It was on a hot Monday, June 5, 1978 that we buried my Dad. He had died on Friday, June 2nd, and although I had been there on Wed., May 31st, he wanted me to finish the month-end numbers for the business and bring them with me to the hospital before I came on Friday. As the afternoon wore on, I finished the financials and headed home to pick up Janet so we could both go to the hospital. We had a sitter for Kristin, who was almost 3, and Jill, who was 5 months old at the time – Andrew had not been born yet. I arrived in Downers Grove, where we lived at the time, and then we left for the hospital in Park Ridge, IL, about 45 minutes away.
As we were traveling up 294, the Illinois Tollway that heads north on the west side of Chicago, I turned to Janet and said, “There’s no rush; Dad just died.” It was 7:02 p.m. I remember exactly where we were at the time. And sure enough, as we arrived at Lutheran General Hospital and went up to his floor, an old family friend ran up to me and let me know that Dad had died; at 7:02. We had to wait outside while they disconnected all the tubes and pumps that had been doing their job the past week as he was getting weaker. Then we went in the room with the rest of our immediate family and spent a few minutes with Dad.
I felt strange. The first thing that ran through my mind was that this was the first time in the history of the world that I was alive, and my Dad wasn’t. Having been trained my whole life as the oldest son, I immediately felt the weight of that “office” on my shoulders – I was 25. We planned the funeral for Monday and the office would be shut down for the day.
The strangest thing that happened that morning was that a desk chair I had custom made for Dad, and had ordered almost 6 months earlier, was delivered right before we left for the funeral. I told the delivery guys from Marshall Field’s that Dad had died over the week-end and asked them to load it back in the truck. The staff disagreed and had it set up in his closed office – we would figure out later what to do.
And so, the funeral proceeded. I won’t bore you with the details – it was like most other funerals – except that it was Dad. I remember going to the funeral home on Saturday afternoon for the first viewing. I was terrified to see my father in a casket up in front of the room. I dreaded it – perhaps because I was trying to deny what had happened; and I had spent the last 4 years and three months with him almost every waking moment, trying to learn the family business. It put a strain on Janet and me; and the kids, but we thought it was the right thing to do. Now that season was over, and the next part of the journey was about to begin.
I had never experienced anything as difficult as the training I had endured for all those years. At times, neither Janet nor I thought we could survive the infusion of knowledge that I was subjected to. It was as if Dad was trying to cram his brain into mine; and it was relentless. Early each morning until after dinner – every night. Over the years, I have come to appreciate what he tried to do. After all, it was the survival of the business at stake; and he wanted to be sure that we could sustain ourselves financially. But there were times that I wondered if I could keep it up and how long it would go on.
But a strange thing happened when I entered the funeral home and the room where Dad’s wake was about to begin. With each step I took, I felt stronger and stronger; and by the time I was standing up front looking at the open casket, years of training and preparation flooded my mind. I would have thought that all my childhood memories would have surfaced first, but that was not the case. Dad had warned me that our competitors would be looking for any opening to kill the business, and now it was my job to take care of Mom and the rest of us who depended on the company for our livelihoods. Over the years, as you can tell from my posts, the personal stuff has come through, but not that day! I hid in the knowledge I had about how to survive. It was the only way I knew.
Anyway, the next day, I was back at the office, and several weeks later, the staff convinced me that the chair I had bought for Dad was really his gift to me as I started my leadership of the firm. So I kept it, and the business continued to grow. But that’s another story.
The verse tonight is one you might think strange, from Heb. 12:7, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?” And my encouragement tonight is that you try to understand that sometimes the reasons for hard work are not immediately evident. In this context, discipline really means training. Most fathers and mothers do not try to hurt their children, but to prepare them for the challenges ahead. And now, I am older that Dad was when he died, and I still look for ways to prepare our children for life without parents. The most important thing is that siblings stay close to each other – the effort seems overwhelming. My prayer tonight is that you will understand that if you are not around to shepherd your children, God is! And He will do a great job. Grace and Peace….