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  • jrblackburnsmith

Laid to Rest

Rather unexpectedly, we buried my father this week. The thing is, Dad died in 2016. He was cremated and Mom didn't think it made sense to open their 'Niche' (a tiny crypt or mausoleum for cremains, but without the cachet of a name like crypt or mausoleum) more than once, so she said we would wait and bury them together. This week, with all four boys South Dakota, Columbus, Chicago, Yellow Springs) visiting Mom decided it was time! Two days later, we gathered at Ferncliff cemetery in Springfield, OH to lay Dad to rest.

Richard Shively Smith was a complicated man. He was sober for 46 years, breaking generations of alcoholism. I think he ended up as sponsor to about half of my high school graduating class. He loved people who were struggling and wanted to pay it forward for every bit of help, support and kindness he had received on his journey. My Dad used to go into work on Christmas morning every year (he worked in auto financing) and we wouldn't end up celebrating Christmas until the afternoon. At his funeral, we learned that he had been taking food and presents to families that he knew didn't have anything that year. He never said a word, and every person that shared a version of that story thought they were the only family he had helped.

Dad was the most type A personality that existed. He ironed his underwear. (I'm not kidding.) He was born on March 22, 1935 and died 80 years and 364 and 1/2 days later, March 21, 2016. I felt cheated that he had missed that last birthday, until I realized that was his choice. He lived as complete a life as he could, and if he had managed to hold on another 12 hours, he would have had to live for another year, because he couldn't leave a damn thing unfinished, no matter what else he had promised to do.

My final visit with Dad was the day before he died. He had dementia, and didn't recognize me any longer. He drifted in and out of sleep, and had stopped eating, so we knew it was a matter of time. As I was leaving, Dad roused himself. "Jeff," he said, loud and clear. "I love you." That is the most precious gift he ever gave me.

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