February 24, 2015 | My Jottings
Our daughter Sharon was one of the people, along with our son-in-law Jeremy, who gave Michael’s eulogy at his funeral on February 13th. I asked if I could share her words on the blog, and she graciously agreed. This is a rough draft that doesn’t have everything she said, but you will get the gist of it, and understand why she had us all laughing and crying. It was perfect.
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It took me about a week after they married to start calling him Dad, and I’ve never stopped.
I think I am the child who challenged my dad the most. I was one of those kids with a smart aleck comeback for everything, and that could be frustrating to deal with. My dad could say, “Sharon, give the dogs some food,” and I might reply, “Dad, dogs are a relatively recently domesticated species accustomed to hunting in packs and eating large meals only occasionally. So they don’t need me to feed them every morning, because their metabolism only requires that they eat weekly.”
But we’re really all here for a different reason. We’re here because all of you having a burning question you are hoping to get clarity on. You all got up this morning, put on your pants one leg at a time, peered at yourself in the bathroom mirror, and asked yourself, “Am I Michael Balmer?”
So I’ve devised a short test to help you determine the answer.
If you’ve ever emerged from your bedroom in the morning wearing your Jesus T-shirt and your underwear to mix a concoction of powdered wheat grass, vitamin supplements, and Ruby Red Grapefruit juice while singing the Hallelujah Chorus at the top of your lungs, you might be Michael Balmer.
If you did that every morning for 30 years, you have an even better chance of being Michael Balmer.
If you’ve ever woken up at 6:00 on a Saturday morning and thought to yourself, “I’m just going to rip a hole in that wall over there, and then I’m going to hang up this chirping bird clock that will keep you awake 24/7 with eagle screeching, and then I’m going to go to a garage sale and buy a snare drum,” you might be Michael Balmer.
If you’ve ever realized the night before a fishing opener that you don’t have any earthworms for bait, and you don’t want to pay $3 a dozen for worms at Chesney’s when you know darn good and well there are millions of them living in the yard, so you sprayed down your lawn with water an hour before sunset to entice worms to come to the surface, and you send your ten year old daughter out after dark with a flashlight to attempt to catch and imprison them in a Styrofoam container you keep in the refrigerator, you might be Michael Balmer.
If you sang on the worship team on this very stage for years, and you were so enthusiastic during the singing that George in the sound booth had to slowly turn your microphone to the off position so you didn’t damage the speakers, you might be Michael Balmer.
If you’ve been married for more than 30 years and you still lean over to your adult daughter to say, “Your mom? She looks GOOOOD,” or, “Your mom? She looks hot. Spicy hot.” you might be Michael Balmer.
If you’ve ever sat on a couch next to your best friend with a blanket over your head while your wives prepared a song and dance routine complete with karaoke backing tracks and handpainted walleye costumes, you might be Michael Balmer.
If you’ve ever had your life miraculously and inexplicably spared in Vietnam over and over again so you could return home and fulfill God’s plan for your life, you might be Michael Balmer.
If you’ve ever lost both of your parents to the reckless actions of another driver and found yourself face to face with him two weeks later saying, “I forgive you and God loves you,” and you meant it, you might be Michael Balmer.
If you saw the light in other people and acted as if that was the only thing you saw about them, you might be Michael Balmer.
I’ll be honest and say I’m 0/10, and am definitely not Michael Balmer.
Eulogies usually talk about all of the things someone taught you, and my dad did teach me a thing or two: work hard and don’t complain about it. Think positively. A joyful heart is the best medicine. Take pleasure in simple things. Forgive people when they least deserve it.
But I don’t really want to talk about all the lessons I learned from my dad.
I want to talk for a moment not just about my father’s life, but also his death.
My dad had a massive stroke that decimated half of his brain, rendering him unresponsive for three days. The doctors all said this kind of stroke is not painful, and he seemed quite comfortable despite his condition.
It wasn’t his first stroke. And it was complicated by ten years of Parkinson’s disease that was caused by Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam.
On the evening of the third day, some old friends came by to pray for him and to read him Scripture. Chuck said, “I’m going to read some scripture for you, Michael. I want to read you Psalm 91.”
And he began:
“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
He got about that far into the chapter, and the tiny hospital room full of people watched as my dad began to cry. Not just a few tears leaking out of the sides of his eyes, but what many people would consider a full on ugly cry, face contorted, sobbing.
Except to us, it was beautiful. We knew he could hear us, he understood us, that the essence of who he was was not contained in the left hemisphere of his brain.
For a little more than 24 hours, my dad was able to communicate with his tears, his grunts, his smiles, and his eyes. He smiled at the sound of my mom’s voice and at one of my jokes. He cried when he heard the names of friends and relatives. He cried when someone said, “Michael, look at how much your family loves you!”
We knew this 24 hours was temporary, and a gift.
He slipped into being unresponsive again, and we decided to honor his wishes and keep him comfortable, but not take heroic measures to save his life. We brought him home.
Our weekend at home with him was one we will never forget. It’s safe to say that none of us have ever been so present in our lives as we were then. We spent it talking to him, singing to him, rubbing him with essential oils, sharing our favorite memories of him, crying, laughing, never leaving his side.
His last day was filled with 10,000 I love you’s. With five daughters caressing his face whispering, “Daddy.” With the snuggles of grandchildren. With the prayers of friends. With my mom holding his hand, saying, “Michael, You’re going to meet Jesus soon. We’re here with you. We’re waiting with you, Michael.”
There was not one thing left unsaid.
My dad stopped breathing, and a moment later, exhaled one last time, as though his spirit left his body. In the dark, I saw my mom look up and wave to her love, now free of the heavy, broken down body that housed his soul for 65 years.
But it’s not goodbye. It’s see you soon.
The author C.S. Lewis wrote this in his book The Last Battle: “All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
It’s not the closing of the book. It’s the turning of the page. It’s not goodbye. It’s see you soon.
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