A Tribute

For the last few weeks I have been trying to come up with a way to honor what today is. For those of you who don’t know me more than from what I have written so far, today, February 8, 2013, is the 3 year anniversary of my dad’s death.  He lost his brave battle with Lewy Body Disease on February, 8th 2010.  There is not a day that goes by that I am not missing him terribly. 

Honestly, I can’t believe it has been 3 years.  I remember it all like it was yesterday.  Every moment of those last days is replayed in my head every year.  I am grateful for those moments though.  I am grateful that I got to be there with him for his last days.  I am grateful that the last words that he heard were “I love you.”  I am grateful that the last words he was able to say to us were “I love you.”  I am grateful that I was there to help his hospice nurse bathe and dress him for the last time.  I was holding him when his breathing changed, and I was able to care for him in that final hour the way he had cared for me since I was 4 years old.   Nothing has been more precious to me in my life so far than those last few days and hours.

My dad loved to travel and take pictures.  He had a whole life of travel before he met my mom and became dad to two daughters in a ready-made family.  He kept all of the pictures on slides.  We have countless boxes of slide carousels, each holding anywhere from 80-120 slides.  He used to show us slide shows when we were kids and I hated them.  Now, these slides are my most cherished possessions.   I am getting to see the world through my dad’s eyes.  I even found a picture he took at the Colosseum in Rome that was identical to one that I took when I was there 2 years ago! My dad always told my mom he wanted to show his family the world and, through his slides, that is exactly what he is doing.

As much as I miss my dad, I know he is still with us in spirit.  He used to keep thick rubber bands all around the house and even around his wrist.  We were never sure why he kept them.  I think it was just in case he ever needed one.   Whenever I am going through something, or just missing my dad a lot, thick rubber bands just seem to appear.  One day there was one sitting gently on one of the bushes outside of my house.  Another day there was one on the ground at the driver’s side door of my car when I came out of a store…and it wasn’t there when I went into the store ten minutes before.  I have found them on the floor of my bedroom, as well as various other places in the house.  Yesterday, as I left my house to go to work, there was one sitting on the walkway from my house to the driveway.  I know it may sound silly to some, but I believe it is my dad just trying to let me know he is here loving us just as much and watching out for us.

Since I am not sure of how best to pay tribute to my dad today, I am going to share with you the eulogy I wrote for him.  It is the best way to explain the extraordinary man that taught me what a father’s love is all about. 

In a favorite movie of my dad’s, ‘The Bucket List,’ Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson discuss death and the afterlife often, as both are facing their own impending deaths.  While sitting on top of a pyramid, Morgan Freeman discusses the Egyptian philosophy of Heaven with Jack.  He explains that two questions are asked when you die, before you can get into, Egyptian heaven: “Did you find the joy in your life? Did your life bring joy to others?”
My dad can answer these questions with a simply “Yes.”

Harris Miller was born on October 17, 1937.  He studied, travelled the world, was a cheesecake connoisseur and had a career as a pharmacist.  He was, however, much more than this.  He found his most important role, and his joy, almost 26 years ago when, on March 16, 1984, he married the love of his life, Margie.  On that day he became a husband and a father in a ready made family, complete with two daughters, two cats and a dog.  Over the years our family has gone through its ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies.  We moved to a new house, lost beloved family members, buried beloved pets, brought new pets into our family, have had a few floods and even a house fire.  Through it all was Harris, standing small in stature, yet gigantic in his love for us.  He was there for us through everything from chicken pox to broken hearts; knowing just what to say, even if that meant saying nothing and simply sitting in silence.

The love my parents have for each other can only be described as soul mates.  When one would walk into a room, the other would light up.  They delighted in just being together. 
No obstacle was too big, no crisis too dramatic for them to overcome.  Their motto was, “We can get through anything, so long as we stick together.”  Throughout his illness, that motto was put to the test, but their love never wavered.  A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of witnessing this in practice.  My mom was giving him his medicine, crushed up in apple sauce, with a vanilla pudding chaser--his reward for taking the nasty medicine. I stood in their doorway and watched as she leaned over and kissed his forehead.  And while he was starting to have trouble getting the energy to speak, he softly said “I love you,” and kissed her back. In that moment, the love between them was palpable and overflowing.  This was the foundation for their marriage: true love, in its most pure and beautiful form.

When you step in our house a small frame hangs on the wall with a simple saying encased within.  “Not by birth a father, but by a special love.”  While Harris was not a father by birth, in every possible way that counts he is my dad.  For every moment, whether special or seemingly insignificant, he was there.  He never wavered, and neither did his enormous love for us, proving that being loved unconditionally is one of the truly great things in life.

He loved being a father to my sister and me.  He took pride in our accomplishments—taking a step back and letting us revel in what we have achieved; never trying to take credit, just simply enjoying watching us have our moment in the sun. And he would help pick us back up after our defeats, reminding us that tomorrow is a new day, and a new chance to try again.
As kids, he loved showing us the pictures, in the form of slides, of places he had been and the wonders he had seen…even if we didn’t truly appreciate the epic slide shows at the time. 

As a family, we discovered his exploratory nature on a trip to Martha’s Vineyard.  After a seemingly endless ferry ride from Cape Cod to Martha’s Vineyard, Papa thought it would be great to take a bus tour around the island.  The tour consisted of a capacity crowd piled into a un-air conditioned school bus in the middle of summer. We got to see both the interesting-- like John Belushi’s grave-- and the odd--like a house that was sawed in half by a divorcing couple-- albeit from a bus window, after we had already zoomed past it at 45 mph.  Needless to say at the rest stop, half way through the tour, my mom, sister and I were plotting our revenge. We got that revenge by renting bicycles and riding around the island. At that point we learned that it is apparently possible to forget how to ride a bike. 

Together, our family witnessed the absurd, like some of his 1970s “Saturday Night Fever” style clothes that he refused to give up, or the silky maroon shirt, with huge orange-ish polka dots that became known as the “Trivial Pursuit shirt”; and the hilarious, like the time he and our Uncle Bernie decided it would be a good idea to roto-till the backyard on their own.  Needless to say, it did not go well.  We watched, and laughed hysterically, from the kitchen window as the roto-tiller pulled them around the yard.  25 years after the fact, it still makes us laugh when we think about it.

He was the dad that would do anything for us, simply because he loved being our dad.  In first grade, when the Brownies were having a father-daughter Square Dancing event, he enthusiastically went out and bought how-to square dancing records.  Every night after he got home from work and I was done my homework, we would practice.  The night of the dance, I didn’t want to go, but he assured me we would have fun, so I reluctantly gave in.  We had the greatest time because he took the time to make it fun—silly square dancing outfit included.  He took the time to share this experience with his daughter.  It wasn’t a chance for him to be in the limelight as “Father of the Year.”  It was simply his chance to spend time with his daughter, and that made him “Father of a Lifetime.”

He was our shelter, our compass, our breath and our life.  He understood that to love meant to do so without contract or condition, without pretense or misconception. He loved us until his heart was ready to burst, and yet still found the capacity to love us more. He loved us with a good, honorable and pure heart.  He fought a brave fight until his last breath. And the last thing he said to us was, “I love you.” He was, and will continue to be, my hero, for all of the reasons that he probably thought just made him ordinary. Yet, for those “ordinary reasons,” he was extraordinary.   I am fortunate to have had him as my father for the last 26 years, and I am extremely proud to be his daughter.