February brought devastating change to my family. After a decades long battle with prostate cancer, a new and deadlier foe overwhelmed my dad. He was determined, he was strong, but he wasn’t invincible. On February 5, 2018 my dad slipped into eternity.
Hurried arrangements, long flights, and short days awaited us when we made our way to the Left Coast. Salem, Oregon known for its gray and rain in winter, offered up its best weather as we faced the impossible prospect of saying goodbye. The crisp blue sky, the green grass held a hint of spring, and the stunning beauty of Oregon greeted us as an old friend.
In my family when things get hard, we gather. So, that is what we did. We collected family from far and wide. We overran my sister’s house. We laughed and teased. We told stories about my dad, about the others who have already gone on. Old stories about grandparents and great-grandparents, our aunts and uncles and great aunts and uncles, long passed were added to the stories of the times we gathered, remembrances from childhood, and more recent stories. We shared space. We shared meals. We shared hugs and smiles. We cried and laughed some more.
We gathered stories about my dad. As the chronicler of things, I wrote them down. We laughed about the things dad said. The phrases he was known for, things he said over and over again. Things he did and didn’t do, the way he lived with us and for us. We added to the list all week long, gathering memories on a string to save for later. We shared stories of the way he was, the ways he would always be for us.
For the funeral, we gathered all the pictures and songs and my niece created a video tribute to her best friend. We planned and prepared. We orchestrated and deliberated. We bought and made food to share. We picked out flowers. We cleaned and organized. We planned some more.
We gathered more stories. The moments etched in our memories… favorite moments of fun and life. Stories that illustrated his love for life, for his grandchildren, and his home. Stories that reminded us of what mattered to dad… Oregon, his family, his service to the USA.
On Saturday February 10, 2018 we took all the things we gathered and poured them out with tears. We shared his story, the things most precious, and our grief as we celebrated a life that shaped us all. Taps played, they folded the flag, and offered it reverently to my mother. We were surrounded by family and friends. We did not need much more than a room full of loved ones, our memories, and our love.
We have just begun the process of saying goodbye. I know that. The days and weeks ahead will surprise us with new waves of loss and sadness. It doesn’t yet feel real. The work ahead is daunting. I am exhausted, I know my mom and sister are even more so.
And yet, that week we spent gathering, holding life up close, paying attention to the slipping of time supports me somehow. Being a part of a family both wide and deep brace me for the challenges ahead. Reconnecting with the people who share my history, my smile, and my great-grandparents gives me courage. I’ll forever be thankful for a family that gathers.
Eulogy for Lt. Gary L Derrick US Navy Retired
As I consider how to sum up the life of someone who has been as much myth to us as man, I can’t help but confess that it is a bit surreal. When we were growing up, we rarely went to the doctor… and when we would whine, mom and dad would say. “You are Derricks, you are made of tougher stuff.” Well, I don’t know about the rest of us, but our dad sure was.
- He forged a path from Ontario Oregon to the World through the US Navy
- He worked his way through the ranks from E1 Seaman recruit to a Commissioned Officer – Lt Gary Derrick
- And he did some of those ranks twice!
- He toured the world for over 25 years traveling to almost every continent, visiting places most people just read about or see on the evening news.
- He served his country during conflict in both Vietnam and Granada
- He earned his GED, and then his bachelor’s degree along the way
- He loved my mother for 47 years… Mom and Dad assured us that when they were alone (traveling over the past few years) they never fought.
- He raised two strong willed daughters
- He moved us around the country and around the world
- He never missed a chance to teach us about the places we lived
- Touring Scotland and visiting 14 castles in 5 days
- Sailing around Bermuda on his sailboat
- Renting a beach house in Hawaii and spending the week boogie boarding and snorkeling
- We spent a Christmas in Walt Disney World & Epcot Center
- Weekends at Wet N Wild in Ocala
- We tried to never miss a roller coaster and enjoyed them all over the country
- He did however get sick on spinning rides… that was unfortunate
- He taught us to see the world, reach out and touch it, and make our own mark on it
- He watched Kristi and I marry men he wasn’t quite sure of
- He grew to love our husbands
- He watched proudly as we forged lives of our own
- He cheered us on as we found our own ways forward
- He served his mom and dad, taking care of them in every way he could
- He opened his home to friends and family – even when it hurt
- He was so proud of his sister Peggy and his nephew Matthew
- He spoiled his grandchildren –
- Floating down the river with Allie in pontoon boats
- Hunting trip with Brian on his 13th birthday
- Buying Stephanie a bike with pink pony tails
- Bringing Jayla to school and stopping by Dutch Bros or McD or wherever she might want to go
- He made their celebrations his own attending graduations, weddings, and summers… and often helping to foot the bill
- He loved the vacations we planned over the past few years- St. Augustine, Key West, New Orleans, and Las Vegas
- He loved Oregon- his Ducks, the country side, especially the beach, rodeos, carnivals, and festivals, including the State Fair
- He got terminal cancer and lived for almost 2 decades
- Right up to the day before he died he said – give me another week and I’ll beat this!
- When it was time, he made the decision about how he would die
- He even did that on his own terms
- He was stubborn
- He was tough headed
- We all knew the set of his jaw and his signal – enough
- He was our rock
- He sometimes struggled in the space between who he wanted to be and who he was
- He wasn’t perfect
- He could be assy
- But he was ours and we were his and we loved each other with all we had.
Gary Derrick was a man, but in our lives he became a legend. We will continue to live out his legacy to love each other, to have some fun, and to make life matter. He did, and we love him for it.