My worst fears came true: my sweet, kind gentleman of a Dad died on Friday, July 17.
I have so many thoughts and feelings on this sad time, but need a little time to pull myself together and get my life back in order. Dad spent most of the last five weeks of his life in a Philadelphia hospital so much of my non-family life has been on hold. And I wouldn't change a thing (except, of course, if I could strike a deal to have Dad back and healthy).
For the time being, here's a pic of my father that I love, as well as the text of the eulogy I gave for him at his funeral today.
Last year, my friend Katie found herself in a Scranton hospital, far from any of her friends or relatives. I was traveling somewhere on business and unable to help or visit her, and my mom was also out of town. In passing, I told Dad about Katie’s predicament. Not long after, Dad figured out which hospital she was in and visited. Keep in mind that they had never met. But it’s just the type of kindness Dad was known for. His heart was so big.
As some of you know, Dad suffered from a terrible, incurable condition called pulmonary hypertension with right heart failure. His doctors, particularly Dr. Paul Forfia of Temple University Hospital, worked so hard to keep him not just alive, but living. My mother was an absolute warrior, frequently getting Dad to Philadelphia for the interventions that kept Dad’s heart and lungs functioning.
Eventually Dad’s body stopped tolerating the various medications and we realized that we were going to lose our sweet, wonderful guy far too soon.
While the days leading up to my father’s death were terribly sad, they did give us a chance to reminisce.
Mom, Dad and I recalled our wonderful annual trips to Nags Head where he taught me how to fish, even if he never did persuade me to bait the hook.
At one point, I teased him about how it usually took him longer than Mom and me to get ready to go places, mostly due to his need to get his gorgeous hair just so and to pick the perfect tie.
Dad looked me in the eye and said “you never gave us any trouble at all.” I was touched, but couldn’t help but laugh, reminding him of the time I broke curfew in a BIG way right after I got my driver’s license.
“Almost never,” Dad added.
Four months ago, I had the honor of speaking at the annual gathering of Scranton’s Society of Irish Women—in spite of not being Irish, I should add.
Both of my parents were really proud—but it was Dad who went the extra mile, having a pin made that announced he was “Jen Keene’s Dad.” He wore it throughout the event and told anyone who would listen “that’s my daughter!”
After my speech, Dad, with his beautiful blue eyes twinkling, asked me, “Where did you come from?”
I told him the truth: “I got the very best from you and Mom. You gave me everything I needed to face this big world and for this life.” And it was true.
While my parents and I had lots of wonderful adventures together, some of the simpler times have become the memories that will sustain me: lunches with Dad when I had a half day at school, conversations with Dad as he drove me to ballet class after school, and hearing him whisper “go ahead” as he courteously waved a driver in front of him at a tricky intersection.
My dad thought of himself as a simple man. I did not. He was humble in spite of many talents. Dad was an expert marksman, and a skilled craftsman with a variety of materials. In his sixties, Dad decided he would like to shoot a bow and arrow, and ultimately did so competitively. Had reality television become a “thing” earlier in his life, I told Dad he surely would have hosted a show about the outdoors and wildlife called “Nature Dave.”
Even in his final days, Dad’s magical way of connecting with others was evident. He dusted off his Polish language skills to converse with an ultrasound technician, and impressed a Korean-born nurse with the vocabulary he picked up while stationed there in the Army. Keep in mind that Dad had virtually no opportunity to speak either of these languages for more than forty years.
And of course, Dad used his last days to make sure Mom and I knew how much he loved us.
In closing, Mom, thank you for choosing such a kind, gentle man to be your husband and my father. Because of Dad, I’ll always find beauty in nature, feel delight upon spotting a bright red cardinal and be quick to love and encourage others.