It’s Not Goodbye, Mom

My mom, Sandy Stoddert, 76, passed into eternity Saturday night.

Mom had struggled valiantly against the effects of Parkinson’s Disease since 1985…yes, for 33 years, and since she was 43, she’s been dealing with it. She fought to keep her independence as long as she could, taking in home-based aides for the last five years she lived in her home in Vermont. Then in 2011 she admitted it was time for more help, and she chose to move to Virginia into an assisted living home in Woodbridge. But the disease kept after her, and in parallel she began developing a series of infections that later would weaken her kidneys to the point they couldn’t cope. Just before Christmas 2016, she moved into her nursing home, and it’s there, surrounded by those who have cared for her, that she died.

I’d seen this coming for awhile, although the actual end was a little faster than I’d expected. She developed her final infection in mid September, and this time her kidneys didn’t respond. Her brother, and my sister, each came down to say what they needed to say to her last weekend.

Then it was my turn.

You see, when my dad passed ten years ago, the decline from his surgery to his passing was only six weeks, and much of it was spent in hope of recovery. But when it became obvious that his story wouldn’t end well, I wasn’t prepared to say goodbye. It was more about me, more about asking forgiveness for my own shortcomings, than about him and what was about to happen.

Enter God: he got my attention in one of the class lectures last week. The professor had in someone to talk about her call, and what she does (she’s a chaplain at a hospital in Kentucky). And when she started talking about the four things she wished everyone had the chance to say to a loved one who’s dying, I really sat up and paid attention.

I used that, then, as the basis for my own talk with mom last Wednesday.

  1. One, I forgive you. I forgive you your role in my parents’ divorce and what that meant to me at the time, I let all that go.
  2. Two, please forgive me. Forgive me for all the times I didn’t show you love, when I put myself first.
  3. Three, here’s what you meant to me. You gave me your love of reading and books, your love of history and government, and you were the one to make sure I got to church. And so here I am, a senior executive in the government and trying to follow Christ as he leads into this new adventure…and yeah, I wrote a book too.
  4. Four, I love you, and it’s OK to go. The last words I heard her say to me were on Monday, when she said she was tired. And so I told her it’s OK, we’ll be fine. My sister and I are doing OK, and all the grandkids are launching into their own lives just as you’d want them to. Go ahead and rest. Go find your beloved dog Kep, and play with her again. And take hold of the healing that we just can’t get for you here. Oh, and by the way: I love you.

Three nights later, she passed away. Go in peace, mom, and savor all the restoration that’s available now in Christ. I’ll see you again soon enough.

(PS: Here’s her obituary.)

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Henry P. Tarrier, 1943 – 2018

On Tuesday morning, Mary’s dad unexpectedly passed away at home, aged 74. This whole week has been a blur of getting Mary up to Vermont to her family, then the kids and I following. He had wanted a very simple funeral, but as a 31-year veteran of the Army National Guard, received full military honors at his burial. We’re still processing through feelings that are quite raw, and I’ll be sharing more about that as time progresses I’m sure, but today I wanted to share the comments I made at his graveside funeral as a way of honoring the only other man I ever knew as Dad.

I want to thank the members of the United States Army for their service today in honoring Dad and his 31 years in uniform. I’ll let them honor that today; my role today is different, to share a few words about Mike in all his other roles, husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend.

I knew Mike only 28 years, and I got in trouble before I even met him, when I didn’t come out to the house to meet him when I met Mary for our first date. I remember having to go through initiation with him as Mary and I dated, with his brothers Chuck and David grilling me on life, career, politics, everything, as Mike just sat back and watched, wondering if this one will be good enough to be worthy of being part of the family.

Because for Mike, everything began and ended with family. His wife, Sandra, and he were married for over 50 years; their devotion is a model for us all. They were absolutely inseparable, did everything together, which was a hard lesson for Mary when we married, that occasionally a husband may want to do something different than his wife. He loved his girls, and it absolutely broke his heart every time Mary and I left to drive back home to Virginia.

I just want to say a few words about the character of the man that we honor today: eight of them, in fact.

I won’t say Dad was stubborn, but I’ll say he was determined, and he had a very definite sense that there is a right way to do things. He was persistent, he never gave up trying to figure out a fix for something around the house. He worked with his hands, doing simple, honest work; he didn’t have to be a General, he was content with who he was. He was selfless in serving others, which we saw both in his career choice and in how he sacrificed to make sure his family had everything it needed. He had a tremendous heart for others, one that had a quiet depth to it. He might not speak often, but when he did, his words conveyed meaning. There was a genuineness to him that meant what you saw was what you got, there was nothing artificial about him at all. And he was a man of character and integrity, a wholeness that everyone came to understand.

We marked Fathers’ Day yesterday (it’s not right to say we celebrated it, given the circumstances). To become a father is fundamentally a foundational act: you are establishing something you intend to be permanent, to live on forever. Mike lived a whole life, devoted to establishing something permanent, and as he would look around today at everyone gathered here, I believe he would feel he was a success. Who a father is, his values, he hopes will live on after he’s gone. I believe Mike’s will, because of his grandchildren–and it’s with them that I want to close today.

I want the four of you to know, to never doubt, that you were loved by your Grampa, that he was incredibly proud of you. And, everything we’ve talked about here today about him, lives on in you.

  • Naomi, you are persistent. You didn’t give up on college, you went back to classes this year, and I know that made him proud. You are also incredibly genuine. Your Grampa lives in you.
  • Monica, you have such a heart for others, and a quiet depth about you. You have your Grampa’s heart. He lives in you.
  • David, you too are called to work with your hands in simple work, and you are becoming a man of incredible character and integrity. Your Grampa lives in you.
  • And Sarah, I won’t say that you’re stubborn, but I will say you’re determined, and that you also know there’s a right way to do things. And your selfless serving of others is reflected in how you serve the Lord. Your Grampa lives in you.

At our funerals, the stories that are told won’t be about how early we walked, or our grades, or that time we stayed late on that project, or made this incredible Powerpoint…none of the things the world says are important. Instead, the stories that will be told will be about the life we lead, our values, and the legacy we leave behind in our children and grandchildren.

And so, as we commend Mike’s remains to the earth and his soul to his Lord and Saviour, we reflect on the legacy of the man it was our privilege to know and to love, and we celebrate how he lives on.