To share the following with you, I need to tell you a few things.
First, this past Thursday, January 5, 2012, my dad, Richard Berry, passed away. Second, that night, after learning a few things, I wrote the following piece. It says a lot about him and what I got from him. As I will mention, writing is how I cope with my problems. I feel I should share this with you because, dear readers, it might make you feel better. I know it makes me feel better.
I sit now only a few feet from where my dad sat this afternoon, the place where he sat and passed away.
He had a number of issues over the past half a year, from a broken pelvis to dry gangrene in his left foot to a broken hip. His kidneys failed him over five years ago and he’d been living with diabetes ever since I was three. At the end, he simply relaxed and that was it.
Of course, for the rest of us, the story only begins now.
I sit here, in this place where I grew up, in a house my dad woke up in this morning. Tonight, I will fall asleep here, wondering just how tomorrow will go. Not to mention the day after, the week after, forever after.
In the past few years, it’s been my habit to write when I feel grief, doubt, or frustration. I can pass those things along to my characters and make their personalities appear more real. My real hurt becomes theirs, even if it might be fictional.
That doesn’t help my family or my friends deal with what’s happened. It doesn’t help the paperwork go away, nor does it stop the calls from having to be made. All I can do is be a presence and occasionally a voice for any words that might help in the coming days.
One thing Dad taught me through example, was the power of words. Each combination of syllables opens a doorway, a path to create or awaken an emotion, a thought, or an idea. In my case, I hope to use these things to entertain and perhaps even enlighten the world. I’m sure it’s my purpose in life and I made my peace with that long ago.
My dad was a reserved man, even-tempered, calm, and able to make a deal. He knew the power of charity and of loyalty. Some of those things have seeped into my writing, if only by small measures, in ways I cannot hope to count.
Music was always part of our lives, not in the form of performance, but as something we could share. When I was a teenager, the local PBS station played the Eagles’ concert Hell Freezes Over. We would compare what songs we liked and didn’t like, we talked about our favorites and who we thought provided more to the group. I still use my appreciation of music to fuel my writing, to inspire the pace and beat of a scene.
Dad lived his dream, sowing and caring for the land. He acted as a steward of health and nutrition but growing things like rice, soybeans, milo. Don’t know that last one? It’s one of the main components of molasses, something I never knew as a kid.
I asked for his expertise in making some plausible details in Mind & Machine. He didn’t think much of it, but I told him that he would still get his name in the Acknowledgments of that book. That hasn’t changed.
We learned this evening that my dad’s kindness expanded far beyond anything we’d ever imagined. Ten years ago, he filled out some forms, allowing his organs and tissues to be harvested to help those in need. For one day’s delay, Richard Berry, a sixty-year-old farmer could make life easier for seventy people. In a time where he was on a transplant list for a kidney and a pancreas, there is still more he can give. Skin for those who need grafts, corneas for those who can’t see. He had one last crop to distribute to those who were hungry. As always, he would feed their needs anonymously, just as he always did.
As I try to make my dreams come true through writing, I see that I must be a storyteller as well.
One story, one sweet, sad story comes from my nephew. He went up to my mom and started asking, “Where’s Grandpa? Where’s Grandpa?” He’s only three, so it’s not an easy question to answer.
My sister, bless her heart, came up with an inspired answer. “Grandpa went to live with Jesus.”
If you look at it that way, I guess there are harvests that still needed to grow, crops to be watered and fertilized, and suffering that had to be satiated. Silently, reverently, and with the best of intentions. If only we could do as he did, live our lives, love what we love, and make things better for everyone by embracing our dreams.