Sunday, April 29, 2012

Goodbye, Dad

For the past week on the phone, via email, in condolence cards, and in person at the memorial visitation and funeral service people have been telling me what an amazing man my dad was. He really, really was. I understand the tendency for girls to idolize their fathers, and of people to canonize the recently departed, but my eyes are at least partway open; I recognize at least some of my dad's flaws and shortcomings.

But he touched so many people so deeply in so many ways; he really was something very special. My dad was wise and compassionate and competent. He had a way of being that was just so . . . spirit-filled and mature and welcoming.

I will miss my father unbearably. I already do. But even worse, for me, is the knowledge that my young children and my nieces and nephew will have only vague (if any) memories of their grandfather. They all have wonderful fathers, but my dad was a unique model for a way to be a man. I wish they all had him around both personally and as a role model as they grow to adulthood and decide both who they want to be and the people with whom they choose to surround themselves.

Below are some thoughts I shared at the luncheon following the funeral, and following the break are his obituary and a bulletin insert that goes into a bit more detail about his life.

For a long ago funeral, my father wrote,We are created for life together and we know ourselves as we are known. It is in relationship that we become more than creature – where we become person.
A big part of the way I have always defined myself is as my father’s daughter: Ted’s daughter, the preacher’s daughter, the daughter of the man who meant so much to so many people.

I don’t know how to contain this. I don’t know how to process it. And it occurs to me that I’d like to call my dad to talk to him about this painful experience I’m going through.

My dad was a compassionate man. And he was so very wise. He was also competent and interesting and funny and sometimes painfully embarrassing.

When my sisters and I were teenagers and boys started calling, he’d sit in his recliner with the phone on his stomach, his finger on the “answer” button. He had incredibly fast reaction time. As soon as the phone started to ring he’d hit the button, whip the phone up to his ear, and bellow, “HELLO” in his preacher voice.  I can’t imagine having a better dad. In fact, I’ve never met anyone like my father.

If you’ve ever been to a wedding or a funeral at which my dad officiated, you know that he had the gift of making each ceremony special and unique. And whenever dad baptized a baby, the baby never cried. They just relaxed and stared up at him, mesmerized and comfortable.
Dad projected a sense that: No matter what you tell him, you will not shock him. No matter what you tell him, he will not judge you. No matter what you tell him, he will hold your problems in his heart. And you will not be alone.

Details:

My dad spent a week at a conference at Ghost Ranch, a Presbyterian retreat center in New Mexico. We went to Ghost Ranch as a family when my sisters and I were young, and hoped to go back again one day as a family reunion. By all accounts, my dad had a wonderful week. 

Last Sunday, he boarded a plane for the return flight from Albuquerque to Chicago: headed home. He sat across the aisle from a minister friend and colleague, and they were laughing as chatting as the plane taxied to the runway. My dad's head tipped back and he began to snore. His friend hit him and called his name. He did not respond. 

The young woman sitting on the other side of my father asked if he suffered from a seizure disorder then unbuckled herself, jumped into his lap, felt for a pulse, and began chest compressions. (She was a medical resident.) There was a defibrillator on-board the aircraft. The plane returned to the gate, where it was met by medics who worked on my dad for 40 minutes. He never regained consciousness. It was fast, it was probably painless, and it will always be a mystery. (My dad was overweight and 68 but was otherwise in good health with no personal or family history of heart problems. It might very well have been a sudden, catastrophic heart attack that killed him, but we'll never know for sure.) The whole time the medics worked on him, my dad's friend held his hand. He was not alone.

Obituary:

Lester, Rev. Dr. Ted Allen 68, of Valparaiso, formerly of Kansas, passed away suddenly Sunday, April 22, 2012 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was born February 8, 1944 in Evansville, IN to Furman and Florice (Peyton) Lester. He received a B.A. from Hanover College in 1966, Master of Divinity from McCormick Divinity School in 1969, Doctor of Ministry from McCormick School of Divinity in 1986 and his Psychology Doctorate from Graduate Theological Foundation in 2001. 

Ted had served as a Presbyterian minister since 1969 which included churches in Kansas City, MO, Independence, MO, Indianapolis, IN, Albuquerque, NM, Junction City, KS, Valparaiso, IN and South Bend, IN. 

Since 1999 he also served as a Pastoral Psychotherapist with Counseling Ministries in Valparaiso and Chicago. Ted will be remembered by many in the communities he had served as an activist for social justice, advocating for those without a voice. Survivors include his wife, Carolynn, whom he married on August 9, 1969 in New Hampshire; daughters, Sarahlynn Lester (Paul Boal) of St. Louis, MO, Jessica (Ivan) Hay of Kalamazoo, MI, Grace Lester (Benjamin Jett) of Louisville, KY, brother, Harry N. (Sarah) Lester of Hot Springs Village, AR and grandchildren, Eleanor, Adelaide and Theodore Lester-Boal, Arria, Evelyn and Clara Hay and Lilith and Samuel Jett. Ted was preceded in death by his parents and one brother, William Lester. 

Following cremation a memorial visitation will be held Wednesday from 4:00 - 7:00 pm at Moeller Funeral Home, 104 Roosevelt Rd., Valparaiso. A memorial service will be held Thursday, 10:00 am at Trinity Lutheran Church, 201 Washington St., Valparaiso, The Rev. Dr. Frank Vardeman and The Rev. Dr. John J. Santoro officiating. In lieu of flowers memorials may be made to Church World Service or Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

Pew bulletin insert from funeral:

By the time Ted A. Lester was 8 years old, in Evansville, Indiana, he knew he wanted to be a minister. He frequently accompanied his pastor, Charlie Zapp, on pastoral visits. This is not to suggest that Ted was a goody-two-shoes, mind you. He spent much of kindergarten in the corner, took a little too much initiative as a crossing guard, and was frequently sent to the library to read when his teachers didn’t know what to do with him.

Ted’s parents were both from Western Kentucky, and they sent him back to the family farm during the summers when he was young. He was very close to his cousins. Ted was active in scouting and indeed became an Eagle Scout.  He took groups of boy scouts spelunking, even once he’d gone away to Hanover College across the state. 

In 1967 Ted moved to his favorite city in the world, Chicago, Illinois. He worked as a community organizer and was particularly interested in the civil rights movement, marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Mississippi – twice.  After seminary, he even attended a year of law school to help further his interest in community action. And he spent a year as a director of a group home for boys who were wards of the court.

Ted was ordained a Cumberland Presbyterian minister in June of 1967, and he quickly became very active within the larger church. He worked on the merger joining together two different denominations within the Presbyterian family. He served on the Committee on Ministry for his Presbyteries, assisting churches and pastors in need. He Moderated the Synod of Mid-America, and wrote quite a bit of curriculum and other training materials. Every three years at the Presbyterian Youth Triennium he served in the background as the hospital dean, caring for participants with health crises. Throughout his career, Ted was very interested in ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue. Ted was also very active in the communities in which he served. In Junction City, Kansas, he helped found the Open Door Community House for homeless individuals. He also took groups of youth on summer work camps.

Later in his career, Ted completed a doctorate in psychology and began a full-time pastoral counseling practice. He worked in both Valparaiso, Indiana and Chicago and was very interested in brain research and neuro-feedback.

Last year, Ted Lester “retired,” although he maintained both of his counseling offices (and some clients) as well as a part-time church in South Bend, Indiana. In his “retirement,” Ted developed new passions for gardening and cooking elaborate and gourmet meals.

10 comments:

theskyislaughing said...

Oh, Sarahlynn, I'm so sorry. He sounds like an amazing man and wonderful father. Grace and peace to you in this painful and confusing time.

Sarahlynn said...

Thank you. I am so glad to have had him in my life for as long as I did, but I keep thinking about all his hopes and plans: upcoming family trips, cooking challenges, running the Chicago marathon together as a family, baptisms for 3 of his 8 grandchildren . . . and it's just so tragically sad to see his life cut short when he had so much left he wanted to do.

brooke said...

Sarahlynn -
I REALLY do understand. I mean, really and truly, understand what you are going through having lost your father. Though I lost mine less suddenly, I still lost him at age 67, 24 April 2010.

You said
"I don’t know how to contain this. I don’t know how to process it. And it occurs to me that I’d like to call my dad to talk to him about this painful experience I’m going through."

Me too. A lot. I just defended my dissertation and it was bittersweet, because MY DAD was not there. I keep talking to him and telling him the joke has gone on long enough. That this joke is just stupid. It doesn't seem to work to get him back.

I'm glad you loved him so much. I'm glad you were so proud to be TED's daughter. I'm glad you continue to see the faults. The way you describe your dad that sounds like just the way he would have wanted it (you know for sure about that).

It is GOING TO SUCK. FOR A LONG TIME. It's going to suck at times when you don't expect it too. It's going to hit you two years later and you'll be caught in your bed in a fetal position wondering why it's still.so.hard. Okay, at least that's been my experience, so that may not be true of yours. The suck part, it sounds like you already know.

My father impacted a lot of people to. In a different way - through his 36 years as a prof at Va Tech. People flew in from all over the country to be at his retirement party. So, I know what it's like to have a father who's impact goes beyond what you can even imagine. We're lucky that way. Shared memories, shared love of our fathers with people that we don't even know. Okay, that's egotistical of me to think you like that too, but I hope you do.

You are in my prayers. From one daughter who loved her father more than she can imagine to another daughter - who it sounds like loved her father more than she could imagine - you are in my prayers. I hate that you are having to go through this. I really do.

One last thing. As my dad was dying and after he died (cancer stole him) - I sought out pastoral counseling from our local ELCA Lutheran pastor because she was an SUCH extrovert (she's now at the Mayo doing a chaplaincy residency hence the "was") and my sweet Presby pastor is SUCH a wicked introvert. One thing she said to me that continues to stick with me is this: "The pain is the story of the love." Yeah, dig it. We loved each other THAT much that sometimes the pain overwhelms me into sleep. Dig it. Now that's some kind of bit chin' love goin' on, ya know?

Brittany said...

Holding you and your family in prayer, Sarahlynn...and shedding a few tears on your behalf.

siobhan41 said...

This is a beautiful tribute to your father. I'm so very sorry for your loss.

HiddenChicken said...

I'm so sorry for your loss.

Sara said...

Sarahlynn-

I am so incredibly sorry for your loss. Your dad sounds like he was an amazing person and the world was enriched by his presence here, even though it seems it was all too short.
Thanks for sharing a bit of him with us.

Jessica Homann said...

Pssst! Miss you here...

Unknown said...

Sarahlynn,

It has been such a long time since I've been on your blog (two kids myself now) and it broke my heart to read about your dad. I'm so sorry...there is no one else in your life like your dad, ever.

I also lost mine suddenly this summer; he was 64 and working on top of a ladder and fell. My world stopped spinning for a few days. Two weeks later, our daughter was born and the miracle of life was so beautifully evident.

And although it hurts to have him gone, there is so much I am grateful for...I wish he could've met our daughter but he knew our son and he was so proud of him. We have pictures and video of him and our kids will hear nothing but happy stories of my beloved father.

Wishing you lots of love in this time and the upcoming year. I see you haven't posted in a while and I hope you get back to it!

I keep thinking I'll run into you one of these days at the Magic House...we are there a LOT these days! :)

Also, one last thing if it is of some help--I bought the book "widow to widow" for my mom and she said it was a great resource for her. Practical stuff, etc.

xo,

Carmel

Sarahlynn said...

Brooke, one of the things I let go last year was responding to people. I apologize for that, and want to let you know how much your thoughtful comment meant to me. Thank you.

Thank you Brittany, Siobhan, HiddenChicken, and Sara. I appreciate your comments.

Carmel, first, congratulations on the birth of your daughter! Maybe we've actually seen each other at The Magic House and just didn't realize it. I like to show up early and leave when it starts to get crowded.

I am so so so sorry to hear about your dad.

And I will definitely look for Widow to Widow for my mom! She isn't able to read yet, but she's collecting books for when she can. :(