Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Remembering Dad

September 6, 2016.  I was at a friends house, having a regular old playdate.  My mom had been texting me about our upcoming visit in Charleston.  Suddenly she requested that I call her, but not while driving as I usually do.  “Oh gosh, what does she want to yell at me for?”

“Your dad died.” That’s it.  3 words.  Words I've sadly heard before, that rocked my world once again, and profoundly.  Words that changed my life.  Heart attack.  What? He was the embodiment of good health.  Ate vegetables, and steamed fish, and exercised every day.  But still the Big Guy Upstairs (as my dad liked to call God) decided that was his time, and called him home.  

Through a whirlwind of travel arrangements and planning and events and memorials, we got together as a family and remembered Dad together.  Then we all went back home and tried to live this new, emptier life.  It's been a year.  A year of grieving, and forgetting to grieve, and then grieving again.  A year of realizing that family is so important, and holding those we love close.  I’ve probably seen my little brother more since that day last September than I had in the years since we both left Wisconsin.  Because that’s what you do.  You cling to those who matter.  

So in all that grieving, there’s been a lot of remembering.  Eulogies are kind of cruel, I’ve decided.  You try to sit down and write a meaningful piece about a person you loved, and deliver it to a crowd of people who also loved him.  And you do this in the midst of a horrible numbness that doesn’t let you breathe, much less think clearly and eloquently.  So today, I’d like to present you with a new eulogy of Jeff Brostowitz, Dad, Papa, Bapa, Coach, friend.  Please share with all who knew him.  

Let’s start with this one.  My dad helped us to be cool.  Maybe not actually, but he taught us to love traveling (by car, of course), and to love learning through experiences.  I have lots of great memories of family vacations.  Waking up at the crack of dawn to some ridiculously chipper song being sung by a characteristically chipper dad.  Seriously, I don’t think he ever slept.  Mornings were his time.  I loved the feeling of being the only one awake in the car, on the road with just the truckers, listening to The Who or some other awesome classic rock tape.  Those are experiences that stuck with me.

Next.  We are a family that does stuff together.  We do life events.  Special occasions.  Concerts, and sporting events and graduations.  I just love knowing that my dad was proud of my brother and me for all we accomplished.  

When I asked my dad to walk me down the aisle at my wedding, he was so touched.  You see, my dad wasn’t my first dad.  He was my Papa, my stepdad, since I was a baby.  There were times in my life that I treated him like a step-parent, withholding love and respect.  But through it all he never thought of me as any less than a daughter.  When my biological dad died when I was in 5th grade, he was there by my side.  There’s a country song by Brad Paisley called The Dad He Didn’t Have To Be.  Go ahead and listen.  Grab your tissues.  That’s my dad.  

I don’t generally like visitors in the hospital after I give birth.  But guess what.  When people matter, they’re there.  And my dad was there after the birth of his first grand daughter.  He loved my little girl, and she loved him.  Clara is the one who combined Grandpa and Papa to create his nickname Bapa.  

Clara wasn’t always a happy baby, so it was pretty hard to get a good photo of her with anyone.  

Usually they looked like this.  What is she wearing?  That is a hunting snowsuit selected just for her by her Bapa.  Clara quickly got used to creatures from the houtdoors being inside, and hopefully developed an early love for camouflage.  Really though, this picture symbolizes the love of nature and the outdoors that my dad imparted upon my brother and me.  He taught me to love the woods, and to hike safely, always with a compass.  Run sensibly, always change out of sweaty clothes so you don’t get a chill.  Hunters don’t catch deer, they shoot them.  Wear orange during hunting season.  Respect nature, and those who were on the land well before we were.  Solid life lessons.

I know my dad was sad when we decided to leave Wisconsin for greener pastures in Virginia.  This was one final outing with his grandbaby before seeing us off at the airport the next day.  Those last few months before we left where just emblematic of the servant heart that my dad had.  He was over all the time while Paul was already in Richmond, helping with yard work and getting my house ready to sell.  Even after we left, there he was emptying out the deep freezer (an awesome Christmas gift from him), and making sure the house was in order while we waited patiently for it to sell.  

And there he was immediately after William Jeffrey was born.  He needed to be one of the first to see that second grandbaby, especially one named after him.  This particular photo shows lovely winter weather in the South.  The following year, however, he trekked out for William’s birthday through one of the biggest blizzards Virginians had ever seen.  

This photo was taken just a few months before he was taken from us.  I am so glad that I was able to make the trip that June with just me and the kids, and to spend some really good quality time just sitting and resting and beeing.  Because that’s probably my favorite memory of my dad.  The quiet.  Sitting at the table, or in the den, or at Grandma B’s.  We would talk about work, and current events, and exercise, or whatever.  But talking wasn’t always necessary.  Quiet was ok.  And that’s the biggest lesson my dad taught me.  Its ok to just be with the people you love, and enjoy them for exactly who they are.  

I miss you Papa. Thank you for being you.