Today, Dad would have celebrated 83 years walking this earth. But instead, he is whole and perfect and celebrating with the love of his life in a place of happiness that is beyond all comprehension to us left here with the memories of his warm smile, his never-ending quips of knowledge and a love that is beyond anything we understood while we were in the midst of experiencing it.
I’m having a hard time today. My heart hurts. Physically. I miss him so much. I long to hear his voice, to have his prickly beard brush my cheek as we kiss hello and goodbye. And in thinking what I say to honor him today – I thought I would share my reflection I gave for him at the celebration of life Mass. It is not well written, grammatically correct or a great work of prose. But, it pretty much says it all – in a very chaotic, emotional and fragile way.
Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you so much –
On H. Larry Penning, MD
I have thought a lot about today – over the years. I know that sounds morbid, but as a singer, I have celebrated many funerals of many good, good fathers – and inevitably you start to think about the funeral of your own father. I could never wrap my head around what I would be talking about today. And now I am here wondering – How do you condense a life like that of Larry Penning into a few minutes of words? What was the meaning of his existence on this earth and what are we supposed to take away from today that we can carry with us?
So many of you know him in different ways.
From work – from Church – through us; “his girls” – from the Y, maybe even just from being the service provider on the other side of the desk or counter who got sucked into a fifteen-minute conversation about his last trip or his newest medical discovery.
I always saw my dad as a very inward man. Of course, he thrived on one-on-one conversation but he was not a social person in the concept of going to parties, hanging out with a pack of guy friends or anything like that.
But what I’ve learned about my dad in the last two months is that even in his somewhat solitary existence – he impacted so many just through his steadfast faith, his unwavering character, and his deep understanding of purpose that oozed from him and rubbed off on others.
I have had so many people tell me how Dad was a symbol for him at church – or a rock of character for him at the office; someone who would go to bat them for what was right and good.
For me the things that stand out about dad are;
- His love for NATURE; one of my greatest memories of just me and my dad was on a trip we took one Christmas to the Cayman Islands. On the very first day, Dad and I were the first ones in the clear blue water and he and I snorkeled together in that water for hours. He loved experiencing new things like that in nature – whether it was snorkeling or hiking much higher than he should have alone in the mountains of Colorado. Or the endless hours he spent in his yard – tending to the thousands upon thousands of bulbs – not only creating an earthly oasis but also knowing the name of every flower species, where he procured it and why he loved it so.
- His VOICE – I have to confess, when I was little I was mortified by my dad’s voice – both when he sang and when he yelled. We girls didn’t need our cell phones taken away or to be grounded to obey – all we needed was to hear his voice – loud, forceful and somewhat terrifying to a young person – and we would obey. And in the pew at church I would hang my head and avoid the stares when new people came and were shocked by the volume and power of his voice. But as I grew – his voice changed from loud and scary to deep and strong and one of the most comforting sounds I can imagine.
- His TENDERNESS – Dad was a very sentimental man. He loved big and strong and with his whole being. And to you, grandchildren; Caroline, Jack, Reagan, Mary, Andrew, Charlotte, Charlie, Lewis and Ellie – know how much your grandfather loved you and would boast about each and every one of you to anyone who would listen. You were light in his life. Go make him proud.
One of my favorite stories was when he was a young boy he got a bag of confetti for his birthday – I believe (if I remember the story right) it was his only present that year. He treasured this bag of confetti and was hurt to his core when someone threw it away when he and his mom and dad were moving from one home to the next. He mourned that bag of confetti and retold of the loss many times.
- His love of KNOWLEDGE – if you’re here and you knew my dad – you too, I am sure, regarded him as one of the smartest men you’ve ever met. His love of learning was like an unquenchable thirst. Just days before his death, he sat in his family room with his grandchildren gathered to talk about the opportunities combining geothermal energy and CO2 containment would be for the world. (look that one up)
- His STORIES – If you have spent any time with my dad you’ve heard a story or two or three. There were stories that molded his life, or something he had learned and wanted to share. He was a teacher of life through his stories and I admit – sometimes it was hard to keep listening – because maybe I had heard that story once or twice before or maybe I was just consumed by the to do list in my head and too busy to really listen. What I wouldn’t give for one more story.
- His IMPERFECTION – Like most little girls, almost all my life I thought my Dad was perfect. There was nothing he could do wrong – he was unbreakable. But as we got older his stories revealed his humanity – how he flunked anatomy and almost didn’t graduate med school. He was sued by a sioux on the indian reservation and had to deal with the heartbreak of downsizing in his office and telling people they were fired. Even in great distress he was great.
- But most of all His FAITH – To say that Dad extremely faith filled was a gross understatement. And although he was devout and persistent in his own views – he was never condemning to others. No judgement – For the last several years a repetitive theme he would say to me was that he believed that kids today didn’t know or understand their faith – who they were or why they were taught to believe what they believe and that we should be teaching our kids the Baltimore Catechism – even if we only gave them the first few parts of it….. – and then he would recite..
1. Q. Who made the world?
A. God made the world.
2. Q. Who is God?
A. God is the Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things.
3. Q. What is man?
A. Man is a creature composed of body and soul, and made to the image and likeness of God.
6. Q. Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.
God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.
But the part that so many of us get stuck on, I believe is that – we are made to know God… How do we do this? How do we know Him? And then I get back to my original challenge of today – what are we supposed to take away from Dad’s life?
We believe that God / Christ is within each one of us.
So if God is within each of us – then when we take the time to get to know a person – we get to know God. And when we get to know someone who has a personal relationship with God like my dad did – we get to know God even better.
Dad is telling me – to keep encountering people. Encountering this world that has so much to offer. Learn, plant things, get your hands dirty, go on hikes, sing loud and make people look at you funny, write poems, kiss your loved one every day and tell the you love them. Throw confetti. Stand up for what’s right – but don’t judge. Keep telling stories, keep listening to stories and really take time to listen.
By doing this – I think we keep encountering each other and therefore we are encountering Jesus in this life so that we can be with Him, and Larry Penning – in the next.