Dedicated To The Spirits I Miss The Most




My Father

"I reckon it wasn't until right then, right when I was fixing to leave my Daddy, that I knew how much I was going to miss him." (From the short story "St. Stephen Station," written for and dedicated to my father.)

Presented at Memorial Services For Ernest Allen, Sr.
Allen Temple Baptist Church
Oakland, California
July 7, 1997

This is a time that cries out for heroes, but I think we cannot find them because we have forgotten where to look. They are all around us, these heroes and role models. They are the rock solid foundations of our families and our communities, the people who pay the bills, and bring the groceries home, and give us wise counsel though it may not sound so wise at the time, and scold us and punish us when we need it most to keep us on the right track. They don’t make a lot of noise, these heroes...they don’t call attention to themselves. But we know they are all around us because without them, our families and our communities would just crumble and crack apart...and fall...because there would be nothing to hold them up. I know we have heroes because my father was a hero.

When we brought my father back home from the hospital last February, we knew that he did not have many days left on this earth. All of us had to accept this reality, including my father. I think it was the most difficult task he ever undertook, to make peace with the fact that a morning was coming, soon, when he would not wake up, that a time was coming, soon, when he would have nothing to do.

In that difficult last journey through the winter and into spring, my father reminded me so of Dylan Thomas’ father, when the poet wrote:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

In his last months my father raged against the dying of his light. He did not want to leave. He had such a will.

We brought my father back from the hospital last winter because the doctor said that the hospital could do him no more good, and we put my father in a hospital bed in the den and he breathed through a tube from an oxygen tank, and we thought we were watching the final wasting of his great strength.

Within weeks my father had disconnected the oxygen, and sent back the hospital bed with words of appreciation, and was making his way around the house in a walker. A few weeks more passed and he had put the walker up in a closet, and walked around on the strength of his own two legs. My father raged and fought against the dying of his light.

But my father did not seek to prolong his life so that he could visit some vacation spot, or relax in the backyard and listen to his jazz collection, or even to stay around another year so he could watch Michael win his sixth NBA championship. In the last months of his life my father’s thoughts were where they had always been: on the preservation of his family...on putting down one more brick in the foundation so that we might have something strong and sturdy to build our lives upon. In the last months of his life my father talked only of regaining his strength so that he could resume working at the store. Many mornings he put on his hat and his robe and walked around the corner to supervise repairs on one of his rental properties. Every evening he would count the store receipts, write out checks for the bills, and make out the bank deposit slips for the next morning. The only evening he missed was the evening before he died.

I talked to him that evening. He lived for his family, and his thoughts were always on having us around him. His last words to me in life were, “Come around more often.”

The next morning my mother came to bring me the news. And I walked around the corner to their house and went into the room where my father had died. And there I was granted such a vision, because never have I seen anyone, in life or in death, more in peace than was my father on that morning.

But somewhere in his last night my father stopped raging, and it was not so much that he stopped fighting, I believe, as it was that he realized that there was no longer anything to fight against. The foundation my father laid out for us is straight and strong. What burdens he could not continue carrying, we will pick up for him. What tasks he left undone, we will accomplish. His battles were over. His journey was complete. My father realized this in his last night, I know, and he left us in contentment, as gently as a little child dropping to sleep. My father taught me many things in my life, but in the last moments of his life, he gave me my greatest lesson of all. He taught me that in death, there is nothing for us to fear.

I am not wise in the ways of the Spirit. There are many in our presence today who are more learned and more experienced in these matters than I. But I have heard somewhere that spirits do not make one trip only upon this earth, to disappear forever when that one life is done. It is said that spirits come back again and again to live their lives anew. I’m not wise enough to know if this is true, but if it is, then I can have but one last message for the man who was my father.

If spirits can return, then come around more often, Mr. Allen. We’re missing you already.