Just to make sure readers don’t jump to conclusions upon reading two memorial essays side-by-side: no, my parents did not die within a week of each other, but seven years apart. I decided it would be appropriate and right to include this memorial essay for my father as a companion piece to the one I wrote for my mom. I had not published it here before, in large part because I wrote it almost a year before I started blogging, but perhaps also because I knew there would come a day not so far into the future when I would write one for Mother as well, and that there might be an occasion to publish both of them together.
It’s a profound thing to find yourself at some stage in your life without parents. I feel fortunate to have had them in my life for so long, but I think it’s true that losing your parents is difficult at any age. I suspected I would feel suddenly unmoored and alone, sourceless. I worried about losing touch with my brothers and my sister. I don’t feel that way, and I’m no longer worried. Even though it’s not always possible, I know that the declining health of parents has the capacity to bring families together, to act as a spark toward stronger family cohesion. That’s what happened for us and I’m confident that our newly discovered cohesion will continue. And the deaths of our parents can also be an inspiration to reflect more deeply than ever about our source, our origins, our histories. As it turns out, what I ended up saying about both my mother and my father in their respective eulogies is that their deaths on this earth, the ending of their corporeal form does not even begin to finish or complete their work in our lives. They are with us, now and always. And these two essays, one for Mama Shirley and this one for Papa Glen, have helped me to realize that fact and to proclaim it.
So I offer up the following remembrance, written and spoken in October of 2010, as a celebration of my father’s life alongside my mother’s, as a window into the life of my family for whoever might be interested, and as a comfort, perhaps, for people in grief for a lost father.
Dad: a eulogy for Louis Glen Jarmer
Delivered Saturday, October 23, 2010 at St. John the Baptist’s Catholic Church
First of all I’d like to say what an honor it is to have been asked by my family to speak at this service. It is truly an honor. As ludicrous as it is to sum up a life, to describe a man in less than ten minutes, here is my best shot, out of my own head, but with a little help from my friends, at a description of Dad, a portrait of Louis Glen Jarmer.
He was a tolerant man.
He put up with 10 plus years of my drumming—it must have been bad drumming at first, and even when it wasn’t bad—it was always loud—one or two rooms away. He never told me to stop playing.
He was supportive.
He came to all of my school plays and concerts once he was retired. He didn’t make it to as many of Rick’s football games while he was working—but Rick remembers one in particular where Dad’s unflinching support for his son was evidenced by a wager with Uncle Jerry for a bottle of Scotch.
More recently, Dad’s support for Rick was demonstrated by an enthusiastic greeting at the airport as Rick and Laurie welcomed two lovely Russian children into the family.
And many, many years ago, he took a week off work to stay with Jan when Tim, her third child, was born.
Dad was generous and thoughtful.
Rick remembers as a kid being able to rummage through Dad’s lunch bag for goodies at the end of his work day.
She was in the 7th grade, and Dad surprised Jan with a beautiful aqua dress, nylons and patent leather shoes for her confirmation ceremony, apparently after Mom had said no.
Dad brought home fancy Valentine’s Day Gifts from See’s Candy downtown. And the Easter baskets, hidden in one of four closets in the house, were legendary—not the hiding, but the baskets.
He let me order records from his record club—the first records in my collection, the ones I hadn’t stolen from my brothers and sister, were gifts from Dad.
He volunteered countless hours at Providence Hospital—was, in fact, for a time, the President of the Ladies Auxiliary! He also spent countless hours volunteering, with Mom, for this church—collecting money, countless hours counting money—I don’t think he took any of it.
He was honest
To a fault, he was honest. Wouldn’t let himself shortchange anybody a nickel—would probably drive back to the store if he realized he had accidentally taken such advantage—he never took advantage.
He was just.
I have not a single memory of being treated unfairly by my father—not even in that mistaken sense that children sometimes have about the discipline or judgment meted out by parents. I never felt slighted by the man in the least bit. Even when things were tough in my life and I was making poor decisions, his reactions were measured and thoughtful. He spanked me once and I think I deserved it.
And my brother Rick recalls being fired for being drunk on the job and Dad having to come pick him up—the consequences spoke for themselves: Dad didn’t say a word. No criticism. No judgment.
He was adventurous
In his 70’s, no less, camping with Dave and Tina, Cecil and Marion and their family, the report is that he went on a kind of unsupervised joyride on Dave’s ATV. He had the time of his life, apparently, but it made Dave and Tina so nervous they had to ban him from the vehicle for the rest of his days unless he had proper supervision.
He was a trickster: the first time he played chess with me—he said he didn’t know how to play—let me teach him the game, and then proceeded to kick my ass.
Glen Jarmer was a sober man—meaning he was very serious. Stoic, we say about this kind of man. Never complained. Was pretty tight-lipped. Not very emotional. Not a sentimental man—although I found once a love poem to mom in a hope chest. Outside of these occasional bursts of feeling, yes, indeed, he was a sober man, except when he wasn’t.
He was a good drinker: To my knowledge he never got sick and he always drank responsibly. And he was funny and lively and silly—and this is not a pro-drinking eulogy—I know there are some young people in the church today—but I have to say that we saw in Dad, on a couple of Martinis, endearing and positive traits that his normal inhibitions prevented us from seeing on a day-to-day basis. So we got to know him a little better: Dad with a drink in his hand was a man that you wanted to be with—just as Dad without a drink in his hand was a man you wanted to be with.
He was a learner. I think he did much more than look at the pictures in National Geographic—and just a few years ago, he tackled five or six hundred pages of a book by Bill Bryson called A Short History of Nearly Everything—a kind of crash course in every field of science known to man. Dad was curious. He wanted to know things.
Louis Glen Jarmer was loyal—to wife, to children, to friends, to right-action, and to church. I think maybe this last year was the first year in his life he missed a mass. He was loyal to the Corp of Engineers—but that must not have been as important to him—to this day, none of us can really say what it was Dad did for a living!
What have I forgotten? It’s so important not to forget anything.
Here are some things that he loved. He loved the night sky. And he loved the moon, in fact he claimed it as his own. Routinely, family members would say either, there’s “Daddy’s moon” or there’s “Glenny’s moon” in reference to it, especially when it was in the full.
He loved candy.
He loved good food. And he loved to cook—I have more memories of my dad in the kitchen than in any other room of the house.
He loved his home. He did not want to leave it.
He loved his country. He served it honorably, twice. He wasn’t out there waving flags—his patriotism was quiet and purposeful; he cared deeply about what happened in the United States of America and he took his responsibilities as a citizen very seriously.
He loved nature. He loved the natural world, mountains, trees, the desert, the ocean. He loved to hunt; thankfully, he only killed a couple of things. He loved animals—the majestic, beautiful, strange, dangerous ones—interestingly enough he was never really fond of household pets—but tolerated them for the sake of his family and maybe showed some affection from time to time, when no one was looking, for a dog or a cat.
He loved to camp and taught all of his children this. I bought an Airstream, because it’s an Airstream, but mostly because I wanted to share with my son what Daddy shared with me: his love of the outdoors and his love of camping.
And he loved us. As far as I can tell, his last words in this life, before going into surgery the last time to repair that havoc in his body, were “I love you guys,” and then later, when it was becoming clear to all of us that he would not be getting better this time, he said “I love you” to Mom. His last words—maybe his last coherent thoughts: an expression of love.
I knew him imperfectly, I know. And I knew him differently than my brothers and my sister and my mother and all of you knew him. I wish I could have known him better and in all of the ways that we know him collectively—and I wish I could have said thank you. Thank you for being such a great father. I love him. And I miss him already. But he is always here. He is not gone, really. Every time I look in the mirror, or in the faces of my family or in the face of my son, I will see him.
Dad chose to die on a beautiful day; it was sunny and warm on that day. Dad chose kind of a yucky day for his funeral. I think there’s something to that.
I want to close with a poem by Mary Oliver that expresses in the finest way that I have ever seen what I hope my father may have felt about dying, and what I would hope all of us feel about it, when our time comes.
When Death Comes
When death comes
like the hungry bear in Autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measel-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
Louis Glen Jarmer was no mere visitor to this world. He really lived here. His legacy is lasting and positive. He changed the world in his way. We are forever grateful for the gift of his life.