Clark Brogan never met a stranger or passed a piano by.
Father’s Day is so tender every year. This year, too. I miss him. My Dad was the smartest person I knew, and the one I went to when I was at the end of what I knew to do. That “end spot” has come round several times since Dad’s death in October 2010 and each time I wonder how Dad would have advised me.
Dad’s compassion for neighbor and stranger alike was a sight to see. If stopped, Dad turned and gave his full attention. And more often than not, somewhere in each conversation there would be laughter. Dad helped build the hospital and start the YMCA in our hometown, Mattoon. And he shoveled the sidewalks on those cold winter mornings for the neighbors who couldn’t get out to do it for themselves.
Too many favorite memories to tell – but one always speaks to man. Every night after the 10 o’clock news he would walk our family dog. Our last one, Mr. Chips was pretty smart (Dad would say, “Smarter than two of my kids”). Every night, didn’t matter the season, Dad and Mr. Chips would head down the front steps. When they came to the sidewalk Dad would wait – and whatever direction Mr. Chips would turn, Dad would know that they were going to walk ½ or 2 miles. Their evening stroll. And then, when they came back, Dad would sit down at the piano in our dining room and play - with no books or sheet music - until 1 or 2 in the morning. Jazz filled the house every night of my growing up.
Dad worked his way through Yale playing piano and working as a short order cook in a diner. He sat next to Bill Buckley in a couple classes. He was a lawyer and trust officer by trade. He played piano for the church choir for 200 years (give or take). He helped started the Girls Baseball League (Ponytail League, it was called) when we were growing up. He and Mom were married 53 years. And this dear man lived his last 19 years with Alzheimer’s. I wish, I wish, I wish his ending could have been written differently for him and Mom and all of us. What a waste, what a loss. He died with his three daughters beside him, as we sang, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
And I miss him everyday…this is one of the chapters from my new book. It tells a little more of him.
My Dad’s (next to) Last Gift
(God bless you, Clark Whaley Brogan)
Without the others knowing it, my two sisters and I each grew up believing that we were our parents’ favorite. It was that kind of growing up and they were those kinds of parents. None of us was perfect, it wasn’t that. We each had our personal foibles. But our parents raised us with unconditional love and did the best they could by their three girls.
There was a particular moment years later when I came to truly understand the meaning of trust. And more specifically the notion of trusting God – with my whole heart. Dad had been living for fourteen long and painful years with Alzheimer’s, and Mom had lived nineteen months with lung cancer. At that time Dad would live another five years and Mom would live another month. I had fumbled and bumbled my way through so many emotions during those days: anger, despair, thankfulness, restlessness, bitterness, depression. The list felt endless.
And in the midst of all that, there was one moment when I felt wrapped in the lovingkindness of God. In that moment I felt rocked and cradled by trust in the One who was, is and will be. In that moment I recognized both life’s fragility and preciousness. Here I understood for the first time that death would come for Mom and Dad and for me, as well. Here I understood that death would not be the end. Love was greater than death. Here for the first time, I understood what it meant to trust God.
It was the afternoon that I picked Dad up from his room at the Assisted Living Facility where he lived. Dad and I drove to the house he and Mom had shared since moving to Atlanta. It was the afternoon they would say good-bye to one another. Mom’s health was beginning to ebb and my sisters and I knew we had begun to count her last days with her. After Mom and Dad’s tearful good-bye I was driving him back to his place. We were stopped in a line of cars at a stoplight. In that moment I began silently yelling at God, “It’s not fair! They are such good people. Such deaths for them…it’s not fair!”
I was lost in my personal ranting when Dad nudged me, pointed forward and said “Hey!” It had been years since he’d called any of us by name, and a long time since I'd heard him say even a word, so you can imagine how I was jolted out of my spiritual lamenting. The car ahead of us had a license plate that read “Lesley.” I looked at my father and he was beaming. I knew in that moment that Dad knew me, Lesley, his middle child and I felt God’s presence in our car.
The psalmist speaks of “pouring out our hearts” and I believe that is how many of us make our way on the journey from despair to hope – from bitterness to trust. When we find our voice and pour out all that has been bottled up inside, a shift can happen from the inside-out in our spirits. In this moment (or over time) we come to intimately know the One who created and is creating still. Here in this trusting place of the One who calls me by name, I found refuge and sanctuary.
(Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days is available on my website – www.Lesleybrogan.com)
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.