Saying Goodbye to Dad

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Over the weekend we gathered with family and friends to say our goodbyes to my dad, Larry Elwood Walton. While the time leading up to the memorial has been emotional and stressful I left the church with an unexpected feeling of fullness. Yes it was sad, there is no question. But it was also uplifting and seemed to give me a revived perspective about life.

I was so very touched by my family and friends that came out, many of whom did not know my dad before he the dementia set in. I received very nice cards and messages with memories of dad and condolences.  It is easy to forget what dad was like when we were growing up since he’s been sick for almost half of my life. So, having the memorial, looking back on old pictures and video brought a sense of happiness and appreciation for dad that I have not had for awhile.

Chester has been really great through it all. He took over the slideshow when it became too much for me to take on. He’s been a shoulder to cry on and also one to make me smile and laugh, as always. He is such a great dad, just as mine was. He’s always on the floor wrestling and tickling the girls. My mom told me that losing a parent is one thing because that is what is supposed to happen in life. But losing a spouse is completely different. I can’t imagine Chester being taken away from us. While we all hope that we’ll grow old and happily ever after, sometimes that doesn’t happen — so that perspective I was talking about. Life is truly fragile and beautiful. This is the only one we get on this earth and each day it is our job to make the most out of it.

Here are the thoughts and memories I shared at the service:

Larry Elwood Walton
April 21, 1943 – October 30, 2017

Now when I think about my dad I get a full flood of memories that makes it hard to breath at times. They are also some of the happiest ones that I can remember. I had such a happy childhood. My sister Miranda and I were adopted, and for me the question about my ‘real parents’ has never bothered me because I never felt like I was missing out on anything. There was never a void to fill. From the moment that we were placed into our parents’ arms at the airport, that was it. We were theirs and they were ours.

One of the earliest memories I have of my dad was when I was about Vivienne’s age and hell bent on running away. I’m not sure what the reason was but the memory stuck with me because it was so uncharacteristic of the very sweet little girl I was. I packed my suitcase, Velcroed my shoes and out I went all the way behind the mulch stack in our back yard. A few minutes later my dad came out looking for me and spotted me peaking out. As a kid, thinking I was defying my parents so badly I was expecting to see anger, instead I saw sadness and panic in his eyes. He gave me a big dad hug and said he loved me and that he never wanted me to run away from him again. As a parent now, I can imagine searching through the house for one of my kids and being scared and angry at the same time. I would hope that I could be a consoling parent instead of quickly harsh and upset. And I never did run away.

Dad didn’t just love us because he was our dad. He actually really liked us. Growing up he probably wanted to play with us more than we wanted to play with him. I truly believe that he thought his job was to make us smile and laugh every day. He was the king of dad jokes to the point where joke books and the funny paper became his greatest source of reading material for about a decade. And when he could no longer remember the jokes he found other ways with his grandkids to make them laugh. Little tickles with his beard and crazy noises that only a grandpa can make. I am so very thankful that my girls got to have those sweet moments with him. And I am also thankful that my dad got to meet and hold our youngest little Walton, even though it was just once.  

Dad watched his mom battle Alzheimer’s disease. I remember would take Grandma Olive out for ice cream and then afterward I would see the tears in his eyes when we drove away from the nursing home. At the time I didn’t realize the pain of having someone you love not recognize you and turn into just a shell of who they used to be. Dad was not himself for many years. After a hard battle with cancer where some of his physical strength was taken away and after kids were out of his life, since he retired from teaching middle schoolers and we were entering college years, dad lost a little of himself. His body and mind were failing him and mom was left picking up the pieces. Mom kept him together and at home for as long as she could. Her routine with him was so good that we all didn’t see just how much he was declining in the last 6 months. But because of that, his stay in the nursing home was brief and we only had to drive away with tears a few times before we said our last goodbyes.

Even toward the end dad never looked like a grumpy old man because he kept his greatest qualities, his smile, his humor and his optimistic view about life. I know that every time I see a runner outside I want to give them a thumbs up just as he would have done. I know I can’t wait to chase my kids around in the swimming pool just as he did with us. I know I will always be a relentless recycler like he was. And I know I will never forget what a great dad he was to me.     

I love you more than pickles dad.

A shortened version of the slideshow we put together for the service:
The Wedding Song: There is Love by Peter, Paul and Mary

I Remember You Are A Good Daddy, Even if You Don’t

Today I spent the day with my dad and realized that it isn’t about remembering all the great times that we had together when I actually called him daddy on a daily basis, but its about reminding him about what a great dad he was and is — and not just on Fathers Day.

This hit me not when I was telling a story and he didn’t remember, it was when I was explaining why we have change in our van (pennies, nickels, dimes) and what the purpose of change is. It is easy to get frustrated with him, but it is more fun and worthwhile to take 5-8 minutes to explain why change is useful. (But I mean come on, change stinks, ruins good wallets and with babies, the thought of it in an X-Ray flashes through my head every time I see a penny on the floor).

The thing is that dad may not know what pennies are for, but if you have the conversation with him, he will (kind of) remember the times that we would get the little red plastic sorters out and roll the change with paper wrappers and thinking that we were the richest people in the world because we had $5 in dimes that we could hold in one hand. And even if he doesn’t remember, telling those stories with him now is valuable not just for him but for me too.

What makes a good parent is the accumulation of a million unique things that only your and your kids know about. Its day-to-day things that aren’t glamorous or what you will find in parenting magazines. For my dad this includes the Good Morning Too You song, loving us more than pickles, swimming with us all the time, Ramen noodles, staying up late, orthodontist visits (lots of them), soggy cereal and of course having change everywhere.

He may not remember us ever being babies or changing diapers or waking up with us when we were sick or spending weekends at swim meets but he did all of those things and more. So this is my promise to myself and my dad that I want him do those dad things with my kids that he doesn’t remember doing with us. Knowing that it may be frustrating at times, but that it will make our family all the more better letting him do thing things that he does best and that is make us laugh and love us all.

20150622_103420(this is Miranda)

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I know that this dad is going to be an amazing one, just like mine :)