Eulogy for My Father
How can I remember my Father to you, to make his memory live for each one of you the way it will live for me?
Shall I tell you of his history and his achievements? That he was born a South Dakota farm boy, the much cherished and loved elder son. That he graduated high school at 16, having skipped two grades. That he went on full scholarship and graduated from South Dakota State University and later Princeton University where he achieved a PhD in Chemistry, Summa cum Laude? That he became a leading and respected world-class research scientist?
Shall I tell you of his great intellect? How his mind was so sharp that he could read complex computer programs as though they were novels or solve the trickiest puzzles. How he could do the math in his head faster than most of us could do it with a calculator. Shall I tell you how his memory for the majority of his life was instantaneous, vast and powerful? How he could read a page and later recall it at will? Or remember the date of anything that happened in his life or the name of everyone he ever met? How ironic then that in his last years, that this is the thing that was taken from him.
Shall I tell you of his sense of honor, his humility, and his contentment with life? How he loved his wife and his daughters? How he loved his sisters and brother? How he respected and looked up to his parents? How he loved his job. How despite his abundance of gifts, he was never proud nor arrogant and how he used those gifts to serve others. How he chose not to use his expertise in explosives to create weapons of mass destruction, but turned instead to finding ways to keep our soldiers safer on the battlefield or on board ship? Or to finding better ways of doing things, whether it was something as simple as shipping flowers, or what kind of busses to use on Highway 36 between Denver and Boulder or as complex as how to safely store oil reserves in old salt mines on the Gulf coast or experiments on board the space shuttle. How he used his gift of music to lead others in giving praise and glory to God rather than seeking riches and glory for himself?
I could tell you of his interests, his love of music, particularly the sacred choral and organ music of the church and especially of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. How he sang with a rich tenor voice capable of filling the largest sanctuary with glorious music? (Without needing a microphone) Or his deep love of nature and his love of the mountains, of hiking, climbing and camping, that he was a true mountaineer at heart? How he climbed every mountain peak that we could see from our home, many more than once. How even as a child he loved to be alone in the woods, watching the birds. How as an adult, he always had the binoculars with him to watch the birds or how he could identify them by their song and with his sharp eyes, sight the rarest birds. How he loved to share these interests with others? How he stood and watched the weather, always, until he understood intimately the patterns of the sky and what they foretold?
Shall I tell you of his personality? How he was a quiet man, introverted and thoughtful. How he was patient and kind. Slow to anger. And how deserved such anger was on those rare occasions it did occur? That he was slow to speak and didn’t speak unnecessarily, and how he never spoke a word that he later regretted. How he was well read and held an opinion only after having considered at all the facts. That he was precise and methodical, a perfectionist in all he did. That he had a love of language and a turn of phrase? That he had an almost impish sense of humor at times and how his face would light up with it. How he was a gentle man, always kind and caring.
Shall I tell you of his faith, His commitment to God that never faltered? How he served in the church both as an Elder and through the music program, singing in the choir, occasionally directing it, heading up the organ committee that chose the glorious Cassavant Organ in the sanctuary at First Presbyterian Church in Boulder, Colorado.
All these things give a glimpse into my Father’s life, snippets of our memories of him.
In these past few years, as my Father’s memory faded, he took delight in nature, in watching the clouds at sunset over the mountains. He saw beauty all around him. He cherished his daily walks. He giggled over a turn of words and took great delight in the puns that the rest of us missed until he showed them to us, even as his memory failed. In his last years, he spoke often of his loving relationships with his sisters and brother whom he cherished. He expressed over and over again how much he loved his wife, and what an amazing woman she is. He shared his pride and his worries about his daughters and grand children. And he shared his memories of the people he admired most in life particularly his own mother, Gertrude Nieveen Plooster and his Father-in-law, Dan Fernandez.
In these later years, we watched my father come full circle. Becoming once again like the boy he once was. It was hard to watch at times, and who among us fully understands why things happen the way they do. But then I’m reminded of Jesus teaching in the book of Matthew, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3-4. And I know that my Father entered the kingdom of Heaven as innocent and pure as a child
And so, at the last, how will I remember my Father? I will remember his deep and quiet faith that was ever present. I will remember his gentleness, his strength, and his humility. I will remember him brushing my hair out ever so gently on a Sunday morning before church when I was a child. I will remember Holly and I coercing him to read Dr. Seuss out loud to us and loving how he would chuckle and giggle at the rhymes. I will remember him napping by lying out on the living room floor. I will remember him standing windblown on the top of a mountain peak. I will remember him standing in quiet stillness in a copse of trees with the binoculars watching the birds. I will remember him sitting in his chair in the living room, leg crossed, reading the newspaper with a cat cradled gently in his arms. I will remember his rich tenor voice filling the sanctuary with heartfelt praise to God.
I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he resides in God’s presence, singing as only he could sing, worshiping and giving glory to God.