My heartsong is about my Papa, who died a week ago today. It is difficult to sum up an 82 year old life dedicated to the Lord and to his family in a blog entry.
My father was a missionary, a pastor, a psychologist, and a master carpenter with two doctorates who spoke five languages. He lived for his Lord and for his family. As far as my Papa was concerned, everything else was simply background noise.
We laid my Papa to rest on Thursday on a little rolling knoll on the edge of a national forest. He was carried there by his son, a decorated Army major, beloved sons-in-law, and his youngest brother, David. His youngest daughter and her two children sang Chris Tomlin’s “I Will Rise.” We buried Papa in the familiar vestments he wore as an Anglican minister.
Later, as the sun set, the deer stole in from the forest and ate the roses, daisies, and sunflowers which decorated his grave. The staff at the cemetery thought this was a drawback and recommended plastic flowers to my mother. My mother just isn’t a plastic flowers kind of person. We thought it was beautiful and fitting that those fresh flowers wouldn’t go to waste. There was no plastic. Papa loved deer.
I quietly looked at his prayer book yesterday, using his glasses because I couldn’t find my readers. In the liturgical tradition, this prayer book, or as we call it, “Daily Office,” contains the readings for church services in a three-year cycle. The entire Bible is read aloud in church during this three-year period. It is planned so that the congregation is instructed from the entire counsel of Scripture, as it is all God-breathed.
When I remember Papa, I will think of him sitting at a table or on the corner of the couch reading his Daily Office and making notes on a small yellow legal pad in his distinctive angular handwriting. Sometimes he was reading to prepare for a sermon. Frequently, he was studying for his own edification. After having been steeped in Scripture since high school, he still found fresh inspiration from the Holy Spirit every day.
The book fell open to the readings for my birthday in April, with my snapshot marking the page. My brother and sister were similarly represented. There were notes about whatever Scripture he had last been studying on scraps of paper…the back of an envelope and on an old grocery receipt.
My father was born to a French Canadian family on Fisher’s Island, NY. Fisher’s Island is a tiny enclave off the coast of Connecticut which has large estates of very wealthy families. Papa’s father was a caretaker for these families.
Papa was very difficult to buy presents for. One year I checked EBay for Fisher’s Island and found an antique postcard of the church he grew up in. He had tears in his eyes when I gave it to him. The postcard was tucked into one of the Gospels. In one of the last pictures we have of him, he was showing the postcard to Uncle David, who had never seen it. I am SO glad that I found it for him.
There was a note to my mother, “Maureen, I’m picking up my medication at Albertson’s. Love, Joe.” I found my sister’s graduation picture and an old black and white snapshot of Papa when he was an impossibly young missionary in Peru. And finally, there was a recipe for banana pudding from the side of the Nilla Wafer’s box. He had a huge sweet tooth.
His whole life was summed up in that battered Daily Office with different shades of yellowing tape holding the worn leather cover together. Well done good and faithful servant. We’ll all see you soon.