We always celebrated Dad's November birthday on
Thanksgiving Day, even after he entered a nursing home. As
years went on, these events took on a double meaning for me - a
traditional birthday party for Dad, and a personal thanking for
all he had been to me in my life.
When we knew that it might be his last birthday, the whole
family decided to rearrange Thanksgiving plans and come together
for a huge Grandpa Simon birthday celebration at the nursing
home. It was a crowded party with lots of noise and abundant
food. Dad was having the time of his life. He was a marvelous
storyteller, and here was the biggest captive audience he'd ever
had. The party crackled around him.
During a quiet moment, I announced that it was now Dad's
turn to listen to some stories for a change. I wanted everyone
to tell Grandpa Simon what we loved about him. The room became
still, and even Dad was quiet as his family crowded around him,
like subjects around the throne.
One after another, people told stories from their hearts,
while Dad listened with wet, flashing blue eyes. People
recalled all kinds of lost memories - stories about when they
were little, stories about when Dad was young, stories that are
shared family treasures. Then someone told the story of Mother
and the vase...
My mother was a short stocky woman, who always bent over
the table to read the newspaper. Leaning her elbows on the
table to support her chin, her body made a perfect right angle.
One night, Dad placed her precious gold-plated vase, a family
heirloom, right on her fanny at her body's angle. She couldn't
move, couldn't stop from laughing, and screamed for help through
her tears, while the vase teetered precariously. We all rolled
on the floor laughing until Dad finally rescued the vase.
The stories flowed. Each one seemed to trigger the memory
of two more. Even the littlest grandchildren couldn't wait to
tell Dad why they loved him. For a man who had been kind to so
many hundreds of people in his life, here was our chance to
A few months later, at Dad's memorial service, we more
fully realized what we had given Dad that night. Those were the
stories people normally tell at a funeral, after a loved one is
no longer around to hear the words. They are told, then, full
of tears, with the hope that the departed will somehow hear the
outpouring of love. But we had given those loving memories to
Dad in life, told through laughter, accompanied by hugs and joy.
He had them to hold and roll over in his mind during his last
months and days.
Words do matter, and they are enough. We just need to say
them, to speak them publicly to the ones we love, for everyone
else to hear. That's the way to give back love, and our chance
to celebrate a person in life.