At My Father's Grave

My father died on July 7, 1995. We buried him Tuesday, July 11, and my mother asked me to say a few words at the funeral. I don't think I could really do the man or my feelings justice, but I tried. Here's what I said.
My Father

I'll miss my father, I already miss him, greatly... I'll miss his stories, his laughter, the fire of his opinions, and especially the quiet strength of him. Yet, I think it's one of the truths of the world that the people we miss the most are also the ones that we can't miss, because we carry so much of them with us.

What can you say about my father? He was something of a paradox, I think. On the one hand he stands out in my mind for his stories, his wit, and the fire of his opinions. Anyone who's argued with him, and that's quite a few of us, knew that he had strong opinions and argued them with zeal. On the other hand, at the same time, he was a quiet man, who kept a lot of what he felt on the inside, someone who taught more by example than by lecture.

Did he believe that there was something for us after death? I don't really know. I asked him about God and the after life years and years ago. He explained to me what agnosticism meant to him, that you could never really know, and know that you were right. You could believe, you could have faith, but you couldn't know. And he said that he thought that God wouldn't be as great, nor faith as important, if it were possible to know. We never discussed it again, but what he said affected me all my life. For questions like that he didn't teach by giving me the answers, but by getting me to ask the questions and answer them myself.

I'll never, in this life at least, be able to go to him for any more answers, but as long as I live, I'll do what he taught me... ask the questions, think, and find my own answers. And in my heart and in my memory, he'll be there by example, guiding me. And with him will be his stories. He was full of stories. There was nothing he didn't have a story or a joke for. And he was always such a wonderful subject for stories.

Sad stories about the little boy, shut up in a crate and rolled down a hill by bullies. Stories about breaking in with his friend Jim Fink to the doctor's office so they could memorize the eye chart and pass the medical to join the Navy. Stories that end with a father looking down at a little boy, dazed, scared and bruised and saying simply, "Don't do that. You could hurt yourself." Stories about the man who unscrewed the table leg that came between him and the pretty woman sitting next to him at a dinner party. Stories about the fellow, out sailing, faced with bad weather rolling in who looks up and yells, "Knock it off, Lord." only to have the weather roll away. Stories about anchors thrown overboard before they were tied to the anchor rode.

I could tell stories about that man all day, all week, all year. I won't just now, but I carry them in my heart, and so, though I'll miss him more than words can ever say, I'll have him with me, inside, and never, never really miss him. He's in everything I do, and everything I am. If you ever need a story about him just ask... Or hang around a bit, they burst out on their own.

One of the last full sentences he ever said to me was that he ought to go off and "set old Bill [Shakespeare] right on a few things." Somehow, I expect that Bill's now learning what a lot of us know, what an experience it is to know my father. And his stories will never be the same again.

Here lies Jim Burrows, my father, designer, inventor, historian, artist & storyteller. I'll miss him.

Thank you for coming. Please, join us at his house. It's just down the road. And there's so much more to say and remember.

July 11, 1995