This post is not really a blog post at all, but the eulogy I wrote for my father, who passed away on February 24, 2014. I miss him very much, and I’m sure I will continue to miss him for the rest of my days.
Today we are gathered to mourn the passing of my father Paul Heffron, but more than that, we are here to celebrate his life. But before I do that, let me take a moment to acknowledge that my father was an invalid for the past seven years, and life was very, very difficult for him and my mother. My mother did everything she could to keep him comfortable, safe, and as healthy as possible. She never left his side the whole time, never took a vacation, never went away to visit friends or family. My mother became an expert on all things related to his health, and his conditions, and was a fierce advocate with medical personnel for the kind of care she thought he deserved. I have been calling her “Dr. Mom” and “Saint Rita” for several years now, and with no offense meant to our Catholic friends, I am going to push for canonization, which would make her the first Jewish saint.
I would also be remiss not to acknowledge the caregivers who hauled him in and out of bed when he could not do so himself, sometimes risking injuring themselves in the process. They clothed him, bathed him, and fed him, made him do exercises and take his medicine, and he was not always the most compliant patient. My mother and I owe a debt of gratitude to them all, but particularly Dimple, Aldrin, Vilma and Minda, who took care of him the longest. Thank you for making it possible for him to spend his final years in his home, enjoying his daily turkey bacon and Trader Joe’s O’s, with a liberal side of cookies, corned beef sandwiches, and chocolates. Thank you for comforting him and my mother when he was in pain and things were at their worst.
When my Dad finally passed away last Monday, my mother and my husband Derek and I focused on feeling grateful that he was no longer suffering and is finally at peace. The toll of seven years of being an invalid robbed him of more than the ability to care for himself. It robbed him of his essence, and it dulled my memory of the man he was before he became ill. When my friend Lynn called from Portland to offer her condolences, she remembered his sense of humor and the twinkle he always had in his eye, and that is the way I would like him to be remembered.
My father was an engineer through and through, with a lifelong love of learning. As a small child he tried to take a turtle apart to see how it worked, and another time he accidentally set his parent’s basement on fire. He was a skinny kid who could eat anything he wanted, and whose stepmother used to make him fried egg sandwiches for lunch everyday while wearing a kerchief over her nose like a bank robber, because she was allergic to eggs. He and his high school pals Jud and Ralph used to entertain us at Thanksgiving with stories of their group dates, which usually included taking the girls out to dinner, and then after they took the girls home, going out for a second dinner together, often involving kosher hot dogs. He made it through a five year engineering program in three years, and worked in both mechanical and aeronautical engineering, as well as earning an MBA from USC while working full time and being a husband and father. He shared a love of planes with my husband, and when he found out that they had that in common, gave Derek framed photographs of six airplanes, some of which he was involved in designing when he worked at Lockheed.
My father went bald before I was born, and as a little kid I had a head full of thick, dark curls. My mother’s hair is stick straight, so when people would ask where I got the curls, I would reply, “I got my turly hair from my Daddy.”, which I am sure he must have prompted me to say. My mother had a hard time taming those curls and kept my hair short as a little girl. When I would come home from a haircut, my father would pretend not to recognize me and he would say, “Whose little girl are you?” and I would reply, “I’m your little girl, Daddy!”
He had a great imagination and often applied it to tempting toddlers to eat their vegetables. He gave my peas names like Sasparilla and Saskatchuan, and once convinced a friend who didn’t like the cherry tomatoes my mom served us that they were really snigglefritz berries, which grew on a snigglefritz berry bush in our backyard, but you could only see them and pick them in the dead of night.
After I started reading, I remember using him instead of dictionary to define words that I didn’t know in the books I read, which was sometimes a bit embarassing for both of us, especially when I once read a sex scene in a book and then asked him to define the words I didn’t understand!
He loved to eat, but wasn’t a fan of cooking. He did stand me on a chair when I was about three though, and showed me how to add a package of chicken soup mix to boiling water so that I could tell people I knew how to cook. Years later when I finally did learn how to cook, if someone would compliment me, he would kid that he taught me everything I knew.
My Dad couldn’t sing or dance, but he did both with me. A favorite memory of mine is the night that my parents were asked to keep me awake until a high school club to which I belonged could come pick me up and surprise me with the club’s initiation. I was tired and wanted to go to bed, but my Dad distracted me by asking me to teach him the words to all the songs in, “A Chorus Line”, which was all the rage at the time. I only wish cell phones had been invented back then so that I would have a video of our off-key duets. Those certainly would have gone viral!
While I was in college, I had the opportunity to study in France, and my parents decided to join me there when my year abroad was over. My mother had visited Europe as a young woman, but it was my father’s first trip abroad. He immediately fell in love with Europe, the scenery, the art and the architecture, but particularly the food and wine. He and I made several subsequent trips to Europe together, some with my mom, and some just the two of us. I particularly remember one trip to visit my friend Albert in the South of France where he enjoyed a meal of rich French cheeses, duck a l’orange, lots of red wine, and espresso with his dessert, none of which were on the diet he was supposed to be following for his gout. That night he had to sleep with his covers untucked at the the foot of the bed, and his toes sticking out because they were so inflamed from everything he had ingested. He loved that meal though, and never regretted eating it. It was a fond foodie memory that came up whenever we talked about the things we had experienced during our travels.
Because I studied abroad my senior year of college, I never went through graduation ceremonies. After that my Dad used to tease me that he hadn’t gone to my college graduation, he wouldn’t go to my graduate school graduation, but he’d be there with bells on when I got my doctorate. Well, you don’t have to call me Dr. Heffron, but he was there with bells on and one of the biggest grins I’ve ever seen on his face when I got my Master’s Degree from Thunderbird.
After I moved to San Francisco, my father’s foodie journey continued. He had lived in San Francisco very briefly before he and my mother were married, and he loved reminiscing about the meals he ate there and the hills he had hiked returning from work to his Russian Hill apartment. When they came to visit, I always took them to the restaurants I had discovered which I knew he would enjoy. He loved the coffee in San Francisco and used to get up early and head down the hill from the house I shared with friends for a cup of Peet’s coffee, which he would enjoy in a local cafe while people watching.
One year, my parents unwittingly planned a visit during Gay Pride week. The look on my Dad’ face was priceless when he looked out my living room window and saw topless lesbians riding motorcycles down the street in front of my apartment. With his usual sense of humor, I remember some very pithy remarks about what happened when one didn’t wear a bra with adequate support.
After he became ill, I tried to fly down to visit as often as I could, and called my parents daily. My Dad wouldn’t talk on the phone much. Sometimes he participated in the calls, but often he didn’t. On the days that he did want to talk, I could judge how he was feeling by how he ended the call. On good days, he would say, “Bye for now.”, and that always comforted me, so that is how I am going to wind this up, by saying, “Bye for now, Dad. Until we meet again. I love you.”