymore.

In fact, that’s the earliest memory I have of my dad – namely, that he was strong. He would give me piggy-back rides around the house, crawling on his hands and knees, and somehow I knew even then that he would be the strongest man I would ever know.

I was surprised one day when I suddenly found myself a couple of inches taller than he was, but that sudden growth never gave me much of a competitive advantage. He still regularly beat me at racquetball, pool, cards, golf, pretty much anything that we did together.

I sometimes wondered where he learned to shoot pool so well, but thought it better not to ask him. “In the service” would have been his reply. He apparently learned a great deal “in the service.”

Not only was my dad strong, he was also something of a perfectionist.

Some of that perfectionism, I realize, has rubbed off on me, so I know it’s not always a good thing, but it can often produce some outstanding work. My dad was a painter, for example, but not just any old, toss-off-a-few-canvasses-in-retirement sort of painter. He took on the most formidable kind of painting there is – watercolor – and in relatively short order he managed to achieve signature membership in the American Watercolor Society, the best of the best.

And he didn’t choose just any style of watercolor painting, but the kind that forbids the use of white paint, a technique that is sometimes called “transparent watercolor.” He painted with a dry brush and razor blade too, and so his paintings – and he produced a few hundred of them in the last 25-30 years of his life – are ultra-realistic.

Not many people can produce a painting so realistic that you’d swear it was a photograph, but try doing it sometime using watercolor. I wish you the best.

I thought of this – and more – on Monday afternoon when I was driving behind the funeral director on the way to the cemetery. In Michigan winters, the words of committal – “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” – are often spoken at the church or the funeral home, rather than at the cemetery, and so the burial itself is typically private.

I went anyway, following closely behind the hearse with my car, mostly so that I could reassure my mom that everything had happened properly and with dignity, and so I stood alone in the cold and snow as the cemetery workers lowered my dad’s casket into the ground.

If I had been seeking finality, I would certainly have found it in that moment. But I found something else, something better. In standing there by myself, as tall and straight as I could, shoulders back and head high, I gave my dad what he had always demonstrated for me – strength and always doing my best, no matter what the circumstances.

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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31 Responses to My dad passed away last week

  1. Robert M Easton Jr January 15, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    Doug:

    Sorry to hear about your Dad. He lived an awesome life and he provided you the tools to be a great man yourself.

    As you recall my Dad passed 5/2012. The end of my Rotary year was devastated. It was unexpected but with time I’ve accepted the fact of no more cell phone calls, no more e-mails, no more dinners out and no more church services with Dad. It’s still difficult but easier now. I know some day we will all be together again. Like your Dad he is now in Peace and with the Lord.

    God Bless you and your Mom during this difficult time of life. You have the gift of your Dad within you. Continue to stand tall, be strong and set an example for all of us who worship with you.

    God Speed,

    Bob

    • Doug January 15, 2014 at 11:17 am #

      Thanks, Bob. I remember your dad well and enjoyed sitting with him at Rotary Club meetings. You remind me of him, and he was proud of you for it. I’m glad I knew him, and I’m glad I know you.

    • Sally McClintock-Snyder January 15, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

      Bob Easton, I knew your step-mother and father well from the Plaza Club!! Doug, I do not know you personally, but heard you preach every January for the past few years, and I was a former member of First Pres. I pray God will comfort you in this time of your life. He who keeps the faith until death will wear a crown of glory!

      • Doug January 16, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

        Thank you for introducing yourself, Sally! I knew a Sally Snyder from the first church I ever served, but didn’t think she was reading my blog. I’m glad to know who you are.

  2. Carol Smith January 15, 2014 at 11:17 am #

    Doug,

    There is something special about our parents’ generation that we can only hope to achieve and many of the younger generations don’t seem to understand.

    As difficult as my Mom was most of her life, I was amazed at how the minster at her funeral was able to weave history through her story. Our parents’ struggles through the depression, WWII and countless other world events have formed us. My brothers’ and I can attribute our work ethic and strong sense of family to our parents and their generation.

    We are thinking of you and your family during this tough time.

    • Doug January 15, 2014 at 11:53 am #

      Thanks, Carol.

  3. Linda Strodtman January 15, 2014 at 11:33 am #

    Doug,
    I’m sorry to hear about your Dad but delighted to hear your thoughts about him and about his rich life. His painting is fantastic! It is hard also to lose our parents because it means we now are the ones that others look up to for strength and advice. My mother also passed away last week and we have the funeral next week due to some extenuating circumstances in our family. I find myself in deep reflection as you have been going through. It seems surreal –as you say you know your parent won’t be with you forever but when it happens it still catches us by surprise. My mother died two days before her 92th birthday and my grand daughter (her great grand daughter who is 5) and I sat with her at the bedside 12 hours before. It was a quiet moment to have my grand daughter cuddling on my lap as I held Mom’s hand as she slept peacefully away to join my father and brother. My clinical work is in palliative and end-of-life care and death for me personally and professionally is one of awe. I know the body knows how to be born and how to die but I still find it to be a miracle.
    Peace and Blessings on you and your family. Linda

    • Doug January 16, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

      Oh, Linda, I’m so sorry for you. I will pray for you as you spend time reflection. I hope it’s good and productive and life-giving.

  4. Georgia Hamilton January 15, 2014 at 11:52 am #

    Doug, What a beautiful obituary to your Dad. It sounds as though he was active up to the end–what a blessing that is. Your comments about his painting in his later years.reminded me of my brother-in-law who started oil painting after he retired. His work isn’t the caliber of your Dad’s but it’s been fun seeing the improvment over time. I haven’t heard of transparent water color but the end result must be lovely. I think also of your Mother, it’s going to be a very lonely time for her; I hope there is family close by.

    Warmly,
    Georgia

  5. Barb Keith January 15, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    Doug,
    Tom and I are thinking and praying for you.
    It’s never easy to lose someone you love.
    God bless you and know that you are missed
    At 1st Pres!
    Lovingly,
    Barb ‘ Tom Keith

  6. Patti Hockstad January 15, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

    Hi Doug … sorry to hear about your Dad. I remember you including him in more than one of your homilies in Ann Arbor. There was something about the two of you sitting in the car, on Sunday mornings, waiting for the women to finish getting ready for church. You had us in stitches. Thanks for posting his artwork … it’s absolutely amazing. Best to you, Patti H.

    • Doug January 15, 2014 at 12:52 pm #

      Hi, Patti. I’m not always sure he appreciated those stories, but I’m glad you did. And thanks for the kind words.

  7. Laurie Fuller January 15, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    Doug, I am so sorry. I am very scared of that day for my mom and dad. You know them, Mr. & Mrs. Esterline. I cherish everyday I talk to them and have wonderful stories like yours. Your heart and prayers are in my soul…Take care…Laurie Fuller

    • Doug January 16, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

      I do know your parents, Laurie. And I’m glad for you that you have them!

  8. Sandy Steffen January 15, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    Thank you for sharing Doug. That beautiful painting DOES look like a photograph! Did you & Susan have any of his pieces in your house? Thoughts & prayers continue to be with you , Susan & your family.

    When do you leave for Zurich? Our friends, Colin Lynn, are in Lauterbrunnen skiing until the end of the month. Please let us know your new address once you get settled.

    I’m sure you heard by now that we have gotten an interim minister a Rev. Dr. Russ Ritchel Jr. from Vanderbuilt Pres. Church in Naples. Do you happen to know him? He CAN’T replace you though. Sandy ( :

    • Doug January 16, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

      We leave from O’Hare on Jan 22, Sandy. And then I start work Feb 1. We’re spending that one week before work begins moving into our apartment, registering with the canton, breaking a few Swiss customs, and getting settled in. Would love to see Colin and Lynn if we can!

  9. Kathy Bostrom January 15, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

    Doug, I am sorry for your loss, and grateful that you had such a father as yours. You honor him well with the way you live your life. Blessings to you and all the family.

    • Doug January 16, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

      Thanks for those kind words, Kathy.

  10. Don Wagner January 15, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

    Doug,

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful tribute to your dad. My prayers are with you and your family.

    Don

    • Doug January 16, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

      Thanks, Don. All the best to you too.

  11. Dennis Ulmer January 15, 2014 at 6:07 pm #

    I always feel bad when a minister loses someone that they love. Clergy, and you Doug did a great job helping people cope with grief when you were at First Presbyterian Church. I know you have faith, you know that life is without end for those who believe. We are promised a new life. But it’s still hard I think. When grief is your own, I often wonder how clergy copes. Of course you have prayer, you have faith, tut it’s got to make you think and probably feel great grief It’s a time like this that all of us have to understand that it’s a hard job being a minister. It’s a time for all of us to understand that, and extend our love and support. Doug, may God Bless you and your family during this time of sorrow.

    • Doug January 15, 2014 at 9:22 pm #

      Dennis, you’re a sweet man. I remember the grief group at FPC well, and I wish I could attend this week. I know you’d be there for me.

    • Doug January 16, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

      Thanks for your thoughtful words, Dennis. And – sorry to break it to you – but pastors don’t get free passes when it comes to grief. I’m leaning on my faith just like everyone else who has ever been in this position.

  12. Clark Ellis January 15, 2014 at 8:16 pm #

    Doug, Sorry to hear about your dad. When my mom died I just remembered.
    Absent from the body present with the Lord,and that got me by.
    My prayers are with you and your family

    Clark Ellis

    • Doug January 15, 2014 at 9:19 pm #

      That belief gets me by too, Clark.

  13. Joan Scheske January 16, 2014 at 6:08 pm #

    Beautiful tribute. Thoughts and prayers for your and your family Doug.

  14. Mary Ellen January 17, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    Doug and Susan,

    I pray for you in your time of loss.
    I sometimes ponder about the effect that the death of a parent has on an adult child.
    We as children have been so blessed to have our parents in our adult life.

    Just last week I was going through a blanket chest that I had not opened since my mother’s death in 2010. I found the New Testament bible that my father took to WW II in the Pacific. He took the word of Jesus Christ to battle and that is part of the legacy that he left for me. Keep faith in everything I do.

    I hope you can find comfort in the love and pathways that your father gave you throughout
    your life. My prayers are with you and your family.

    Mary Ellen

  15. mari keefer January 23, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

    im sorry to hear your father passed away..he is@heaven now protecting all of us.. 😉
    I just found this site, & we missing you&your wife susan had great class for us. hope you&your family doing ok. thank you.

    • Doug January 25, 2014 at 11:21 am #

      Hanks, Marie!

  16. Terri McCrary Rogers January 28, 2014 at 11:45 pm #

    Doug,

    I so enjoy your writing. I have to say this is, by far, the most evoking piece you’ve written. I can feel your love for your father in every word. But, more than that, the pride you feel to be his son. I am sure he’s smiling down on you from heaven, and finally realizes what an impact he had on you and who you are. Thank you for sharing your story of him. He sounds like a wonderful man and, I know you already know this, you were very blessed to have him for such a long time.

    Many Blessings to you and Susan. I think of you both often and pray your time abroad is everything you always hoped it would be.

    Much love,

    Terri Rogers

    • Doug January 29, 2014 at 1:17 am #

      Thanks, Terri. I see (from Facebook) that you aspire to be a writer too. I hope you go for it! Miss you.

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