This morning I woke up for the very first time in 48 plus years, without a Dad. Well, without my Dad living here on this earth. My Dad, John R. Beal, passed away yesterday morning, April 14, 2016. I can honestly say that my initial thoughts and feelings of pain and finality, were followed quickly by the sense of relief that my Dad suffered here no more. Although the former thoughts and feelings will stay close to me for some time, I know complete peace as Dad made his way to his eternal home yesterday around 8am.
Last night I worried with my wife as I told her the kind of things that I (and possibly others) expected from myself as it relates to writing about such things, these tributes and remembrances. We talked about how I had already written two or three of these things for my Dad before he ever passed, as I knew this day was coming. Honestly, I don’t know that I like what I have written previously, so here we are together on the edge of this new precipice I face this morning. I asked her where or how I should begin. Then I told her what I planned on doing to even start the writing process. I told her a few of the steps I would take to nudge myself up to this electronic writing pad, and how I see it playing out in my mind. Then she said to me, that’s your intro, just write what you told me, and go from there.
After an exhaustion induced sleep I woke before sunrise. I stepped right into the places I’d rather not trod because I knew that is where I needed to go. First, I signed-in and looked at my electronic edition of today’s New Hampshire Union Leader to find the Obituary written for my Dad. I noticed that just like we learn to arrange ourselves over the course of our entire lives, Dad was named in a list. Just a list of names, people who also found themselves named in obituaries this date. I looked through all of the names, some that I knew, and others I did not. I went back to the list somehow wishing there was a different way to share these people with the world. Imagine all the years, all of the moments, and the history each of these folks carried with them, leaving such a void in someone’s world. Just a list, get in line, because that’s how we keep order. I opened the link to my father’s obituary and I read it. My chest heaved violently as I expelled emotion and sorrow laden breath after breath as fast as my body would allow. Tears streamed from my eyes and I had to clear them several times just to read the words on the screen, even though I already knew what they said. I stopped and whispered a silent prayer hoping there were people somewhere eagerly looking for their loved ones brief story for each person on this list. Not much would seem worse to me than a life story lived right in front of us that no one wanted to read.
So, I have already used more than 500 words to get to my, quote, unquote, start. The steps I told to my wife last night, start with the playing of some old country/folk style music. I opened up my Spotify app and went to the playlist entitled, Old School Country, and I hit the “ShufflePlay” button. My dad enjoyed this music thoroughly and this playlist wouldn’t even exist were it not for him and the time I enjoyed trying to make a painful day for him pass just a little easier over the last few years. Just last Thursday, I sat with him, he in his wheelchair, me in a vinyl, beastly looking contraption that looked and felt like it could withstand the World Wars. We sat facing each other, next to his nursing home bed. He didn’t say very much that day, as had become more and more the norm these last few months. But I noticed that his face and his eyes looked more alive than I had seen in months. I took joy in that smile whether it’s effect reached the rest of his face or not, because the eyes gave it away. We sat, just he and I, for 90 minutes, listening to this playlist. I knew he thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent, as did I. His 87-year-old roommate, Ken, and Ken’s wife Arline, both came back to this little concrete square in a mostly forgotten wing of some old nursing home that most would rather hurry past than to deal with the scene found inside. There was Dad with his grinning eyes, his oldest son just trying to make some piece of this existence better, if even for just 90 minutes, an 87-year-old former engineer, and his wife, all sitting around together, humming tunes, singing some words, and making the otherwise drab and pending finish line a little more tolerable. A couple of aides came in to work with Dad’s roommate for a few minutes and they were smiling and repeating words to some of these old songs by the time they left. I was just happy to be there. I was happy to see Dad, happy.
That visit with Dad in the nursing home was the last time I would see my Dad alive. Really alive. I was with him most of the day, in the hospital on Wednesday the 13th, but he wasn’t really alive. He had vital signs and they were good. But he was completely unresponsive and never opened his eyes. Our family was there all day, and Mom spent the night in a chair (similar to the one I described in the nursing home) next to Dad.
Yesterday morning, early on, messages started coming in from Mom and my brother, and I knew the end was closing in. By the time I rushed from my home, leaving the twins to their care, Dad was already gone. Before I left, I had received a message that took my breath away, and I started to cry. Theodore, who will be 6 years old next week, was up early with me, while his twin sister Jacqueline was still sleeping. Theodore saw me cry, and he already knew that Grampy was not well. Teddy told me, “Daddy please don’t cry. Daddy don’t cry. It’s going to be okay.” And he came over to me to give me a hug and a kiss. I pulled myself together quickly and we talked quickly of Grampy. I told him we could pray, as we had been doing quite often for days, weeks, and months. Theodore walked around the family room praying out loud for Grampy, and praying to himself, as I had told him some time ago that God heard those prayers too. He turned to me and said, “Dad I said some special prayers, and I really think they are going to work for Grampy.” I assured him they would and I prayed too. Minutes later I would piece together, that it was right at that time that Dad’s time here had expired.
After a long, long day I couldn’t wait to return home and talk to my wife and kids about those prayers. Because they did work. We prayed for direction. We prayed for Dad to feel better. We had prayed that Dad could again, come home. At the same time my Mom sat bedside with my Dad and prayed the same. Then at 8am, on Thursday, April 14, 2016, God answered. God raised my Dad up for just a second in Mom’s arms, and as Dad breathed his last breath here, our Heavenly Father took him home. Prayers answered. Thank you Lord.
I drove down our driveway knowing Dad was already gone. I was in a hurry to get to the hospital, but not really. I turned onto the country road that connects to our driveway. Cars came and went. People moved about. Down an old country road visible on my drive, I noticed several turkeys doing their morning thing. I thought about the huge hole that now existed in my world, but also noticed how many folks I passed, who were in no way affected. The world still turned, and the noise of daily life pressed on, but my world had just forever changed. I made my way to the hospital, not holding anything against any of the folks I saw for not having been affected by the sonic boom that had just gone off in my own life. I won’t get into the room, the family, and the scenes that unfolded among ourselves. But we were there, all of us together. Dad was still in the bed, and I kind of wished I didn’t have to see him there. Because that was just a body, Dad was gone, and this vessel that housed his soul and all of who he was, was just empty, used, and no longer containing my Dad. I can’t say that Dad left that body better than he found it, but I know he got absolutely everything he could, out of it. “…for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
See, Dad was born in 1941. Had he been born during the last two decades it’s likely he would have been tagged, or somehow otherwise labeled, as having a learning disorder or disability. But, as God and His perfect timeline would have it, Dad was born in July 1941. I am certain he suffered in some ways from the forcible learning/teaching habits taught from some book, that until recently, nobody thought to re-write, that incorporated the will to push all pegs, even in their asymmetrical diversity, through the same hole. Dad was different for sure. Thank God. These battles, many of which, maybe not another soul knows of, but I am certain they happened; Turned into a drive and determination that Dad displayed in areas where most of us wouldn’t apply. His resiliency was more between his ears, than anywhere, because that’s where the battles were fought, and where the weakness resided. I am saying that his methods, comprehension, and responses were questioned as a matter of the brain he was wired with. He was sound. He just had limitations in the physical aspects of his brain. God created him that way, and for 74+ years he worked with the equipment he had. He did what he had to, and he got by. Nowadays maybe he would have been labeled, separated, and led away from the pack, stunting growth, killing creativity, and who knows how that would have gone.
God knew what He was doing though. Dad was one of the best preachers I ever heard. Dad could mix humor into any sermon, illustration, or story without ever being silly. Greater still, you knew exactly what he meant, and his relatability was second to none. God gave him words, thought patterns, and a perspective to pull things together in a light that changed lives, touched hearts, and led to the eternal saving of souls. Honestly, what greater purpose could a man be called to? That was my Dad and he was great at it.
Listen, I just lost my Dad, and maybe I am gushing a bit, but he wasn’t any more perfect than any of us are. But I choose to hold him in regard to the greatest attributes of his life. He wasn’t terribly hands-on as a father once I got a little bit older. He loved and he led, but he did so at arm’s length. He was proud of us, and he loved nothing more than to watch his kids compete or perform. He taught us right from wrong. He did play with us, he was there. I don’t have a list of things he taught me or things he always said. See when you have every dinner together and spend so much time together as a family, all six of us, in those moments there are countless lessons, examples, and quotable spoken contribution. It was on us to pay attention, and we did. He didn’t come out and say this is how to be a man, this is how to do this or that, but his commitment to the Word of God, the teachings found there, and the scriptures was a lesson anyone could benefit from. He was a family man. We were a family that was together a lot. We gathered on holidays with extended family, and Dad would have it no other way. As a matter of fact, Dad never let on that we all were anything but family, even with his in-laws, the Peterson’s. The Beal’s and the Peterson’s, we all carried on as one family and we have for more than 50 years. That was a credit to my Dad and my Mom. The greatest gift he left me was the way to heaven. There is but one way. “…I am the way, the truth, and the life…”.
It would be hard for me not to recognize something that hits way too close to home. I am my father’s oldest son. In many ways, I think that I am more like him than any of my siblings, but that’s just what I think. Throughout my lifetime there have been pictures of me that compare closely to those of my Dad at the same age. But resemblance isn’t everything, his blood runs through me. This apple landed right next to the tree. My sense of humor runs in the family, actually in both my Moms’ and Dads’ families alike, but there’s no question that Dad raised mine, ours, to a new level. Family dinners and get-togethers were among the funniest and most creative humor any of us have ever witnessed. Truly, brilliant at times, and just plain hilarious at other times. Thank you Dad. I also challenge those who really know me to examine how I have handled or treated you and yours, not for my sake, but because I am my father’s son. If I were fortunate enough to score a positive vote in your records, please know that my Dad would score ten times that. If I scored negatively, then that is on me, and you saw a version of me that should not have surfaced. Please forgive me. See, me, and my generation, we hope to be measured one day in the same breath as the great people of the generation before us. In that generation the simplicity of life lived was the stunning portrayal choreographed by the depth found in the intricacies of magnificent minds with the perceived time to approach extraordinary. I am just a man, my Dad was a great man, a great man of God. His new place in heaven ensures what should always be, that I’ll look up to him. I do, and I will.
Dad didn’t want to leave this world but he did want to go home. We found out after the fact that he had shared with nursing home personnel on Tuesday that “he was ready to go home.” To his heavenly home. You know it’s kind of interesting to think about the state of the world we live in today, is the same world we cling to at the end. In our infinite mortality, we fight to stay here just a little longer, as those gathered long for the suffering not to leave this place. Two points that I choose to notice, one, that it’s the people not the place, we long to stay with; two, our heavenly home that awaits is so much better than anything we can comprehend here.
For the last five years or so, I have spent a lot more time with my Dad than I had previously as an adult. I heard a lot of stories over and over, and other simple things that are neither here nor there. But really, I learned a lot about Dad, and gained another level of respect for him, especially as a man of God. One thing that was always very present with Dad, and that I have seen present in many others over the years, were his smiling eyes. Or as I might dare say, a saved person’s eyes, or Christian eyes. In those eyes, the whites are white, and the light shines a little more bright. These windows to the soul are clear, and they sparkle, for in the depths of those saved souls, fear does not dwell. Even through these difficult months, Dad’s eyes rarely dimmed. And in those eyes, I saw so much love.
In the end of Dad’s time here on earth he suffered. He fended off so many attacks on his brain over the last 11 years. Much to all of our dismay, and opposite of our best wishes and prayers, Dad never regained the elevation in steps that he had previously climbed to once a medical event had happened. He got close. He often times maintained, which is still susceptible to the aging process we all face. Though he battled, he never could advance against the damage done to his command center. He lived on. He loved on. He smiled often. He welcomed all whether we knew it or not. In his fashion simple things continued to be his most revered things in life. Right up to the hands that held his while he grabbed at his last breath.
Today, April 14th, as I sit in the bedroom I grew up in, I write these words with tears running down my face. Finality has a way of messing with our minds and our emotions. This too shall pass. And I smile when I write triumphantly that today, Dad is home. Dad is happy. Dad is healthy. And although you folks reading this or hearing it, may have known him as John, Pastor Beal, Uncle John, brother, brother-in-law, Reverend John Beal, or Mr. Beal; I am happy to have always known him as Dad.