Tuesday, December 20, 2016
I like to think I healed my dad’s heart and soul
By Monica Vest Wheeler
I'm never giving another eulogy. Offer me a million dollars and I wouldn't do it.
No, I'm a storyteller, not a "eulogizer," and this is a short version of the story of my Dad, the REAL Bill Vest.
I’ve always heard that after the loss of a parent, life will forever change or how the world is different. But the world did not change. I have changed and evolved in this moment.
I'm the product of two people who were denied childhoods and families filled with the true meaning of love, who learned the hard way to work, exist and get by. Other people, especially my late mom-in-law, taught me the joy of a full loving family. Yes, these were lessons my parents could not teach me because they didn't know how. I can never blame THEM.
Your parents may never be able to teach you everything you need, and that’s why you must be open to life lessons that come along when you least expect. And never turn down the opportunity to be a teacher. Many of you have been MY teachers.
I think of all the things my dad gave me, including my last name, a lifetime spelling V-E-S-T.
“Is that Best?”
“No, Vest as in a vest you wear.”
“No, it's V as in virgin.” (One day, I got tired of saying “V as in Victor” …)
I'm Monica VEST Wheeler and don't you ever forget that.
However, when I was a kid, I didn't want to grow up to be like my father. He was weird. I’d certainly never marry anyone like him. What do I do? I marry an engineer like my dad.
Oh, but thank God I became and learned to appreciate the best of my father. Yes, God is much much wiser than me.
God overheard some of the most important conversations of my life between Dad and me that HAD to happen to bring us to this day …
The Christmas of 1991 …
I was afraid I'd lose my job because I couldn't please my boss anymore. I was so lost. I had given up. I tried to explain, but Dad just didn't get it. “Why can't you just go to the office and do your job?” It wasn’t that easy. My bonus mom Diane ordered us to sit down to TALK and LISTEN. It was something like, "You two need to stop avoiding feelings. You're both in pain because you don't really know each other."
She’s so bossy.
For the first time, Dad shared a childhood without love, parents who weren't satisfied with his accomplishments, how things just didn’t work between him and Mom, how he never knew what to say to me.
I confessed that I never knew what to say to him. I talked about how small and stupid I felt when he complained about my high school math grades, "Why can't you get this? It's easy!" That December day, I finally said, "Yeah, it's easy for you, an engineer. I'm a writer! I AIN'T no engineer!"
I was re-introduced to my dad many times since that cold day in 1991 and our hearts never stopped warming up to each other.
For many years, Dad thought I was lazy because I didn't like physical work, yet I'd spend hours writing. What kind of REAL WORK was that?
He finally got IT the Christmas of 1994, when I handed him my first history book. He finally saw the value of MY kind of work. Every book since then that I placed in his hands, he held it close and marveled at it in silence. I saw in his eyes what his trembling lips had trouble expressing.
Yep, my daddy was proud of me.
And in 2001 …
When I succumbed to the depths of depression and had to finally get some much-needed medicine and therapy, I remember trying to explain it to Dad as we sat in the sunroom. I cried that my brain had some "issues," and that more days than not, I didn't care if I woke up the next morning. I realized in that moment that he could not fathom not wanting to wake up tomorrow. No matter what the world threw at him, he still wanted to take it on tomorrow if he didn't finish it today. He always saw a tomorrow. He always planned for the future.
And in 2011, when I cared for my father-in-law the last 11 days of his life, Dad was one of the few people who didn't say, "I don't know how you did it." He said, "You're a good daughter."
My dad gave me the gift of attention to detail and quality. He mastered the roots of precision engineering and 2x4's. I learned the fine art of wordsmithing and photography. Talk about opposites!
He was neat and I was cluttered.
I couldn't keep an organized house … but I could write books.
I couldn't herd all my dust bunnies … but I could take photographs.
I couldn't fix things around the house … but I could heal wounded hearts and souls with my unique blend of laughter and tears.
I like to think I healed my dad’s heart and soul. They were so battered.
We’re all enrolled in the School of Life. There are no shortcuts to graduation. I believe my grandmother wrote weekly checks to churches and so-called religious charities to get into heaven. When she had no more money to give, they abandoned her.
My dad took the true, yet hard, route by living a meaningful life.
This isn't a condemnation of my grandparents. This is a testimony of how my dad was a survivor in every sense of the word. However, it took him many years to discover that he didn't have to do it on his own. He took one of the biggest risks of his life by falling in love with Diane. He had been unlucky in love, but he tried one more time.
People can change, but not alone. My dad today is not the man I grew up with. I love him even more because Diane and her family changed my dad in a miraculous way.
We put a Bill in the change machine, and we hit the jackpot with a man who had a golden heart. It’s no surprise that his heart was the last organ to finally let go of earthly bonds.
Now I believe more than ever that Christmas is a season of miracles.
There is no tree big enough in the universe that could accommodate what my dad gave me for Christmas THIS year … so many priceless gifts in his passing, including reuniting me with my uncle, his brother. He had been sitting on the shelf for many years where I had placed him, unused and unloved.
We are witnessing a miracle today, and you are at the core of this amazing event.
I was disappointed not to hear from someone after Dad passed. The phone rang. It was that person. They hadn't communicated earlier because they didn't know what to say. Someone gave them the courage and the phone. And then we cried together.
If you don't know what to say, just say “hi.” “Hi” would have instantly cleared all the ice covering central Indiana on Saturday, and it would have been okay to splash in the puddles left behind.
We’ll discover more puddles for the rest of our lives. My dad left an impression so deep it can never be erased. Love can never be dissolved. It may be misplaced at times, but as God told us, love endures.
Love endures, Dad endures, stronger than the wood he shaped into the gifts that warmed and enriched our lives.
A tree falls and cannot pick itself up, but my dad fell time and time again and learned how to pick himself up with confidence, conviction and compassion … and finally allowing others to lend a hand.
Love will ALWAYS extend its hand to lift you. Take each other’s hands and share a little love right now …
Thank you for indulging me. My daddy gave me everything I wanted, including you …