I wanted to write one last post to thank you all for the amazing support you have given us over the last 10 months, and especially last several days. We could not have made it this far, or continue to proceed forward, without the amazing support network of friends, family and loved ones that we have. Dad lived an incredibly rich life, and you all are evidence of that. To end this long journey, I wanted to leave you all with the words I shared at Dad's funeral.
- All my love and gratitude, Linnea
Donald Howard Westerberg
March 1, 1948 - November 1, 2016
My Dad was never the kind of person that said things like "it'll be fine, it's all good". Instead, he would say "I’ll find a way to make it work". Dad did not believe in easy way outs. He tackled every step of life, every task, with a work ethic that rivaled none other...this could maybe be attributed to his Midwest upbringing or the fact that he was a boy scout until his late teens, or maybe, he was just simply built differently. From an early age, I understood that my father was not only dependable, but unrelenting in the pursuit of giving his family anything we could ever need. My father embodied the meaning of grit and hard work. A true North Omaha, hardscrabble Swede, he believed in the ethic my Grandfather instilled him, "when the going gets tough, the tough gets going". I often find it unfathomable, how much my father gave me. But then I think about how he did it, and I’m even more grateful. Dad was never given anything he had, what he gave us…he earned it all, with hard work and planning. He didn't buy his dream home when he and mom moved out of the Church house back in the 70s. They bought a plot of land and cleared it themselves, every weekend for a year. Then they built a house from a kit dad ordered, and slowly, over 25 years, added to it and the yard to create the dream house they originally envisioned.
Dad didn't believe relaxation was "owed" to him, even on weekends. Friday nights he would come home and do the budget, after working 12-14 hour days. Saturday morning, he would be up early, doing a dump run and then working in the yard. He instilled in us the idea that good enough, was never good, enough. And even if you work hard, you may fail, but you don’t give up. Despite the long days he worked, he always made it a point to ask us about our days, to proof-read papers for us or help us with math homework when he got home late at night and was eating his dinner. When I was in high school, and wanted to drive, it was Dad that took me up to the high school and had me practice learning how to drive a stick shift on his Toyota pickup. Then on a snow day, during a blizzard, it was Dad who had me drive up to Jack’s market in Washington Depot, under the guise of “I think we need something yummy for dinner”, to make sure I knew how to drive safely, even in a white out. I’m sure I gave Dad whiplash, if not an ulcer (clutching did not come easily to me), but he never faltered with his patience, nor did he let me give up, even when I wanted to. Dad let me make the mistakes, whether that meant stalling a vehicle on a hill and rolling backward a bit, or not knowing what I wanted to do after college and moving home for a year, he let me feel the strain of uncertainty, and with gentle guidance, and a lot of love, he always helped me find my way out of whatever problem I faced.
Throughout my life, my father taught me many lessons. Like him, I love to plan. Neither of us could take a trip without consulting trip advisor multiple times or creating a spreadsheet with a clear outline of which restaurants we were eating at and when. We also don’t understand how anyone could book a flight for a vacation less than 10 months ahead or get to the airport with less than 2 hours before a flight. However, as often as Dad said "it's important to plan”, he would frequently follow it up with “but without flexibility, you will get nowhere in life". I remember a fishing trip to the Winnipeg River in Canada about 10 years ago, a place we often went in the summer, and a place Dad had gone since childhood. He had planned our trip down to every last detail (like whether Walleye were biting better with minnows or leaches), but he could have never planned that on a trip into town to get Pizza for dinner, someone (Grandpa) would have locked the keys inside our minivan. The only way back to our cabin was in a metal boat and a thunderstorm was fast approaching. Dad had a plan in place for getting the keys out before most of us had even gotten past our initial panic. Not once did he place blame or get angry, he just accepted what had happened and figured out a solution. The way back to the cabin was no less stressful, with one member of our party passing out in the back of the minivan, then riding through the dark, in the rain, in a boat back to the island we stayed on. Yet it was only once we were back, safely, that Dad sat down, poured himself a Dewar’s and let out a pretty big sigh, did I realize that maybe he had been a bit stressed.
When Dad was first diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis 9 years ago, he handled the situation similarly. Instead of asking why, or wallowing in upset and anger, Dad was proactive. He continued to live his life, adjusting with flexibility and composure. Dad refused to let someone else take care of his lawn, for example, but he needed oxygen to even exert minimal energy. So he went to Walmart, found a backpack that had a holes for headphones at the top, and rigged up the tubing so he could wear his oxygen while still doing his beloved yardwork. Dad ran his life with meticulous care, he would not let a disease run him. Even while in the hospital, he did not give up on his true passion – caring about and helping others. He knew every nurse, doctor, tech and cleaning person’s name that came into his room. He became like a mentor to the two chaplains that came to visit him and offered online dating profile advice to his favorite nurses. He knew how many children each person had and where they were from. He did not give up on living a life of purpose, even when I’m sure it felt impossible.
However, he would not have been able to do this without his remarkable partner, my mother. As long as Dad had the drive, mom would make it work. This manifested itself in many ways, like when he could no longer go without oxygen full-time, and couldn’t drive himself anymore, Mom retired and took Dad to work every morning, went back at lunch to heat up a home cooked meal she had made, and then came back at night to drive him back home. Yes, Dad was the one working 12+ hour days while on 6 liters of supplemental oxygen, but it wouldn’t have been possible without Mom. The last 10 months, Dad suffered, but mom was there to comfort, care for him and make it doable. She would be with him by 8 am, whether she was staying 30 minutes away with us in White Plains, or 2 hours (sometimes 3 with traffic) when she would take her occasional trips home to Roxbury. When he couldn’t eat because of painful blisters in his mouth, a side effect of a medication, it was mom who would make frequent trips to the grocery store to get him ice cream, then feed it to him, or stay up late cooking him his favorite soft foods he could eat – pennywise steak, sloppy jo, sweet potato puree. The nurses often joked she deserved a paycheck, but I don’t think they were actually joking. I have never seen a level of devotion greater than that of the one Mom had to Dad had to each other. Dad never gave up, he fought to the bitter end, and I think it was a testament to his love for her and us. He wanted to be alive as long as he possibly could be. And yet Dad would not have made it so far, or so long, without my mother. Dad rarely complained and yet he endured so much during his recovery - being woken through the night for pills, horrendous side effects from medicine, terrifying trips to the ICU and numerous infections...and yet when our favorite chaplain came in once and asked him "Don, how does all of this, the clear injustice of what you've had to deal with, make you feel", he said "it is what God has chosen for me so my only choice is to accept it and move forward". When it came to my wedding this summer, despite his struggles the past year, nothing got in his way of giving John-Michael and me a wedding more perfect than we could have ever dreamed of. He worked tirelessly at rehab for two and a half months to get strong enough to be present that day, and on top of it, married us. Some have said it was a miracle, but once again, it was Dad’s hard work.
My father would often say “I am a simple man, who enjoys simple pleasures and a simple life”. Yet, there was nothing simple or easy about the life Dad lived. Dad worked for everything, gave his all to his family, and fought with superhuman faith and strength through his disease and difficult transplant recovery. While my favorite memories with my Dad may be considered simple to some, like sitting on the porch with him in the summer, listening to the News from Lake Wobegon and having appetizers, or going to family skate every Sunday at the Gunnery when we were growing up, the impact on my life, and I know on others, is not simple. The love and respect I will always feel for him is deep and all-consuming. The lessons he taught me, how he prepared me for life, was not simple or easy. He said to us right before he passed, “I hope all of you can live a life as good as me, but no one will live a better one”. In return, Dad I would like to say “I hope I can be as good a parent, a person, as you, but it would be impossible to be a better one”.