Friday was the 18th anniversary of my dad’s death. I miss him every day, and just as significant, I miss the world I knew that was molded by the likes of him and fellow members of “the greatest generation.”
April 27, 2000, after midnight and before dawn, I got the expected phone call, saying Dad was gone.
For five weeks Dad had lingered at Brownwood Regional Medical Center. I don’t think we imagined he would get better and be healed on earth, but I don’t think we’d allowed ourselves to envision the world without him.
Traditional newspaper style is to write “died” in an obituary, not “passed away” or any other euphemism. I wrote my father’s obituary and stayed true to my training.
According to the obit, Dad – Bill C. Cooksey – “died” but I believe, like the Vince Gill recording we had played at the gravesite suggests, he must have gone “to heaven a shoutin’.”
The wonderful song lyrics fit Dad’s life. His work on earth was done and since I can’t envision what heaven is really like, how wonderful it must be, I take comfort in imagining Dad as a younger, pain-free and strong-again man not burdened with earthly responsibilities – resting high on that mountain.
And he did love mountains. When we moved to Sanderson from Central Texas, he affectionately called the rough, rugged West Texas hills, “Marlboro country.”
A lot’s happened these last 18 years. Sitting in the school counselor’s office with my 17-year-old granddaughter on Wednesday, I found myself channeling a lot of what “Dad would say” almost as if he were but a phone call away. But he never met his great granddaughter. How could he have been gone so long?
What I wouldn’t give, I think, to hear him say one more time, “It’s OK, Cane. Everything’s going to be alright.”
“And what have we learned from this?” Dad always asked when something failed to go as planned or wasn’t planned very well in the first place. Lessons ranged from what not to do next time, to what to avoid in the first place. More importantly, we learned, I think, to stand up, stand proud, dust ourselves off, check our bitterness and, as he would say, “keep on keepin’ on.”
I believe Dad would be pleased at how many good-life things have filled our lives, at how we’ve let experience teach us. He would be very proud of how we coped and regrouped in the face of crisis.
Cry if you need to, but then dry the tears and laugh again. Laughter helps the healing along.
“Give it time,” he coached.
What did I learn from my dad? Patience, I think. Resolve and determination, I believe. His one day at a time and cross that bridge when you get to it mantras still resonate.
Dad’s life set a sterling example of living with faith and calmness in spite of the storm, because having faith lets you have calmness – and gives you strength – no matter how rough the storm winds blow.
“Don’t worry, pray,” was his good advice. “You can’t do both at the same time.”
I learned to love a good story, and how to find the North Star and Big Dipper; to pray every day; start where you are and do what you can. Oh and this: All good things come with effort. Most things improve with practice.
By Dad’s example, I know having a flashlight with batteries and candles with matches, a can of sardines and a package of saltine crackers will generally get you through the storm. Stay in for the duration. If you get caught in the storm though, don’t ever drive through water washing over the road.
His greatest example was to be giving and forgiving. Let others make their own mistakes, but don’t feed them their regrets for supper. Be kind.
My greatest lesson, perhaps, is to do whatever I do the best I can the best way I know how. And enjoy the process.
Lots of days, I’m sure, my best is not enough; but I believe Dad would be proud. The bottom line and dearest memory of my father is that he nearly always was proud of us, he was always there to be proud and he let us know that he was.
Dad’s last years were pain-filled. He suffered so much, but he never complained. I find great comfort in imagining him resting in peace high on that mountain. I miss him still.
I always will.
Editor’s note: Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.