First of all, I have to tell you a little bit about my dad. Some of you reading this did know him. He was a wise-cracking, joke-telling, relentless cut-up. If you spent any time around him at all, he made you laugh. And you may also have experienced a few jokes being at your expense. Virtually nothing was off limits if he felt comfortable with you and, come to think of it, I don't remember anybody he wasn't comfortable with. My mom would sometimes worry that he might hurt or embarrass someone. I remember hearing her get on to him (on the way home from church usually) from the back seat of our car when I was a kid. "Jerry," she'd say, "you can't joke like that. That wasn't funny." He would just laugh that big laugh of his and say, "Ah! Sure it was!"
I also remember him making jokes about how he wanted to be laid to rest (always going for the laugh). I'm sure he didn't expect his suggestions to be carried out, but a part of me thinks he would like for his humor to be the thing remembered about him most often. And I think he would prefer a laugh over reverence. I really do.
My dad battled Parkinson's Disease for 17-18 years. He progressed slowly for a long time and then began to decline more severely over the last three to four years. But he never lost his sense of humor. He would at times be confused about who we were or what his relationship was to us toward the end. But he could still remember jokes and could even be spontaneously witty. My brother and sister-in-law provided an apartment for him that was connected to their house and Dad was never alone. He had the best care. You know, the kind money cannot buy; the kind that only comes by way of love. He only had to be admitted for professional care the very last month of his life, which is amazing if you knew the extent of his physical needs. It was absolutely necessary at that point. And when he was more cognizant, Dad had communicated that he understood the day would eventually come numerous times. But when we followed through on this, he struggled to adjust. He got agitated with us and even mad at us a few times. We knew that agitation and depression and a whole host of emotional challenges came along with the physical symptoms of Parkinson's.
One time while visiting him along with my brother, he forcefully instructed me to go start the car because WE were leaving. My brother said, "Dad, you're not going with Shari." And he said, "Who says?" followed by, "Shari, go start the car." His tone communicated that he was the dad; meaning he was boss.
I've watched both my parents suffer through terminal illness now and, let me tell you, it's so hard. It's the kind of heartbreak you can't understand unless you've endured it. My dad was always so young for his age. He looked young, acted young, and had his health until he turned 60. And then he was hit by a steady stream of health issues in succession. In addition to his Parkinson's, he was diagnosed with CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia). He was actually getting bloodwork as part of a thorough evaluation for his Parkinson's diagnosis when we learned of his CLL. A few years later, he had triple bypass surgery. Those were the big issues, but they weren't the only health challenges. And because of the toll of illness, he really started to age. In the last few years, I just couldn't get used to him looking elderly. I guess I just expected him to always look young and healthy for his age -- like my dad!
He died just before his 78th birthday and he looked his age or older. But if he'd stayed healthy, I think he would have still looked a good ten years younger than his actual years.
It's hard to write about this and not get off track as I reflect. I've diverted a bit. But I know you understand and don't mind.
Well, one day my brother was visiting with him and my dad insisted he wanted "out of here." My brother said, "Dad, we've talked about this. You know the only reason you're here is because you need the kind of professional medical attention that we can't give you at home. You are here because we love you." And Dad said emphatically, "Fine. Put 'WAS LOVED' on my tombstone. Now get me out of here."
I need a laughing head emoticon here. This is funnier if you knew our dad.
My brothers, sisters-in-law, John and I went to dinner last week and laughed as we remembered these words (and others) from Dad's last weeks. I had volunteered to look at grave markers and make suggestions. So a few days later, I texted some ideas and sketches. Todd texted back that he still was leaning toward "was loved" as a memory of Dad's humor. I suggested we go all the way and add "...now get me out of here" under "WAS LOVED" -- because I think Dad would not only think it was hysterical but be proud of us for choosing humorous over "proper." I also think he would love giving people a good laugh as they walked by and read the epitaph.
"Get me out of here" isn't about the grave. We know he's not there. It's the memory and the laugh. I just love giving him the ability to make people laugh "from beyond."
I'm pretty certain it would be considered an odd way to honor him in the minds of some. But it fits him. And yet, we don't want to do anything that would seem inappropriate or in bad taste. Thus, the dilemma.
My brothers and I all love the idea of making Dad laugh and getting to share this laugh with him one day when we are all together again. We are so tempted to do this. But it's a big decision.
I'd love to know what you think, and your reasoning pro or con. We may not actually go through with this. But, hey, at least I've been able to share the laugh with those of you who are reading even if we can't bring ourselves to actually go through with it.
I really want to know if you think this is a crazy idea! Tell me what you really think! And please feel free to share any funny memories of Dad. I know some of you will comment on my Facebook page, but I would love to have your comments here if you can figure out how to leave them on my blog.