What are you THANKFUL for this year? | "the vital things remain"
November is quickly coming to a close. Most of us associate November with a time to be thankful (well at least in the US we typically do, but perhaps my friends in other places around the world have different sentiments, though I know even when I lived in France, we celebrated Thanks to some degree (but maybe my ex-pat friends were just humoring me). Anyway, 2022 has been a tremendously difficult year for me. And my original post expounded a bit more into the details of my year…but then I decided to back it up and hit the delete button. Some of this information I will likely share at a later time, because I do think it’s helpful for others to hear. But I’m going to try to keep this post a bit more simplified and focus on one main aspect of my year. You may or may not know, but I lost my Dad earlier this year to metastatic melanoma (you can check out these posts for a bit more info about my dad and also important info about skin cancer: here, here, here, here, and yes...here). This has had a much greater impact on me than I really anticipated. (not that we ever anticipate how someone’s passing will actually affect us).
I felt really compelled and driven to speak at my dad’s memorial service, which finally happened earlier this month (several months after his actual death in August…uh yeah, don’t recommend waiting that long…it’s like tearing off a bandage when the wound has just begun to heal).
So below are the actual words that I said at my Dad’s service and I think it sums up what I am most thankful for this year….my Dad, the time that I had with him, and the lessons that he taught me.
Memorial Speech for Ron Mitchell, FUMC 11/5/22
First, I want to thank you all for coming today and making the trip here to honor my Dad and to celebrate his life. Please bear with me as I try to get through this; at some point, there will be tears but this is very important for me to say.
Contrary to what you may think, I’ve never been what people call “a Daddy’s girl.” My relationship with my dad has never been easy. I have butted heads with him more times than I can count, and probably more than anyone else in my family. 2022 has been a tremendously difficult year for so many reasons. However, I think this past year has taught me a lot about what family means and what it is to really love someone unconditionally, even despite their faults and weaknesses. And so I’ve realized through my dad’s progressive weakening and final exit from this Earth that truly, all those disagreements and times he drove me nuts, they don’t really matter. When the time comes in which the roles reverse and the child becomes the parent, caring for them when they can no longer care for themselves, clarity sets in and you realize what is important. So words said hastily in anger, those really are trivial and petty things, and they become so far removed and a distant memory. When time with a loved one is drawing to a close, all else falls away and the vital things remain. As I continue to process my grief, I am reminded of all the many lessons that my Dad taught me and the influence he had on my life.
So without further ado, and in no particular order, these are just a few of the things my Dad taught me and how I will remember him.
1. You NEED reliable transportation, especially in a city like Dallas. My dad was always my go-to person for car questions. He made me demonstrate changing a tire before he would even allow me to go on a long-distance trip, but then he also made sure I had AAA. He’d ask about my car’s gas mileage and get onto me if I didn’t keep up the maintenance log. I think I slowly knew I was losing my dad quite a few years earlier when I was struck with the realization that I couldn’t rely on him for car questions anymore. Regardless though he’d always ask me “How’s the Subaru doing?” as that was always a topic he would be sure to ask about.
2. A love of lifelong learning. So I myself have always loved to learn. My boyfriend Steve somewhat makes fun of me because if I don’t know something I’m ALWAYS looking it up (and seriously there is no excuse these days with the power of the almighty Google, hahaha). I think Steve will actually intentionally just ask a question out loud because he knows he can get my interest piqued and in less than a minute I’m looking it up. (I’m on to you, buddy). It honestly didn’t really hit me that this too I got from my Dad until very recently. We were talking with Reverend Boone prior to this service so that he could catch a glimpse of who Ron Mitchell was. One thing my brother Jim said that really resonated with me was that when he’s looking for a new employee in his business, they are looking for three things: someone who is humble, hungry, and curious. And Jim went on to say that these three things are exactly my dad (and he’s so spot on right). But I’m talking about the last one right now. Curious. My dad was ALWAYS learning. He attained the highest level of degree he could reach in his profession with a PhD in electrical engineering. He was always reading and pouring over something at his desk. Often it was something regarding stocks or finances. Once the internet really took off, he was always typically found reading on his computer. I remember when Gracie was little and my dad was already retired, she said quietly to me “We can’t bother Gramps, he’s upstairs at his desk working”. He’s not working! He’s learning and he never stopped. This perhaps may be one of the greatest gifts he gave to me as I truly feel that if your desire for knowledge and learning stops, then you’ve stopped living. And so I will always remain curious.
3. Exercise and move like your life depends on it…because, well it does. I’m not sure if you know the whole story about my dad’s original diagnosis with melanoma at age 39, but a spot was found on his neck and he was given a 6-month prognosis to live. At that time medicine definitely was not as advanced as it is now. He had surgery with a deep excision of the tumor and lymph nodes (he basically told the surgeon I don’t care what it looks like, just get rid of it.) But he didn’t stop at the surgery. Again through a continual desire for knowledge, he learned about an alternative treatment that was based on the chemical found in an apricot seed. He traveled to Mexico for this as it was a bit taboo in the US and not considered an acceptable treatment. Part of that treatment protocol though was a radical change of lifestyle, which included regular exercise.
I can't even remember when it started whether it was elementary school or junior high, but because of this lifestyle change, I went with my dad to Genesis Fitness Center at 5 am EVERY SINGLE WEEK day. He never forced me to do this. He’d just pop his head in my room and say “You up? you going? I’m going!” At the time I’m not sure I really saw it as time spent with my dad. I was just going to the gym. And we each did our own thing. I attribute my late-found passion for physical therapy to my dad and the mornings I had with him. He truly did believe that exercise was vital for your health and he strived to live that.
Along with exercise, and as part of this treatment protocol, he also had to drastically change the way he ate…and so he believed that Food IS medicine...and what you eat MATTERS...So he ate a clean healthy diet that focused on fresh unprocessed foods. He made these changes to affect his cancer prognosis. Anyone knows making such changes are HARD, but it gets put into perspective for you when you’re being told you have 6 months to live and you have a family that you could be leaving behind. I remember being in 7th-grade math class and being called out of class to be told that my dad had made it through exploratory surgery okay. He had had a recurrence of melanoma. And so he went back to Mexico for the same treatment and when they performed the exploratory surgery, they actually could not find anything. I also have memories of my dad eating apricot seeds and it was for this very reason that he ate them. Did you even know they actually sell apricot seeds in a bag? Literally, he was the only person I knew who did this. I TRULY believe that his focus on healthy eating and exercise and making a radical lifestyle change is a huge part of what gave him another 40-plus years of life and that gave me my lifetime with him. I also wholeheartedly believe that I honestly would not have known my dad or had a father in my life at all if it wasn’t for his discipline to healthy eating and exercise. And so these are two areas I feel very passionate about and I have my dad to thank for this.
4. LET THE BOAT PULL YOU UP! (so, picture this as though you’re in the cold lake water and he’s screaming it from the driver’s seat (along with everyone else in the boat). My dad taught me to water ski and some of my best memories with him are at the lake. I’m not sure if you’ve ever had the experience of water skiing or at least learning to water ski. But truly, learning to let the boat pull you up is more than half the battle for a beginner...it's all about timing and patience…you can’t rush standing up on top of the water or you won’t succeed. You have to wait for the right moment and…well Let the boat pull you up. And this lesson applies to so many things outside of water skiing. This is something I continue to learn time and time again as I go through life that my timing may be different from others’ timing,and patience coupled with hard work, the very things needed to learn to water ski, can pay off. So now when I’m faced with the gremlin of comparison that we all encounter from time to time, I will literally stop, close my eyes and say to myself, let the boat pull you up. And so this lesson my dad taught me at age 8, though it’s not even about water skiing anymore, continues to serve me as I progress through life.
5. LET'S HOOK 'EM! If you didn’t know, my Dad was a Texas Longhorn, earning his bachelors degree from the University of Texas at Austin. I heard “LET’S HOOK ‘EM!” so many times over the course of my life (and what I wouldn’t give to hear it again because that would mean my dad was in Colorado hiking, two things he loved). So actually this was said when you're on a Hike (and if you don’t know me very well, I LOVE hiking, no really, I have an utter lifelong love affair with mountains, which I blame on BOTH of my parents. Our family literally went on the same family vacation EVERY year, caravaning in our Blue Good times van with two other families to Estes Park, CO… anyway, when you’re on a hike and you’ve decided to take a break (however many times you need to), LET’s HOOK ‘EM! is said, when it’s time to get up and go. So basically Let’s Hook ‘em to me means, get the ___ up and let's get moving...I also take this as a message to myself in general...keep moving and don't give up. Rest if you must, but don't quit. Get to the summit and enjoy the view! No really, I now say to myself in times of struggle and also maybe a way to remind me of my Dad, ok Jill let’s hook ‘em. You should try it…even if you’re not a Longhorn. 6. There's nothing like the love of a dog...as I said at the start, I honestly didn't always get along with my Dad. But we always shared a love of dogs (and actually this I did NOT even remotely get from my mom as she's somewhat fearful of dogs). I always wanted a dog growing up. We finally got a dog my junior year of HS and my dad and I (and my mom)...we shared custody. And Atticus was the BEST dog (sorry Rocky I still love you more than you know). My dad LOVED that dog. My dad loved to play ball with Atticus (and Atticus would do it ALL day), he loved to scratch behind his ears and take time out of his day to spend with his four-legged buddy. My dad was a better person because of that dog. My dad was there with me when Atticus took his last breath. My dad initially said that he didn’t think he could stomach being in the room when it was time for Atticus to go. And I said well “I don’t want him to be scared and so I want to be in the room. When the time came, both of my parents were in the room, supporting me as they always do, as I said goodbye to my first 4 legged buddy (and of course saying their own goodbyes as well). Dogs are the very definition of unconditional love. They teach us so many things about life and love. And my dad’s life was made all the better by the love of dogs and the lessons they taught him.
And so DAD if you are watching over us at this time when we honor your life, I want to say to you...Thank you for all these things you and Mom have taught me, all the countless things you have done for me, and Jim, and Amy. I hope you know that I LOVE YOU and I don't think I ever said it enough.
So these are the things that I will carry with me for the rest of my life, the values and lessons that my Dad’s life taught me. Thank you for listening to my long diatribe as I remember my Dad. My hope is that you learned something you didn’t know about him. And maybe, just maybe, you also learned one of the lessons that he taught me during my life with him and you can take this with you as you leave today, and remember him as you continue on with your life; this is part of his legacy. Thank you.
________ Those words pretty much sum up what I’m most grateful for during this Thanksgiving season. I'm thankful for my dad and the time that I had with him. I'm thankful for the lessons that he taught me. What I didn’t say though, is that I’m also incredibly thankful for my mom. I'm full of gratitude that she is still here with me and that I hope to be blessed with many more years with her. I also know that I do not take any of these things for granted now. I’m truly grateful for each and every one of these things.
“When time with a loved one is drawing to a close, all else falls away and the vital things remain.”
What are the vitals things in your life that you are grateful for during this season of Thanksgiving? Let me know in the comments below. But perhaps even more important, be sure to give thanks and let those loved ones know how you feel!