February 8, 2016
I had the privilege of sharing a few words at Dad’s service on Saturday.
Told those who came that I knew exactly what Dad would say if he were physically able to be with us.
I was pretty sure he’d have said exactly what he said to me about 8 or 9 years ago, under very different circumstances.
(Some of you may have heard this story before. But, as some of you may also know, our Dad was not above getting great mileage from a good story – ha).
He was scheduled for surgery … no, make that surgeries (plural) … on an aneurism in his stomach, and another one in his leg. It was scheduled for first thing in the morning in Pittsburgh, which, when you live in Uniontown, means that you have to get up in the middle of the night. And my sisters Missy and Kim, as they often did, shouldered the burden of getting Mom and Dad out the door and shuttling them to the hospital (no small task, given that Dad had to be early for everything, while our Mom, um, was not as meticulous about her punctuality). Laurie, as she always did, met them at the hospital and made sure they got checked in.
By the time I got there, Dad was prepped, and was in a room waiting on the surgeon (who was delayed by some other emergency). Mom and the sisters were keeping him good company. After a while, Mom needed to go out for a cigarette (Gram always needed her smoke), and the sisters accompanied her, leaving the boys by themselves for a couple minutes.
Think about what might be going through your mind if you were the 80-year-old lying in the hospital bed, after having to get up in the middle of the night, suffering that long drive down Route 51 thinking about your pending surgeries, forced into that hospital gown that barely covers your dignity, only to be asked to wait for goodness knows how long on the surgeon? What would be going through your mind?
Barely seconds after my sisters and Mom left the room, Dad looks up at me, with the biggest smile on his face, and says, “Isn’t it great having everybody together?”
As naturally as if we were on the front porch on the 4th of July.
As if he considered the prospect of invasive surgeries a pretty reasonable trade for spending time with his family.
“Isn’t it great having everybody together?”
That’s exactly what he would have said on Saturday.
And that’s pretty much all you need to know about Kenneth Neal Riddell.
But some of the best parts of Saturday were some folks who wanted us to know some other things about Kenneth Neal Riddell.
There was Jim, a trumpet player who shared a section and a bandstand with my Dad for a handful of years. He saw me when he entered the church, and, after offering his condolences, told me how Dad was a hero to him who taught him so much about playing trumpet. Said he still can conjure the image of Dad standing up to take his solos. I told him that Dad often said that the trumpet section never blended better than when Jim played.
There was (another) Jim … a nurse who made weekly home visits to Dad for a while. Jim was a guitar player, which instantly made him my Dad’s favorite nurse. They hit it off so well that Jim re-arranged his schedule so Dad would be his last appointment of the day … allowing him to stick around and B.S. (mostly about music) after he finished his evaluation. Dad came to see those visits as a highlight of his week. Jim actually brought his guitar with him a couple times, and coaxed Dad to break out his horn. Those jam sessions with Jim were the last times Dad ever played with another musician. Jim stopped Saturday to tell the family how much he genuinely loved those visits.
There was Harry, one of the fixtures of the old Presbyterian church where we held the service. He was one of the army of good souls who helped with the reception after the service. Harry told me how much he admired Dad’s service to the church over the years. Said that they actually named their son after Dad, a fact that I never knew.
And there were many other sweet remembrances (some of which I hope to share some day) … representing the fabric of a full life, well-lived. That’s what I saw when I looked out from the pulpit as I spoke. There were the grandkids. The great-grandkids. Neighbors. Musician friends. Customers and colleagues from Dad’s years at Sherwin Williams. The amazing souls from the Honor Guard. Church friends. Friends of my big brother and sisters. Friends I grew up with. Friends I made in college. Friends I work with. I knew the day would be over in a blur, and I knew I’d only be able to connect with a fraction of those who came to pay their final respects. I wanted the memory of that beautiful congregation to last me a lifetime.
So, after I told the hospital story Saturday, I rambled on for a few more minutes. But before I sat down I couldn’t resist pulling out a camera and asking those gathered for the biggest smile they could muster.
Because when I think back on Feb. 6 2016 in the days, weeks, months and years ahead, I know exactly what I will want to remember.
Wasn’t it great having everybody together.