Monday, June 27, 2011

My Daddy's Laugh

This is a picture of my Daddy taken about 5 or 6 years ago.  He died yesterday, on June 26, just one week after Father's Day.  I was able to get to the hospital a few hours before he died, and spent his last moments at the bedside with him.  I loved him very much.

Also about 5 or 6 years ago, Daddy had a serious heart problem that really frightened me.  I thought of all the things inside me that I wanted to express, and I decided to get those things down while he was still with us.  The result is what you'll read below, "My Daddy's Laugh."

When I spoke to Daddy after sending this essay to him, he said he just didn't know what to say, that he couldn't believe that anyone would actually feel that way about him, that he was very humbled.  He said it would take him some time to absorb its meaning.  We never spoke about it after that, but I always knew it was somewhere in his heart.

So here is the essay I wrote.


My Daddy’s Laugh

Just a little over a half century ago, a very special man was among the first human beings to greet me and welcome me to this life. This is the man I’ve always called Daddy.

My daddy has not had an easy life overall. He’s told us stories over the years that make that clear, though mostly it came from reading between the lines. As well, there have been many joys along the way (and I know because I’m one of them!). Today I hear him speak in passing about his hard times, but he certainly doesn’t define himself in those terms. His life today is a constant reflection of God’s love through my daddy’s eyes.

My daddy’s stories have entertained and nurtured so many of us through the years. I can recall some of them, though probably only a small percentage of all the ones he’s told me. What I do recall with crystal clarity, though, is what I see and hear as he weaves his tale. If you knew my daddy, you’d already know exactly what I’m talking about here.

He’ll sit back and observe the conversation for a bit, timing his delivery perfectly. When he’s ready to go, he’ll get this sort of mischievous twinkle in his eye, daring us to take him seriously. “Did I ever tell you about…” he’ll say – and then the storyteller takes flight.

His stories always start out as plausible tales, and I catch myself trying to figure out if this one is truth or yarn. But the impish look reminds me that I know what is coming next as well as I know my own name.

A little farther into his story, every 5th or 6th word, he lets a little chuckle slip out. By the third chuckle, I wonder no more.

Now he’s nearing the midpoint of the story, and the real laugh begins. His eyes crinkle up, his eyebrows wiggle, his shoulders sort of bob up and down, his belly bounces between the boundaries of his suspenders, and his deep, sonorous, all-encompassing laugh springs from its source. He’s still telling the story, but there’s a lot more laughing than telling going on.

By the time the punch line comes around, he’s almost completely succumbed. He’s taking gasping deep breaths just to be able to squeeze out the final words – not gasping from any physical malady, but from the pure, all-encompassing joy of letting that marvelous laugh break free. He’s got his glasses off and his hanky out, and he’s wiping his eyes, dabbing at the corners where some of that joy dares to try leaking out.

Once he gets over the punch line hurdle, there will be maybe 15 or 20 seconds where there’s just laughing in all its glory, gasps and chortles and guffaws and snorts, even more so since he doesn’t have to try to talk, only just be fully in his laugh. Then he’ll start to wind down a little, and he’ll say “I tell you, I laughed until…” – and you just never know what will follow that “until!”

By now, in most instances, he’s pretty much into the decrescendo phase. He dabs at his eyes a bit here and there, but they start to regain their normal shape, and I imagine he can see the world again. Once in a while though, just when you think he’s back to his regular self and he’s breathing almost normally, he’ll think of another funny element to add, and it all starts over again – sometimes 2 or 3 more cycles, pretty much the same as the first one.

Even when I’m completely sure this story is over, he still might say, after a moment’s reflection, “But you know…” - and it’s like the roller coaster ascending the hill all over again, its peak looming ahead, the landscape unknown but guaranteed to engulf your senses in joy and delight. And he gives us the gift of another symphony of his laughter.

If you’ve been around for one of my daddy’s stories, you also probably know what happens to his listeners. For me, once I see that twinkle, I know what’s in store. A smile tugs up my mouth’s corners as I watch the familiar, completely endearing scene unfold, and I’m hanging on his every word. But by the time he’s in the mostly-laughing, barely-talking, gasping-for-air phase, I’m laughing too, laughing with my face and my shoulders and my belly and probably my toenails. He’s still trying to finish the story, and part of me is still trying to listen, but mostly I’m just overcome with the delight of being in this moment with him. When he’s trying to laugh himself back down to a normal state of consciousness, I come back too.

When that coming back is accomplished, besides wiping the laugh-tears from my own eye corners, there’s a deep feeling of oneness and understanding from one human being to another – it doesn’t matter if you’re his firstborn daughter or the cardiologist who just patched up his heart. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve just shared a very intimate experience with my daddy, who has always had this remarkable ability to bring that intimacy to those around him through his stories and his laughter.

See, here’s the thing. In those moments when he’s laughing, and you’re laughing, and I’m laughing, nothing else exists in the world but the pure joy and delight of being alive and sharing a moment of love and recognition with our brothers and sisters in this human condition. In my way of looking at the world, we are closest to God when we are so deeply caught up in the moment that nothing else exists. Moments of laughter shared with my daddy definitely fit that bill.

So I hope, Daddy, that you can see the gift you give to everyone around you, and that you’ve given even when times were tough. Maybe you didn’t realize you were bringing the touch of God into our lives back then, but I surely hope you do now.

I know my daddy and I both have times that we wish we’d been there for one another but haven’t, and other times that we have been there. One of the most beautiful memories I have is when he walked me down the aisle of the church to meet my future husband, clutching my arm and patting it reassuringly, both of us shaking like a leaf, and him looking at me and whispering “I’m so proud of you sweetie.” I hope he has a favorite special memory of when I’ve been there for him – I’m willing to bet he does. I treasure those moments in my heart. And even when I can’t be there for him, or he can’t be there for me, whatever the reason, there is always a certainty that lies at the center of my being that he loves me and he’s proud of me just because I’m me.

And those of us who are his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren yet to come, know this fact – don’t EVEN get us started on when he starts to wind up for “Ohhhhhhhhh, the buzzard took the monkey for a ride in the aaaaiiiiirrrrr,” which he will do pretty much at the drop of a hat. Think you’re immune to his humor? Try sitting through that with a stone face – I’d say it’s impossible.

I’ve wanted to write this story about my daddy’s laugh for a couple of years now, but just have never taken the time to put the words on paper. The events of this past week with his heart condition brought home to me that if I keep putting it off, I run the risk of my words being a eulogy rather than the tribute I intended it to be. I try to keep at the very top of my priority list to tell the people I love just how much they mean to me. I want you to know, Daddy, just how much joy your laugh has brought to my life, and how much it always will. 

26 comments:

Maddy said...

I cried and laughed at your story. The story is amazing. Love the way you described his laugh and the joke. So cool. You have an amazing writing gift. Thanks for sharing it with me. I pray for God to comfort you and fill you with His peace during the challenging days ahead.
(((Hugz,)))
Maddy

Maddy said...

I should have said I cried and laughed "when I read" your story, not "AT!!" That's definitely NOT what I meant...

silviaromeodesigns said...

Love your story, Sherry. Your father sounds like he had a greatness about him. He was such a handsome man and he looked a lot like you, you know? ((((Hugs!)))

Stacey Mann said...

This is incredible Sherry and how wonderful that you got to share it with him. I bet he read it over and over and it meant so much to him.

Anonymous said...

Wow - you really can write so the reader can feel what you are feeling. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. Your dad seems to have been a wonderful person. I really think you (or someone else) should read this at the funeral. At my granddad's funeral the pastor read a letter one of my cousins wrote to him to say good bye. It was such a wonderful part of the funeral, and everyone cried and joined in in all the memories my cousin shared of granddad. Love you honey - you're in my prayers!

doinDigital said...

Sherry it's taken me a couple of days to build up the courage to read this story. I knew it was going to be beautiful and that I would need tissues. You've written such a descriptive and loving story, I could feel the ups and downs, anticipation and sheer joy of being in the moment of his story telling. I think he has passed that gift on to you too!! I am glad that your daddy got to read and cherish this this while he was alive.

Miss Behaving said...

Sherry ...

This is beyond beautiful. You are such an inspiration. I laughing when reading this and cried knowing he was able to read this before he left. I've still got tears in my eyes. What a wonderfully moving letter/tribute to write and what an inspiring post to remind us to tell us how much we love our loved ones. I've got some major writing to do.

Thank you so much for sharing this. Please know that you've touched a heart today with this.

Big hugs and love to you and your family at this time.

My thoughts and prayers are with you.

~Miss B aka Melissa

Sandra said...

Aw Sherry, this is such a beautiful tribute to him!
I had a little smile on my face and it made me feel good, not even having known him!
I'm so sorry for your loss, and I'm hoping you will get through this period.
Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.

xx
Sandra

Maya said...

Such a lovely and heartwarming tribute to your Dad. My deepest condolences for your loss. (((hugs))) Maya

Microferk Designs said...

What an absolutely soul-touching letter- it's not hard to see your father's spirit living on in you Sherry. My thoughts and prayers are with you as you travel this difficult time.
((hugs and prayers)) miki

dawn inskip said...

So sorry for your loss Sherry - thinking og you at this sad time

Wendy said...

I'm so sorry for the loss of your Dad. I hope your memories of him bring you much joy to help you through the sad times ahead.

Tammy said...

From one Daddy's girl to another, that was a beautiful, heartwarming tribute. I'm so glad that you had the opportunity to share that with him before he passed. He sounds like he was such a wonderful man. ((hugs))

carola said...

I wasn't close to my dad, but your tribute here is beautiful. (actually, it describes the relationship that I have with my mom) More than anything else, I love the idea that you took the time to write it before he passed away so that,as you said, the letter could be a tribute, not a eulogy. I am so sorry for your loss and I'll pray for you & your family as you work through it all.
Carola

MamaB said...

(((hugs))) I'm glad you have such wonderful memories to hold in your heart.

Sandy_in_MD said...

Oh Sherry, this is such a wonderful portrait of your Dad and the joy he brought into your life. You had me laughing and crying - I am so glad that you were able to share this with him. He sounded like a real character, and a loving Dad. Thanks for sharing this tribute. My thoughts will be with you and your family throughout the rest of this week. Sending BIG hugs from MD. ((((( )))))

Frani_54 said...

Sherry what a wonderful story filled with love you wrote to and about your daddy!

I'm sure he loved it.

Hoping your days are filled with loving memories and you draw comfort from them...

Hugs
Fran (frani_54)

lmjrocko said...

What a wonderful story ~ and such a wonderful gift that you gave to your father to hold in his heart forever. You both have been so blessed to have such a beautiful relationship. May God continue to bless you and bring you peace. ~Cindy

Anonymous said...

Sherry, this was such a wonderful and loving tribute to the amazing man that you called Daddy. Big (((hugs))) to you during this sad time. Keep him and his laughter in your heart always.

-LynnZant

Cynthia A (crew) said...

Sherry, I'm so sorry for your loss. That story is priceless and I'm glad you got to share it with your dad.
Like Melissa, you touched my heart as well and I hope that someday I'll be able to make such a beautiful tribute for my loved ones.
Sending you lots of hugs and prayers.

kate said...

Your tribute to your dad is so special. I certainly can see where you get your fabulous personality from. Hugs and prayers going out for you and your family. Take care sweet friend..... Kate

Iara said...

love your tribute to your father Sherry, he sure was a special person and you are so lucky to have him in your life. he will always be with you, in your heart he will never leave. big hugs for you at this difficult time. Iara (baersgarten)

Charlize_C said...

Love that you got the chance to show him the way you feel ... I am sure that he rest in peace for having such a daughter like you ...

Berna Datema said...

What a wonderful father and what a great tribute, Sherry. Thank you for sharing this. So sorry for your loss,
my deepest condolences.

(((hugs)))

Berna

twinsmomflor said...

Sherry,

I am sorry for your loss. What a wonderful tribute. I am sure he is enjoying it too.
Hugs and prayers to you and your family.

Flor

Fhung said...

Dear Sherry,

What a touching story and tribute to your wonderful father! This part strikes a deep chord with me: "In those moments when he’s laughing, and you’re laughing, and I’m laughing, nothing else exists in the world but the pure joy and delight of being alive and sharing a moment of love and recognition with our brothers and sisters in this human condition."

I am so sorry for your loss, but I know that your father lives on in you. Everything that he has given you, shared with you, taught you - stay with you forever.

May he rest in perfect peace now. May all he left behind be blessed with all the courage they need to face their loss - may they will continued to be blessed through their memories of him.

(((hugs)))
~fhung~

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Orlando, Florida, United States
"If you asked me what I came into this world to do, I will tell you...I came to live out loud. [Emile Zola.]
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