In honor of my dad
This feels so very weird. This is my first year without Dad.
My dad, Lloyd Thompson died on August 27, 2011, almost 4 months ago at the time I am writing this. He was 82 years old, and had been diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years earlier. They caught it early, he was treated, and everything was fine! Or so we thought...
One evening at a restaurant, his wife Lisa noticed he was having some difficulty standing up - when she asked him about it, he told her he was experiencing back pain. "How long has your back been hurting?" she asked. "A few weeks", was his reply. Mr. Stoic didn't want to admit he actually felt pain. Lisa’s reaction was to take him promptly to the doctor, who sent him for a bone scan. The scan revealed a cancerous spot on one vertebrae - the prostate cancer had metastasized.
They treated the cancer with radiation. Not surprisingly, the radiation knocked the 81-year old down but good, making him extremely weak. On top of that the pain meds made him nauseous and constipated. Oh, the joys of modern medicine. One good thing, the radiation took his arthritis pain away.
Dad was born May 4, 1929 Lloyd Theodore Thompson, Jr. to Lloyd Theodore Thompson, Sr. and Marguerite Dolly Webber Thompson in Lubbock, Texas. Grandma always called him "Son"; my uncle, his brother, William "Pete" Thompson always called him "Brother". I don't know much about my aunts, his three sisters Betty Weed, Luna Box or Patsy McDonald; Patsy is the only remaining sibling. One fact that I know is that when he was in junior high school, he met Lowel Caddel and they remained best friends for the rest of his life.
He graduated from Lubbock High School (Uncle Pete was in the same grade as, and graduated with Buddy Holly; their photos are in the same pages in the Westerner yearbook from ~1947). A story Dad told me a few times was that when they were children, he was always annoyed that Uncle Pete followed him and his friends around, and once tackled him down on the ground, removed his pants and threw them into a tree. Not very nice, Dad. Apparently they became much closer in later years; I found a note from Uncle Pete that, in part, credited Dad with influencing him for God.
He told me quite a long time ago that he was in Golden Gloves (boxing club). Dad loved his mother very much and was a devoted son. I am not certain what his relationship with his father was like. I asked him directly some time before he died about his dad, he seemed proud that his dad owned a dry cleaning business in Lubbock, but I'm not certain if they were close or not. He told me his dad was from Paris, Texas, and that he and Lisa traveled there to get birth records from the county seat, but were told the court house had burned down at some point (website records show it burned down in 1916), taking every vital statistics record with it.
He was close to Aunt Mary Donet of Grant's Pass, Oregon, and visited her many times with Lisa before dementia overtook her and she no longer recognized him (she is still alive at this writing). I have a knotty board she painted with barbershop quartet characters each using a knothole as their mouth, Dad had this hanging on his wall in his living room for quite some time.
As far back as I can remember Dad was involved with music, from church choir to barbershop chorus and barbershop quartet. He was once in a school production of "The King and I" with Jo Susan and also in a few productions of “The Music Man” with the barbershop quartet, either New Dimension or the quartet before that. He introduced me to the St. Luke's Boy's Choir - my first experience with singing; Dad was in the Chancel choir at the time. I was embarrassed to sing out loud in front of other people, but then realized Dan Blackstock, who sat next to me, was OK with it. I got over it. A few memories I have are Christmas caroling at an assisted living center with the boy’s choir, and selling fruit cake to raise funds so the boy's choir could have new hymnals. Dad also introduced me to the Singing Plainsmen, the barbershop chorus he was a member of. I tried out and was accepted. I left the chorus later when I became too cool for it (and also realized I would probably not pick up too many girls with that association).
He always surprised me with the types of music he appreciated. I was always very proud to hear my dad singing in front of other people; I knew he was good from the many, many compliments I heard him receive from many people. One time Marilyn and I were travelling through Lubbock with friends Bob and Michele Landis on our way to Carlsbad Caverns and stayed overnight with Dad - Dad decided to wake everyone up with 'The Nylons' album turned up loud. He thought it was funny. Fortunately, so did they.
I was in Redmond, WA. when Dad called and announced that he and Lisa would marry. After I heard the news, a song popped into my head while driving around Seattle - a wedding song. I drove madly back to the hotel and wrote it down before I could forget it! After I returned to Texas, I finished the song and recorded it with the help of Laurie Hinkle (former co-member of Advent), and sang it at the wedding. The sheet music says "Sing it mournfully, because Lloyd's finally been hooked!"
OTHER CHILDHOOD MEMORIES
- Running away from home when I was about 5 years old. Dad and I were in his car, headed home and I saw Batman and Robin dancing (to the "Batman" theme song, of course!) on top of a collapsed pop-up camping trailer at a local gas station, and I wanted to see Batman! One of Dad's friends saw me walking next to 4th street (a very busy highway) and got me, Dad happened to be at a business establishment across the street. (I met Batman, Adam West, in person years later at a COMICON convention in Plano, TX. and told him the whole story. I'm sure he was fascinated!)
- I ran away from home one other time. I don't remember being mad at anybody or anything - I just wanted to go places, I guess... After I was found and brought back home, I remember seeing Dad cutting a switch from the willow tree in the back yard through the window in my bedroom and getting a whipping. I didn't run away from home after that. I think.
- I remember getting into the car and driving to a hotel where we saw Mom. I was too young to understand what was happening. I remember hearing "She" by The Monkees and "Aquarius" by the Fifth Dimension playing on the car radio on the way. Funny the things that stick in your mind.
- I remember Dad cooking a few sunrise breakfasts at Buffalo Lakes.
- I still have a memory of Dad putting what they used to call 'angel hair' on the top of our Christmas tree ("angel hair" was basically spun fiberglass, a popular Christmas tree adornment back then, not sure why Dad was at our house doing this since he and Mom were almost certainly divorced at the time). We used to drive around to look at Christmas lights on other people's homes, and he led us singing Christmas carols in the car while we did so.
- We went camping at White River Lake once over a weekend. As we fished around a bait bag we found hanging off a dead tree in the middle of the lake during the daytime, I remember Dad asking me what I thought of him proposing to Francis Higdon (the St. Luke’s boy’s choir mother). Camping at night in a 2-man pup tent; we heard coyotes howling.
- Dad and I in a paddle boat at Buffalo Lakes, and getting our picture in the Avalanche-Journal newspaper.
- Julie accidentally slicing open her wrist with one of mom's wax carving tools, me calling Dad, Dad rushing over to get Julie to the emergency room, both of us trying to keep her calm even though it hurt.
- Dad telling me about one of his friends that had premarital sex, calling him to ask for prayers because 'it broke'.
- Helping Dad and Mr. Phil Higginbotham ("Mr. H.", the choir director for St. Luke’s UMC) to build his cabin in Timberon, New Mexico. While watching Dad drill holes one night in the wall studs to run electricity, I turned and saw a large great horned owl perched on the outside porch, watching us.
"Dad", I said excitedly, "look at that!"
Dad looked up, then went back to work. "Oh, that's Homer", he said.
"Yeah, he comes around once in a while to see us."
Homer flew away; we heard him hooting all night in the valley. The next morning I discovered Homer had left us a present, approximately in the same place where he had been the previous evening - a regurgitated animal of some sort he had eaten.
- Leaving home for a Boy Scout camping trip - Dad telling me, with emphasis "Be the solution and not the problem".
- Camping out at E.V. Spence Reservoir, hitting a fawn that ran across the road at night as we tried to find the camping place. Dad catching two large striped bass before we had to leave the next morning.
- Went to a place where we could shoot Dad's brand new .357 Magnum pistol. The guy in the next booth had a .44 Magnum cannon. Neither of us had hearing protection and our ears rang for days, but it was fun shooting. And we actually hit our targets too.
We used to go to Dad's house on Christmas Eve to open presents. One year he thought it would be fun to have an old-fashioned Christmas. So we decorated the tree with popcorn and cranberries, made paper ornaments, wrapped gifts in newsprint instead of wrapping paper. Interesting. Different.
- Dad giving me an envelope before I left to go into the Air Force - inside was a letter telling me that I was a man now and to be sure to act like one. Found it!
- Dad giving me a little book about how to treat your wife, just before I got married. Trying to find this one too.
FUNNY MEMORIES - DAD AND UNCLE PETE
Marilyn and I went to Colorado before Shawn was born to spend a week with the rest of the family at Lemmon Lodge in Grand Lake. Dad met us in Denver, we spent the night with Uncle Pete at his apartment; no furniture to speak of (moving out?), Dad, Marilyn and I slept on the living room floor.
- A funny memory from that time goes like this:
Late that night, about 11:30PM, some young adults decided it was time to play basketball in the courtyard below Uncle Pete's apartment balcony, which naturally woke the rest of us up. Uncle Pete stepped out onto the balcony and asked them to shut off the light and stop playing basketball, since it was so late. The two told Uncle Pete they would play basketball if they felt like it. Uncle Pete: "Listen, you little assholes, you'd better stop right now and shut off the light before I call the cops!" The two began to "smart back" at Uncle Pete when Dad and I got up and stepped onto the balcony with Uncle Pete, who was quite upset. Seeing all three of us on the balcony, the two young men thought better of things and left.
- Another funny memory from the same time period:
In Grand Lake, CO. Marilyn and I actually camped out in the woods in our tent since there wasn't enough room for everyone to stay in the cabin. The first morning we broke camp and went to the cabin where everyone else was staying at Lemmon Lodge to meet for breakfast. I greeted Dad and Aunt Betty, who was making cheesy omelets on the stove, and we sat down at the table. Uncle Pete walked in from the bedroom, and said, "Good morning Brother."
"Good morning", Dad said, "how'd you sleep?"
"Well", Uncle Pete said, "I would have slept better if you hadn't snored all night."
Dad gave him the 'Lloyd' look. "I" he proclaimed, "do not snore. YOU snore!"
Uncle Pete: "I don't snore."
Dad: "Oh yes you do!" And with that, he pulled out a voice recorder and punched Play. We all laughed at the sounds of snoring.
Uncle Pete: "Oh yeah?" And then HE pulled out his own voice recorder and punched Play. More snoring! Rolling-on-the-floor laughter! They had both been up at different times during the night and recorded the other snoring without knowing it! Two of a kind.
- DON HARAGAN'S MOTHER
Normally, I wouldn't talk about someone's mother, but this is pretty funny, and I don't think Don would mind! (He has since told me he didn't mind)
Dad had a party (birthday?) at his house one time, when Shawn, Daniel and Matthew were very young. To give you an idea, I'd say Shawn, my oldest child was about 7 years old. Dad took me aside, and warned me that Don Haragan's mother, (nicknamed 'Shorty') would be coming to the party, and that she was very old, in her 90's. I needed to make certain that the boys would be very quiet since small, noisy children would be very upsetting to her.
I played my part conscientiously, and repeated to my young children what Dad had said, and asked for their cooperation and obedience. They all promised to be very quiet, and I had no doubt they would be - they were good kids.
A little while later, the party guests began to arrive. People were talking, having a little wine to drink, generally being sociable. I saw Don walk in the front door to be greeted by Dad, so I knew Shorty couldn't be far behind. I gave my children 'the look' that said 'Remember what we talked about…' About that time a short, elderly woman that I knew must be Shorty walked in the front door. With youthful vigor and in the loudest possible voice, she said "HELLO LLOYD! WHERE'S MY DRINK??" My dad glanced over at me; I caught his eye and gave him a questioning glare. ??! He just rolled his eyes and shrugged…
In 2009, Dad came to Arlington and stayed with us. He and I went to the Eiseman Center in Richardson to hear the Vocal Majority sing a Christmas program. We enjoyed the show very much together! Arthritis and swelling in his hands prevented him from clapping his appreciation. He wanted to meet (and did) the chorus director Jim Clancy, who he thinks is a musical genius. We ran into Mike Senter, who we sang with in the Singing Plainsmen in Lubbock waay back when and is now living somewhere in the Dallas area - he is a member of the VM now. Neither one of us recognized him.
Dad, Marilyn, Matt and I all went to the Walls Family Farm in Terrell to select, cut down and purchase a Christmas tree. So much fun! Then we returned to our house and decorated the tree while we ate snacks - our normal Christmas thing. Still a great time! Wish Lisa could have joined us.
The evening of Christmas Day, Lisa and Dad invited us to meet them and Jo Ann, and some of Lisa's extended family for Christmas dinner at the home of her aunt and uncle Kathy and Mark Phillips who live in Granbury. They were so very nice and gracious to us, even though we had only just met them! We were invited back for the next evening as well. The second evening Jo Ann had somehow obtained an electric keyboard, Dad and I sang a few special (rusty, lusty) duets for everyone - "White Christmas", "O Holy Night", "Joy To The World".
So Dad has metastasized prostate cancer. He is still recovering from the radiation treatments. He and Lisa put out the all-call - "Who wants to go on a cruise?" Heck yeah! Besides, the way things are going it might be the last significant time I get to spend with Dad. So we saved our pennies and went on the cruise and had a fantastic time. We went to Cozumel, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands. LOTS of pictures! We ate together with the rest of Lisa's family every night. Dad can't believe I like sushi. I laugh at him, and remind him that HE was the one who used to get ME down on the floor as a young child to try - brussel sprouts. Eww. ("I just wanted you to try it", he says, plaintively.) And now he's the one who doesn't like sushi? He and Lisa purchased a custom-made hand-painted glass hummingbird on Cozumel. We watched the uber big screen TV on the Carnival Conquest Lido deck some nights.
August 23, 2011 we got word that Marilyn's grandmother has passed away. Mommy Dot was 92. We made plans to leave for Omaha to attend the funeral. I remember calling to check on Dad and speaking to him on the phone; he asked me to give Marilyn his condolences and says he is sorry she is going through a difficult time. He sounds pretty weak.
WARNING – The next section are my detailed memories of the events leading up to Dad’s death plus audio (I had recorded my last moments with him alive plus his last words and the funeral services on my voice recorder), and are quite sad. You may want to skip this. I don’t want to forget a single detail. Yes, it's weird. I don't care. I did a few weird things I wouldn't normally ever do... If you choose to continue, I recommend a box of Kleenex...
MEMORIES OF DAD’S DEATH
I got a phone call at work a few days later - it's Elizabeth, the Lubbock hospice chaplain. "Lisa wanted me to call you", she explains. "There's no emergency, but I need to let you know there's been - a change. Your Dad's ankles are starting to turn color, and he's having other difficulties."
I took the hint, and let Marilyn know we need to travel to Omaha via Lubbock. The day we left for Lubbock it seems we can NEVER get out of town - Kroger wants to hang onto Marilyn and Matt until the very last second! Finally... Marilyn’s coworkers have sent two meat trays with her for the family. All the way to Lubbock, I receive anxious phone calls from both Libbe and from Lisa. "Where are you? Wish you were here right now - he's waiting for you." Not quite sure what they mean, but I realize it's nearing the last moments for Dad. I pray - not for safety on the highway, but for no cops so I can get there as fast as I can - "faster than my guardian angels can fly", as I tell them.
Audio - "Side By Side" / Dad’s last words
We finally arrived. Libbe, Mike and Tammy are there, Jo Anne shoos me into the master bedroom. There’s a crowd of people around the bed, Lisa is lying next to Dad, holding him, Libbe is sitting at his bedside, holding his hand. As I walked in, I started singing Side By Side, "Oh, we ain't got a barrel of money..." Lisa says Dad lit up when he heard me singing (I couldn't see his face for all the people). As I approached the bedside I'm in a little bit of shock - the last time I saw Dad a few weeks earlier, he was weak but getting around and doing relatively OK - now he is lying in bed and can't move much. His eyes are very watery; they wander and seem to have difficulty focusing. I finished singing the song, and then leaned over to hug him as best I can - he raises himself up as much as he can to hug me. "I love you", I say to him. "I love you", he whispers back, weakly.
They are the last words he will ever utter.
Libbe and Tammy have been lovingly caring for him non-stop, keeping him comfortable; his mouth has been very dry and they have special sponge swabs that moisten, plus they are giving him the pain meds. Their help also allows Lisa to spend precious remaining moments with her husband. He appears to drift off to a tired sleep. The hospice chaplain mentions that she has seen many situations such as this where someone who is dying waits until after a loved one's arrival or occurrence of an important moment or event before passing on. Everyone in the house agrees – he was waiting for me to come. This leaves me a little confused! I'm just one more of his children, no more or less important or loved than the rest - why would he wait especially for me?
Leah and Leslie are in town, two of Uncle Pete’s three daughters. We stand and sit around the bed, speaking to Dad even though he appears to be asleep (or unconscious), reminiscing, even laughing about some of the memories, trying not to appear sad - Libbe is not successful. Neither is Lisa. Not sure about me, either. Lisa took a ring off Dad's hand that he has worn forever, obviously a favorite piece of jewelry, and gives it to me. "Shouldn't we wait?" I asked, feeling very uncomfortable since Dad is lying here in front of me, very much alive. Lisa closes her eyes and shakes her head No.
The chaplain comes in and asks if we can all join hands to pray over Dad, giving everyone the opportunity to join if they want to. I pray for Dad, asking God forgiveness for Dad's sin and that Dad might boldly approach the throne. I am weeping openly.
We ask the hospice chaplain what we should do when the time comes - she says just call her and she will take care of the rest. Everyone starts turning in for the night, Libbe and Tammy and I agree to take shifts to watch over Dad. I'm staying up, but I haven't had much sleep this week to start with. We watch Dad's chest rise and fall; it seems so painful but I know that if he's conscious (and I don't think so) he's comfortable because of the pain meds they've been giving him. His ribs seem unnaturally cavernous and high above his stomach. I go to lie on the couch about 1:30 in the morning.
"WELCOME TO HEAVEN, MY CHILD"
I woke a few hours later to see my niece Tammy walking toward me from the bedroom - "I think he's gone", she says. It’s 5:10AM. Is it relief for him, at last? I jump up and go to the bedroom, hearing her get Libbe and Mike to tell them the same thing. As I approach Dad on the bed I can see his chest is no longer rising and falling, and he has a distinct gray color; his mouth hangs open and he is very still. Lisa is sobbing, hugging him, kissing his forehead and shoulder, but he is gone. I sit in the chair at his bedside and took his hand - he is still warm. I find myself stroking his arm and his forehead, his hair, not believing. Libbe has called the hospice chaplain; Marilyn, Matt and Tammy all come into the bedroom. Marilyn stands next to where I'm sitting, and I hold onto her. I look around the room, still not believing, then back at Dad. Then around the room. As I look around, I can feel the knot growing in my stomach. I still wonder why I'm not crying, not grieving - my Dad just died – what’s wrong with me? The knot continues to rise and grow, and finally bursts forth and explodes. I began sobbing, in a way I never thought I could or ever would. To me, I sound like I'm braying like a donkey but I can't help it. Grateful for Marilyn, I hold on to her hard as the world seems to fall on top of me. It seems like I will never stop sobbing.
The men from the mortuary arrive. They brought the gurney into the bedroom, but wait patiently while Lisa continues to mourn and kiss Dad's face and hands, his shoulder. I wonder if she'll ever let them take him, but wouldn't be surprised if she didn't. Finally she says 'OK', and they begin to put the gurney into position. There are only two of them; I find myself wanting - needing - to be an intimate partner in taking care of Dad's body. I help them wrap him in the bed sheet, lift him onto the gurney, adjust the body bag around him, zip it up (but not closed, not yet). I help them wheel Dad out to the van and put him inside. I have known this is coming for quite some time, but I don't believe it, not yet.
He is gone. We go to George's for breakfast, where Dad and Lisa have gone many times to meet up with some of Dads friends and eat & talk. We let some of the other patrons know that Dad has just passed away - lots of tears. I see Lowel Caddel; he is also crying and trying not to. We have breakfast and talk about Dad.
We have a meeting at the mortuary later today - the mortician's name is Loyd. Hmm. Lisa and Amy have picked out a casket, also a burial plot and vault liner. (Side note – Lowel had tried to get Dad to visit the Lubbock Cemetery with him to select a plot near where the rest of Lowel’s family is buried, but he had declined to go. I think he didn't want to accept the fact that he would not be much longer on this earth.) The casket has corner decorations: a bass being caught by a fisherman, a music scroll, cooking implements and golfing equipment. Inside, there is an embroidered fish being caught, and a memories tray. It's beautiful; he would have liked it a lot, I think. We also pick out announcements and when they should appear, Lisa decides we will bury Dad on September 2, 2011, their 16th wedding anniversary, only a few days off. Sounds fitting. Plus Marilyn and I will be able to get up to Omaha and bury her grandmother before we come back for Dad's funeral. The words "funeral" and "Dad" don't sound like they go together, in reference to my Dad.
I have been working on a eulogy since before I left Dallas, not sure if this would be his final moments or not - now I put the final touches on it, keeping it under wraps so no one will know what I plan to say before I say it; not sure why I feel I must do that. I am determined to speak at my father's funeral, words that let everyone know exactly what kind of a man he was and what he meant to me. Lisa works to put together the service for Dad, getting the songs that meant the most to her and Dad, setting the order. It’s a job. We’re all helping out.
At the viewing, I see Dad’s body lying in the casket; I haven’t seen him since I helped load him into the van a few days before. They have done a wonderful job! He looks like he is sleeping peacefully – the makeup and flesh-toned spotlights in the ceiling completely took away the gray color I had seen after he died. I greeted person after person – they all say "Sorry". I see some people I haven’t seen in, literally, years. We left to get some rest before the hard part starts.
Sitting at the funeral with my arm around my daughter-in-law Kaysey, I realize she is dabbing at her eyes a lot - her dad passed away when she was in junior high school. Marilyn sees it too, and passes her a Kleenex. I got up to speak, reading from the eulogy I have been preparing. Suddenly it’s hard to see the paper, and I hesitate over the words as I address Dad directly, his body lying in the casket right in front of me. My son Daniel jumps onto the stage to stand with me as I try my best to finish. Don Haragan, another of Dad’s closest friends gets up to speak after me; he comments that Dad would have been very proud of me. It feels good. Then Lisa’s niece Sidney reads a card she made for Dad.
Funeral is over. I had planned on helping to bear the casket into the hearse, but it's already done and I feel very disappointed. We got into the limousines that will take us to the cemetery. Libbe, Mike and Tammy are with me. As we go through town, I see car after car after car after CAR pulled over, some are outside their cars standing in honor, hands and hats over hearts. For my dad. Wow. Thank you, Lubbock; I love that. You wouldn't see this in Dallas. I can't see; back to sobbing as the reality of where we're going and what we'll be doing hits home, hard.
We arrive at the cemetery, and a bunch of pall bearers start getting into place. Umm, NO! I surged forward and took charge; Lowel, you're here; Don, you're there. Daniel, Shawn, Matt, there, there and there. I'm going to be here. As we take the casket to its final place, I'm a little worried that Lowel will drop it... it's pretty heavy, and he's 80-something years old. It's still the most appropriate that he have this position.
Going through a few things at Dad’s (Lisa’s?) house, Lisa says Dad mentioned I had wanted his Zane Grey books. Dad and I had spoken in the distant past, 'If I still have the boat, I'll pass it on to you', etc. I would laugh and tell him that I'm all set - don't really want a boat, don't need money, but I DO want your Zane Grey books! We'd laugh... We found the books in the garage; as I put them into a box to take home, I’m blubbering. Over books. But he had read them, touched them with his hands and he had lent them to me when I was in junior high and high school; they are extra special to me now.
We return to Arlington, keeping watch over our children as they drive the highway with us. In the next few days Daniel and Kaysey have to leave for Denver. I found a letter from Kaysey on the counter; in part, it said she didn't really want to have the death of both our fathers in common with me. If I need to talk, they are there. I feel very affectionate toward her.
So that’s pretty much it. His ring was too small for my finger, so I had it resized at a Ft. Worth jewelry shop that had master jewelers. I wear it every day now. I sang “The Revelation Song” in choir the Sunday following my return from Dad's funeral; as I did, I felt the hard roundness of his ring on my hand, and wondered if he was singing praises to God at that very moment. “Worthy is the, Lamb who was slain, holy, holy is He… (listen here) ” It was two services before I could finally sing the song.
I’m doing better. Except every now and again I have moments of disbelief when I want to call and share something I know he would appreciate or that he would find funny. And I keep expecting to see him when I walk into the house or the barn and see all the stuff he made. I’m sure that time will make it better. For right now, it hurts.