Daddy, I can’t believe it’s been 35 years we have lived without you. It seems just like yesterday I got the phone call from Mama on Mother’s Day, and I remember my shock when she said, “We’re taking your Daddy to the hospital. I’ve called an ambulance,” and then in the background, the last words I ever heard from you, “I don’t need an ambulance!” Ed stayed with little Rachel as I drove to Methodist Hospital’s emergency room. I remember standing there, still in shock, watching the crew wheel you in on a gurney as fast as they could run. That glimpse was the last time I saw you alive. I remember waiting the awful time in the private waiting room with Mom, then Zuleika came to sit with us. I remember calling Joy, who was living in Washington, DC, to tell her and she said she would catch the next plane out. I don’t know how much time passed before Dr. Murdock walked in and said they had done everything they could, but you were gone. I remember calling Joy back and telling her it was too late to say goodbye. Shock was just not a strong enough word for what we were feeling. Our world had turned upside down in one afternoon and we have never been the same. After Mama agreed to donate your corneas, saying quietly, “I think he would want that,” we left to go to Paw-Paw’s to deliver the sad news. I remember how he cried uncontrollably, and as you were only 64 years old and he was, of course, your father-in-law, he kept saying over and over, “It should have been me, it should have been me.” I don’t remember much about the days that followed. I do remember walking around in your den, the room filled with your reel-to-reel tapes, your stamps, your movies, your choir music - everything that brought you pleasure. I saw a lifetime unfinished, less than 4 months from the retirement you so ardently anticipated.
In the midst of our grief, you did make me chuckle when Joy and I looked in the files for any information or planning you might have done. There was a folder marked “Ensley Death” which had what we needed. Of course, you, the great organizer and recorder, would have done so! Your funeral was standing room only. We sang “Lead On, O King Eternal,” and “God Be With You ‘Til we Meet Again.” I sang “Be Thou My Vision” and Zuleika sang “Eternal Life.” I remember an abundance of food being brought to us, but I also remember Mama didn’t eat for days.
When you died, you had one grandchild, Rachel, who would turn 2 years old in a few weeks. Thirty-five years later, you have 4 grandchildren, one who would take Ensley as a middle name, and 4 great-grandchildren! Since you died, Joy has gotten married and has two wonderful, talented daughters. I’m so sorry you didn’t get to see Ed attain sobriety in 1984, but, as Ed always says to me, “He knows.” Ed went into ministry and then in 1996 we moved to Maine, where our kids met the wonderful people they married. Mama is turning 92 this year, and Joy is taking care of her needs enough to enable her to live in an apartment on her own. I know Mama was always your “little girl” because you married her when she was 19 and you were 8 years older. You always took care of her and I know it would make you happy to realize she is still being lovingly cared for, as we are doing what you cannot do anymore. I know you would be so proud of Rachel, Matthew, Kate, and Amelia, as well as the great-grandchildren. We keep your name alive. I remember when Rachel was watching your family home movies in the last few years, it brought her to tears, and she said, “I realized how much love is in this family into which I was born!”
Since you left, the world has changed a lot too! I remember when videos were just coming on the scene, I asked you if you were interested in updating from the old silent home movies, and you laughed and said, “I’ll leave that for y’all.” Who would have imagined we’d all be carrying smart phones in our pockets - or ditched encyclopedias for Google? You left this world before the personal computer, before e-mail, before the Internet. I wish you could have hung around to be able to peruse, sample, and order choir music online, to research your stamp collection, and to share your interests with people all over the world. You were made for the Internet, Daddy! And guess what? We elected our first African-American President, and gay marriage is now allowed in many states! Times are moving fast.
Unfortunately, the world itself is still in turmoil. Wars are everywhere, even wars using the Internet. Injustice and inequality are still rampant. People are still using God’s name to kill everyone who doesn’t believe the same way they do. People still are straining in vain to hear the ideas of your favorite Bible verse: “What does the Lord require of thee? But to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”
But guess what, Daddy? Your home movies are alive and on the Internet! You recordings are being painstakingly transferred by Joy to digital format where they can be shared with those who want to hear them. And I sat down tonight with your oldest great-granddaughter, Caroline, and together we listened to a recording you made of Joy and me when we were 4 and 2 years old. What a priceless gift - decades after their origination!
Yes, a lot of remarkable changes in 35 years, in your family and on Earth. But the true values you instilled in us - integrity, truth, justice, equality, service, faith - and your love of music, your curiosity, your passion for learning, your sense of humor - these are the values that never change. These are the things I give thanks for today, as I sit here, myself now 60 years old. Joy and I and our families are here because of you. Countless people have been affected by your love. The actions and stands you took in your lifetime have furthered the cause of justice and inspired many.
As a country, we just honored the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s death. I am taking the time here to honor just as great a man on the 35th anniversary of his death. Daddy, we miss you, we love you, and look forward to seeing you again. Thanks for everything!