On August 24th, 2020, we were forced to quickly transition from the Summer of Papa to the start of a new school year when my parents officially welcomed a first grader into the house. Actually, I wasn’t really in the house because, despite the ongoing pandemic, I got to report to face-to-face school and see my friends in real life instead of through the Google Meets platform. The compromise was that everyone would have to wear face masks all day long and wash our hands often, but it seemed like a small price to pay so that I could get schooled by licensed professionals instead of having my full-time working parents stand-in as my very unqualified math/reading/science/art/gym teachers.
Cheers to being back in school, and fingers crossed that we avoid quarantine and stay in school!
Perhaps one of the best ways to facilitate healing after a funeral is to gather with cherished family at Al & Sarah’s therapeutic funny farm. Papa always had plans to visit there and often encouraged us to make the trip, too, so we finally arrived.
We brought stories, laughter, and Papa’s urn. It was everything we needed.
The Eulogy (Partial) Transcript Written by my mom (Amanda Florence Goodenough) Read by The Florence Girls (my mom & aunts)
Our dad was many things, but what sticks with us the most is how we knew him as a tireless provider- tireless – since he always worked 3-5 jobs at any given time.
So when our mom died 13 years ago, I wanted to build a closer relationship with our dad, especially since we all worried about him and I was the only daughter in state… So, in an effort to connect with our dad and understand him better, I learned to speak another language… called football…. Just so I would have something to talk with him about when I called every Sunday.
In doing that, I learned how private he was, and so strong. I learned that he didn’t like to owe anybody or inconvenience anyone. He loved opening gifts, even though he’d tell us to stop buying him things and despite the fact that he rarely used said gifts. In this context, he loved the element of surprise. I found him to be organized and an adoring father of the four-legged women of the house.
In fact, Lulu must have been the best dressed chihuahua in town!
He didn’t like to be late, he cared deeply about work ethic, he could hold a grudge like no one else, and he was skilled to take things apart and patient enough to put them back together. I discovered a very sensitive soul beneath a hard exterior, and recognized that, even in retirement, that man never rested.
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” he’d say.
I learned to speak football to understand our dad better, and it worked. I didn’t have him all figured out, but I got to know him enough because when I caught him on the phone that February morning I knew in my gut that something was terribly wrong, even though he tried to convince me otherwise, and so I dropped everything to be by his side and then called my sisters to get there too.
Imagine being “well” enough to drive yourself 40 minutes to the emergency room in a stick shift vehicle and then coming home 2 weeks later on hospice. And then surviving only two more weeks at home before slipping away into whatever comes after the physical world…
That’s what happened to our dad.
He was crushed. We were devastated.
And the only thing harder than saying goodbye to our Dad on March 21st was having to watch him leave.
Because there we were, thrust into a hospital room with no warning, sitting with an unfair diagnosis, and crying together for the first time.
I spent 4 decades looking for tears to drop from that man’s eyes, just to confirm his humanity.
We suffered devastating losses over those years… from having to put our faithful dog Biscuit to sleep, to surviving the untimely death of our mom/his wife, to grieving my recurrent miscarriages.
While I shared my sadness generously each time, he kept his emotions completely private.
So when his tears finally came in that somber Intensive Care Unit, it almost killed me.
“I won’t get to see my babies grow up,” he said.
I just hugged him. Because no words could dry those tears.
“I wasn’t done yet,” he said.
And we don’t know what he wanted to still accomplish… from secretly buying his first car at 12 years old to….owning a successful business… to learning about how many people loved him so deeply… we’re not sure what he didn’t get done.
“I did all the right things, he said.
He did. He did everything he was supposed to do… went to every doctor appt, got all the preventative screenings. This wasn’t fair. He didn’t deserve this cancer.
He also didn’t deserve to lose his wife so young. He didn’t deserve the racial discimintation he faced in Mukwonago. He didn’t deserve to fight for an interracial marriage. He didn’t deserve whatever he experienced in Vietnam. He didn’t deserve to grow up without a dad. His entire life wasn’t fair.
But he’s always kept pushing and fighting to the very end.
I asked him if he was scared to die.
“No,” he said. “It is what it is.” “I’ve had a good life”
We asked, how do we help you move through this, Dad?
He said, “I don’t know, I never died before.” But as he laid there in pain, he said “All I know is dying is not for sissies. I don’t know how your mother did it. She was much stronger than me.”
But he was strong too. Even in his shortest fight. He pushed through because our dad always said,
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
And before we were ready, his breathing slowed, so we sang his exit song and watched him slip into the night.
In the days leading up to Papa Florence’s funeral, we tried to make lots of happy family memories by swimming at Lake Wazee, floating down the Black River, toasting marshmallows on our back porch, and hosting a gathering of loved ones at Grassway Organics Pizza Farm.
Genesee and I were grateful for the company, and although none of these events made us miss Papa less, Mom believes Papa feels a greater sense of peace every time a smile finds its way back to our faces.
There may be several strategies for commemorating the sale of a cottage, but I’m glad my Aunt Nay Nay landed on a family gathering at Great Wolf Lodge in the Wisconsin Dells!
And, there may be numerous options for meals during one’s stay at Great Wolf Lodge, but I’m glad Auntie Cha Cha decided that we should make homemade pizza together!
We had the best time! Plus, due to the ongoing pandemic, we practically had the whole place to ourselves! Social distancing has its perks…. just ask Auntie Cha Cha, who practiced the art of social distancing long before it became cool. Speaking of Auntie Cha Cha, where did she go?
It might sound glamorous if I told you that we spent the better part of the summer at our lake cottage, but the truth is, those visits were filled with blood, sweat, and tears.
After Papa passed away, mom, in part, inherited the place, and after she and my aunts made the painful decision to put it up for sale, we had lots of work to do.
Across several trips to Plainfield, WI, our dedicated crew painted, cleaned, fixed, and, once I eagerly made my riding-lawnmower debut, we landscaped too! Our efforts were sometimes interrupted when cute bunnies, jumping toads, and slithery snakes crossed our work path, but once some of us were done being distracted for the rest of the day, we were promptly back to work.
In the end, we got Papa’s cottage looking really nice! In fact, it was so nice that we had to hurry up and post it on Zillow before we changed our minds.
And we were indeed able to sell that cottage quickly, especially when advertised as a true lakeside getaway.
Because even though nearby potato irrigation farms sucked the body of water dry by the time Papa purchased the property, he always believed a return on investment would slowly come as the Wisconsin rain and snow replenished the basin over time. And he was right… Papa was always right.