Editor’s Note: The following is the eulogy offered by Kristi Rendahl at the April 9 funeral for her beloved father, David Allan Rendahl.
My brilliant and beautiful dad made his transition from the earth the morning of Saturday, March 5th. His obituary tells you some about his life and values, but I want people to know that my dad taught me how to do a bird call in the likeness of a mourning dove. I once demonstrated the call to children in the home of a traditional Bedouin family in the country of Jordan, and for the first time, the grandfather turned his head toward me with great interest and instructed me to teach all the young people in his home. That bird call is currency.
I want to tell people how dad taught me to drive. We started on a three-wheeler before they became illegal, because they were compact ways to move around a farm. I drove it with confidence to deliver his noon meals in the field and to herd escapist cows back into the pasture, even if the latter was mostly performative since I was not an efficient cattle wrangler.
I want everyone to know of his pragmatism: that he picked me up from school when I was 12 to open my first checking account; that he grounded me from my checkbook for three weeks a year later when I bounced a check because I hadn’t understood that checks don’t automatically clear; that he handed me a check from the social security administration when I turned 18 with an explanation that it was the final survivor benefit related to my mother’s death when I was two and told me that all the others had been deposited into my college savings account.
I know you know that he was exceedingly sensible in so many ways, but I’ll tell you that he always wanted to know the ending of a romantic story. And he liked my stories, romantic or otherwise. When I described a conversation I had with two sex workers in West Africa, he asked in a deeply concerned tone about their risk for HIV. When I shared about a child I’d met that same day, he asked the child’s name and referred to him by name in his follow-up questions. He liked my stories. He liked me.
I want to tell my students that he was a person who knew right and wrong but approached most anything with nuance and healthy skepticism. He gave people the benefit of a doubt, but was not someone who could be run over.
I want to paint a picture of what it looks like to keep your loved one safe by sharing how I once watched him pull radishes for me from his garden in Arizona and wash them with a garden hose for one minute, two minutes, three minutes, and even when I said I didn’t mind a little dirt, boasting about my ability to eat both vegetables and soil, he said the dirt there wasn’t as clean as the dirt in North Dakota, and he kept washing.
I want to tell someone that he wouldn’t let me quit piano lessons when I was a restless adolescent, and I ended up studying it in college. I finished my doctoral program because he kept asking when I would be done, and I wanted him to stop asking. He encouraged me to write and learn and ask questions and develop my mind. I can count on one hand the number of times he commented about anything related to my appearance.
I need to tell you that it doesn’t matter where or who you come from, but it sure helps when people tell you what you’re capable of, and dad did that by telling me about my ancestors, their trials and tribulations, his own. He once told me unequivocally that I’m a good writer. In college, he said that he thought I was an A+ person, and he wasn’t referring to my grades. As the old joke goes, Ole loved his wife so much he almost told her. Dad told me through trust and high expectations and time together, sitting, saying nothing, having another cup of coffee and a cookie.
I want people to know that, yes, it was hard to see my dad sick and feel powerless to change his reality, but if it weren’t for that I would not have seen the intense focused look in his eyes as he fought to remain mobile and strong, that I would not have learned what I was capable of as a daughter, as his daughter, that I would not have thrown myself into walking the Arizona mountains and desert and North Dakota hills and prairie near him as I struggled to balance my roles as daughter and caregiver and professor and friend and sister, niece, aunt.
I want to share how much a relationship can evolve in unexpected ways. Three months before dad passed, I injected him with insulin each day. Neither of us would have ever imagined such a day. Two months before he passed, I became hands-on with that which many consider indignities, but which are really the natural result of our beautiful bodies. One month before he passed, I rarely left his side when I was with him, lest he need something or, worse yet, walk unattended and fall. And we drank a whole lot of coffee.
We had not been physically affectionate during my childhood, but during these months our touch was frequent, often practical, but tender equally as often. He twirled the end of my ponytail when I sat on his bed two days before he passed. He clasped his hands behind my back when I leaned in for a hug that day. He stroked my arm when I sat next to him while he lay in bed. Many days, his touch is all I remember.
The afternoon before he passed, three of his longtime friends came a day after I wrote to tell them that the transition would come soon. They are gentle men who let tears fall freely while they sat with dad, their friend of more than 60 years. At that same time, he trusted me and the other caregivers to take over to keep him comfortable. “I will not let you fall, dad,” I said, as he gripped my hand while we adjusted him in bed. “I will not let you fall.” He never let me fall, except to prove that I could get back up. This was different.
During the final 12 hours before he passed, I administered the end-of-life comfort medications every two hours throughout the entire night. I was so grateful for the chance to do something to alleviate suffering. When his breathing became labored, I sang the Lord’s Prayer in Armenian, which he had loved to hear me sing. I sang the song “Baby Face” and stroked his fevered skin. He left a deeply loved man.
I want you to know that such a person lived. And he was my dad.