My dad’s high school yearbook told the story of a popular teen with the world at his fingertips — track star, editor of the school paper, class council president. Countless black and white photos of the handsome young man surrounded by smiling peers in matching horn-rimmed glasses. An athlete and academic full of promise and potential.
But that’s not the story I knew. Nor the one reflected at his memorial the day we gathered to mourn my father.
Had someone asked my dad’s friends back then what Ralph’s funeral would someday be like, I’m sure they would have described an auditorium packed to the gills with old classmates and friends eager to pay their respects. Surely there would be stories of his impressive professional success and anecdotes from loved ones about the dynamic, devoted man he was. The line to greet the family would be long, but everyone would wait because that’s what you do to honor an extraordinary man.
But when we gathered on that somber morning five years ago to pay tribute to my father, I think I could count on one hand the people that were there just for him.
The successful high school senior’s life didn’t turn out the way everyone expected. Yes, he had worked his way into a high-paying management position. He got married and had three beautiful daughters. But the majority of his adulthood was marked by pain and broken dreams. Two divorces, depression, and addiction marred his body and soul. He cut himself off from everyone, save for my sisters and me, who worked hard to continue a relationship with him.
But the church sanctuary was not empty that cold February morning. Not by a long shot.