My dad, Harry Darting, struggled for years and years with Multiple Myeloma. He was diagnosed when I was in college, and he died when my daughter was about one and a half. He died one year ago today. Today, in honor of my dad, I want to take the time to share with you the remarks I prepared for his memorial service last year. I hope his story will inspire you.
For those of you who may not know me, I am Harry’s daughter, Rebecca.
As I stand before you today, I can’t believe it’s over. My Dad was diagnosed with cancer when I was in college, about 7 years ago. He was a tough guy and put up the fight of his life. He had so many close calls before now that I find it hard to believe that his journey is really over. I always expected him to keep beating the odds. But the time comes for each of us to pass from this world to the next and Dad’s came on February 24, 2010.
It is important to me today to get up before you and let you know how important my Dad was in my life.
But before I do, I want to thank my stepmother, Nancy, for all that she did for my Dad and for all of the love she showed him down through the years, even when he was a “difficult patient.” I know Dad loved her very much and I will always be grateful to her.
My Dad was not a perfect guy, but I think he was always trying to grow as a Christian, husband and father. After my parent’s divorce, my relationship with Dad wasn’t the strongest for several years but in his battle with cancer, Dad dealt with a lot of unfinished business in his life. He opened his heart to forgiveness and reconciliation where he needed to. He softened and became more easygoing. He let more things roll off his back. He made a lot more time for me and our relationship grew a lot.
I feel that part of the reason he fought cancer so hard was for Nancy and for Daniel and I. And because of his valiant battle, he got to see both of his kids get married. He got to meet his first granddaughter, Burrito. That he was there for these important moments in our lives will always mean the world to me.
What also meant the world to me were what became our regular Sunday afternoon phone chats. Dad always had interesting things to talk about—faith, politics (which we debated endlessly), movies, history. I always thought he was one of those people who never knew how smart he was. And Dad always wanted to know the latest news about me and Christopher…and of course his granddaughter’s latest accomplishments.
After Christopher and I were married, Dad made a big thing about giving Christopher an “oral practical exam” in order to make sure he was a suitable son-in-law. Dad made it sound like he was going to rigorously evaluate Christopher’s handyman skills but when we went out for our visit, Dad just invited Christopher to work on a project around the house with him in a friendly and inviting fashion. In characteristic fashion, Dad acted like a tough guy but was actually much more of softie than he would like to have admitted. He always made Christopher feel welcome in our family, which I really appreciated.
I always wished Dad would come to visit us up in North Dakota and see the life we’d made for ourselves there. We live in a small town and serve as pastors of two churches together there. Dad always thought small town life was the best, and he loved the wholesome atmosphere. Anyway, maybe it wasn’t the wisest thing for Dad’s health but when he finally did come to visit last summer, it meant the world that he would make that sacrifice. Travel—which Dad had always loved—had become grueling and complicated and risky. But he did it in order to come see us. We had a wonderful week together. Even though Dad couldn’t do the things he used to be able to, he cheerfully tried to help out, taking out the trash, repairing a broken door.
The funniest thing that happened was when “Grandpa” was charged with watching 10 month old Burrito during church. I was leading the service. I put Burrito in the stroller, fastened in, and instructed Dad not to pick her up or worry about changing a diaper, knowing his weakened state and physical limitations. If she started screaming during church, he was to wheel her out and walk her around in the stroller or just take her in the cry room.
Dad was never one to take “orders” from others though. He’d been one to take care of things himself his whole life. When Burrito started fussing loudly during church, he took her out. That part was according to plan, so I didn’t worry too much while I finished leading the service. Dad took Burrito into the cry room. At some point, he decided she was fussing because she had messed her diaper, so he decided to take care of business. The only problem was that when my brother and I were little, our parents used cloth diapers on us. Dad was not at all acquainted with disposable diapers. They were like a Rubix cube to him. Still, he thought that maybe he could figure it out but soon was in over his head. He tried to gesture wildly for help through the window in the cry room but the woman who saw him thought he was waving and just waved back.
When I came in to check on him after church, I found Burrito screaming on his lap with an open diaper wrapped around her bottom. Dad was looking pretty flustered and strewn about his feet were three other attempted diapers. My tough, mechanically minded Dad had been completely ungunned by disposable diapers!
Dad was always one to be an adventurer. When he was growing up, he thought if he could learn to fly, that would be his ticket out and around the world. He always had a wanderlust. Even his travels all over the world to Mexico, Haiti, Costa Rica and Africa never satisfied him. He was always looking for the next adventure. When Christopher and I went to visit him shortly after being married, Dad had already been battling cancer for a few years but he was determined to be a good host and show us some sightseeing. He took us on a trip to Globe and initially, it was just a nice trip. Then he decided we should take a drive on the Apache Trail. It’s this winding, unpaved almost one lane road that winds around a mountain. Dad said we should take it and just keep going. How long could it be? 45 minutes later, our teeth chattering from the constant bumps, our stomachs queasy, and our hearts filled with relief at having survived, we made it off that road. Dad’s love for adventure was unquenched.
In the past few months, there were several times when I would be visiting Dad on the phone or in person and would sense that he was trying to pass on his blessing to me and my family. He told me he was proud of me and that meant so much to me. Some of his last words to me were about my ministry. He said: “Rebecca, what you’re doing is making a difference in people’s lives. I wish I could be out there doing it. Don’t ever stop doing that! Promise me.” And I did.
When Dad was in his 30s, before I was born, he had the pivotal experience of his life: he came to believe in Jesus Christ as his Savior. Dad never really made it a secret that he had battled alcoholism and gone down some paths that weren’t the best. But coming to faith in Jesus Christ changed him forever. He told me only a short time ago that when he came to faith, he quit drinking and smoking cold turkey and suffered no withdrawal.
Dad had many ups and downs in the life of faith. It’s not like everything was roses from then on out, but he always knew that Christ had forgiven him of all of his sins and given him new life. He began to share what Christ had done for him with everyone he could. He found even talking to strangers about faith easy and natural. Because of this, I believe he had a spiritual gift of evangelism.
I know that if Dad would want all of you to know anything today, it would be the same message he shared his whole life: We are sinners, broken people. Sin infects our souls like cancer infected Dad’s body. It spreads everywhere. Dad had a stem cell transplant early on in his treatment of cancer. Before this, he had weeks of chemotherapy in which his immune system was killed outright. He had to be in the hospital for many weeks, in a clean room, in order to protect him from the slightest cold. After his old being was killed through the chemotherapy, the stem cells were injected into his body in order to give him new life. He said that this felt like a birthday. He was new all over again. In the same way, Christ’s death on the cross was a radical step, much like the aggressive chemotherapy that Dad underwent. This radical dying of Christ was the death that takes away our death. It was the radical treatment that frees us from our sinful nature. And Christ’s resurrection was like the injection of stem cells into my dad. It made him new and it makes us new. I believe with all of my heart and my mind that Dad is in heaven with the Lord now, made new. The most wonderful thing about being a Christian is that we can stare at an urn, at a casket, at a grave—the most fearful things that life can throw at us—and say, “This is not the end. This is only the beginning.”
I love you, Dad. You were a huge presence in my life and I’ll never forget you. I miss you so much already.