I was sitting in the house that built me in my home state of West Virginia in October of 2016. My father’s health was failing after a stroke, and I had flown in from Washington with the anticipation of saying goodbye. My mother was in her chair of many years, which was right beside of my father’s favorite chair, but he was no longer able to sit up, and was in a hospital bed we had brought into the room. He had been in that bed for at least a year, and had withered down to around 130 pounds. A stroke is absolutely evil in that it can rob you of your speech and mobility, but allow you to fully be aware of all that is going on around you.
A few relatives had stopped by to say hello, and around 7:00 I watched the nurse walk over to my father to check on him. Even medical professionals can’t hide their concern, and she dearly loved my father. Even when he could barely speak he thanked her for taking care of him, and told her she was pretty. Yeah, my dad had game right to the end! I saw her pull out her stethoscope and I knew my father had passed. I then prepared myself to take care of my mother who was about to find out that she had lost the love of her life.
In 2016 I was in a very dark place. I knew I was likely getting divorced, I had just lost a great job, and I had chosen to live without any reverence for God. And while I know this is strange, I had been wondering how this exact moment would feel…how it would impact me. A friend had once said, “Tony, when someone you dearly love dies then you’ll know there is a God.” Leave it to me to have my father die and me make it about ME! Seriously, I can remember looking at the funeral home folks walking over to pronounce my father dead, and I thought, “Okay, now I am going to know there is a God!” I am going to feel his presence! And yet there was nothing. i was like that kid in Polar Express who felt like he’d been duped. And then something happened I didn’t see coming.
It is surreal to watch your father be put on a gurney, his body covered, and rolled out of your childhood home. I’m not sure anything prepares you for that, but at the moment it doesn’t seem real so you’re somewhat numb. What happened next I would have never predicted. I felt that peace that surpasses all understanding as I began to talk about my father. And then my cousin joined in and my brother law. We began to tell stories of things my father had done or said, and we even began to laugh half heartedly. The memories of a great father and an extremely good man began to flow through our minds. And it wasn’t long until a quiet voice in my head said, “There He is.” God had shown up in the darkest of moments with both peace and joy. However, my father had a lot to do with that as well, because he lived a life worth celebrating.
Within the next few days I was sitting on the front row at the funeral home listening to one person after another walk up and talk about my father. The day had arrived, that day a person begins to fully realize what the world looks like without his father in it. However, I was also learning that we had a much better world, because my father had been in it. Let me share a very powerful lesson that I learned that day.
You have heard it said hundreds of times, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” And that statement is not true at all. People absolutely remember what you did…what you did for them. If you lived a life focused on yourself then they won’t remember anything you did unless you cured a disease. It is correct in that people don’t forget how you made them feel, but they don’t remember a damn thing you did with selfish intentions.
My father died a millionaire, had been a bank president, and a very successful business owner. None of those things were mentioned during the funeral. Not one person walked up to me after the funeral and said, “Man your dad made a lot of money.” Not one person walked up to me and said, “I bet you were proud of your fathers success?” They told stories about what he had done for them. They let me know that my father helped them in difficult times. Many simply said, “Your father was a good man.”
When I think about my father I don’t think about his titles or bank accounts. I think about him getting down on his knees next to my bed each night and praying over me. I think about seeing him in the stands cheering for me as I struck out nearly every time I was up to bat. I think about him coming home late from work exhausted, and then spending two hours helping me with my homework. I think about watching him sell someone’s home for a zero commission, because he knew they were divorcing and struggling financially.
What do you want to be known for? What do you want people to remember? What do you hope people will say at your funeral? After that day I realized the greatest thing that can be said about me is, “He was a great father, and a very good man.”
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