Saturday, October 24, 2015

You Can Do Hard Things

One of the hardest things I have ever done was deliver the eulogy at Rick's funeral.  
I had thoughts prepared. 
I had beautiful friends standing by, ready to step in and read them for me if I just gave the signal. 
But it was important to me that these things were said. And I was proud of myself for doing it. Just like I am proud that I was part of Rick's amazing, amazing life.

Rick Smiley never does anything half way.
I remember that thought first concretely crossing my mind right outside on the front stairs of this church. It was a day in early May three years ago. Rick had just come home from the hospital after having surgery right after his brain tumor diagnosis and the parish was having a Spring yard and grounds clean up.  We were new to the whole cancer thing and desperately trying to do normal things. We brought a folding chair along- the idea being that Rick could relax in the fresh air while we cleaned up the flower beds around the church and school. But he couldn't stand to sit in that chair long and soon he was trimming rose bushes and digging out weeds right along with us. We were finishing up that day and I had swept the debris from the concrete right outside in what I thought was a satisfactory manner.  Rick gently took the broom from me and swept it up in a ship shape manner.
Rick Smiley never does anything half way.
The evidence was early. When he was in elementary school back in the day, for some reason in gym class they split up the kids based on their athletic ability. The fastest runners, highest jumpers, strongest chin uppers wore gold shorts to gym class. The medium performers wore red shorts.  The slowest kids wore white shorts maybe. Rick prided himself on always qualifying to wear gold shorts.
Rick enlisted in the Navy when he was an 18 year old kid.  He chose the job of cook because he had had a job at a local hotel and enjoyed working in the kitchens there even though the recruiter tried to talk him into a more challenging job. At the end of Navy cook school someone came to the class looking for volunteers to go to submarine training. Anyone who knows anything about Navy cuisine knows that the food that is prepared on board submarines is the best food to be had on land or sea. If Rick was going to be a cook he was going to be a submarine cook.
Rick Smiley never does anything half way.
Because Rick came to the submarine force in somewhat of an unusual way, he had somewhat of an unusual career.  He served on board 7 submarines. He rose through the ranks rather quickly and made Chief in 9 years. He received a direct commission and became a Supply Officer and went back to the submarine force, becoming a rare sailor with both silver and gold dolphin warfare pins. Along the way he was afforded the opportunity to cook at the White House, cycle on the Navy's competitive bicycle racing team, and travel with the Navy SEALs with what he said was literally a briefcase of cash handcuffed to his wrist in order to procure for the SEALs whatever they needed wherever they happened to be in the world. If you weren't hearing the James Bond theme music in your head before, I hope you are now.
Rick retired from the Navy and moved to Columbus to be close to a certain cute Navy dentist he had met while stationed in Iceland and he said his dream was to run a bed and breakfast. So we bought a house and Rick set about rehabbing it from to top to bottom, in some places taking it down to the studs, and he built a beautiful home, mostly with his own two hands and he ran the kind of bed and breakfast where the soft sheets were freshly ironed and there were always oatmeal-craisin-chocolate chunk-pecan cookies on hand.
Rick Smiley never does anything half way.
Our children came along and I probably don't need to tell you what kind of father he was. A lot of you got to see it first hand. I will say that it filled my heart with joy to bursting to see Rick nurture and love our children and it made me fall in love with him all over again. He was the ultimate caregiver and he took good care of us.
Rick Smiley never does anything half way.
And then Rick got cancer. He couldn't get just any old kind of cancer. He had to get one of the big baddies. Because I am a healthcare provider, my instinct is to turn to the literature when I am dealing with an unfamiliar diagnosis. So I tried to read journal articles to inform myself but I could never get past phrases like "abysmal prognosis" and "18 month average survival" and "one of the deadliest". But in true Rick Smiley fashion he faced it with dignity and courage and befriended the other patients in the hospital waiting rooms, and joked with the nurses, and was basically a shining light in the sad places that chemotherapy suites and oncology wards can be. Our oncologist actually said that whatever Rick was doing to cope with the illness and treatments, he wished he would sprinkle it over the other patients on his way by. And Rick did his best to lift up everyone around him.
And in living his life the way he did, he gave us a tremendous gift.
A gift to me.
A gift to William.
A gift to Soren.
A gift to all of us who knew him.
He gave us a beautiful example of how to be strong.
How to love.
How to have faith.

And when you do those things never do them half way.

1 comment:

Kara and Jeremy said...

So lovely. I remember your eulogy so well and the bravery in which you gave it.