Grandpa Tom

Grandpa Tom Clark reads a book to Tommy Brimley

It’s crazy that I’ve written dozens of blog posts, but have yet to write one solely on my father.  I think the reason is that every time I sit down to write it, I think, “I can’t possibly capture my dad in one blog post!”  Which of course is true.  But since he left on Monday to return to Oregon for the summer, I feel compelled to at least try and capture a bit of what makes him so wonderful.

For anyone who knows him, you know that my dad loves just a few things in life: family, golf and Texas football.  He retired a few years ago with the goal that he’d play golf every single day, and he made good on that promise for a number of years.  The only thing that changed his daily (and sometimes twice-daily) round of golf was a Texas football game.  He knew I cared nothing about football, but would still call me and recount half of the plays of each game and remind me (every year) that this was going to be the year Texas football won it all.

He did that routine – play golf, watch football, read and relax – on repeat every day for three years.  He did interrupt the routine to visit us and even live with us for periods of time.  But the routine was part of what made my dad so unique.  He didn’t need to see the wonders of the world or eat in every great restaurant in the Pacific Northwest.  He just needed golf and Texas football and the Clark family reunions.

But then Shawn got sick.  I remember talking to him on the phone sometime in October or November.  I was standing in my bedroom and Shawn was in bed.  I told him about Shawn’s recent test results, and how they had found a few concerning things.  At this point, every doctor still thought that Shawn had some crazy infection.  But my dad said that Shawn needed to get a colonoscopy sooner rather than later, just to rule out anything terrible like cancer.  “But,” he said to me, “that can’t happen.  That would definitely not be fair if something happened to Shawn.  You already lost your mom when you were young.  You can’t lose your husband.”

It was the first time I’d really thought about that idea.  I quickly dismissed it with something like, “Dad, please, Shawn is fine.”  I didn’t even remember our conversation until way after Shawn died.  But when I finally did think back to this moment, I remember what struck me  about it was that my dad never said things like this.  He didn’t ever try and talk about the fairness of things because, I think, his role as a doctor meant that he had seen how cruel the world could be.  He knew that life was unfair, and he pointed it out to my sister and me all the time.  Just trust me – the most used phrase out of my dad’s mouth when we were kids was “life is unfair.”

Of course Shawn’s death was unfair.  So was my mom’s death, but Shawn’s death seemed even more unfair.  Not because he was any better than my mom but because he was my husband.  My dad understood that the loss of a spouse is one of the the worst things you can experience.  He got my pain more than anyone else in my life.

And so, when Shawn got sick it didn’t matter that my dad couldn’t play golf or watch much Texas football in DC.  He came anyway.

He wanted to come right away, but I held him off for a few weeks.  I thought we had a long road ahead and that we would need him later.  When it became too much for me, I called him one afternoon in tears.  He arrived on the first flight the next day and spent that very night in the hospital with Shawn so I could go home and sleep.

He spent at least a dozen more nights with Shawn on the pull-out couch next to his hospital bed, and he woke up with me in the middle of the night when I needed to help Shawn once we were home.  He told me to have hope, even when his doctor sensibilities knew that there was little left.  He stayed with me as Shawn died and he held me up at the funeral.  And though I was the one who told my kids that their father had died, my dad made sure they were prepared.  The last morning Shawn was alive, Claire asked her Grandpa Tom if her dad was going to die.  He told her the truth.

Rather than shield us all from an uncomfortable reality, he faced the tragedy with us head-on.  He was with me – with us – in the moments when I couldn’t bear to do it alone.

And then, after Shawn died, he stayed.  He stayed and made pancakes and did laundry and read thousands of books with the kids.  He stayed and met my friends and learned their stories and remembered all of their names and the funny details about them.  He stayed and listened to my kids’ crazy stories and helped them do their math homework and yes – he even potty-trained Tommy.  He stayed and left me alone when I needed to be left alone and then drank wine with me when I needed to not be left alone.  He stayed and made a life in DC by meeting everyone at the kids’ elementary school and telling funny stories at countless neighborhood gatherings.  He stayed even though in six months he only got to play golf once and he had to watch Texas football mostly by streaming it on a small computer screen.

He stayed.  He stayed for me and he stayed for the kids.  Because if there’s one thing my dad knows, it’s that showing up is everything.

It’s the thing that’s so awesome about my dad.  That, and his chocolate chip cookies.

We can’t wait for him to come back for the next school year.  And the one after that.  “He’s staying until I’m in high school at least,” Claire said to me the other day, totally out of the blue.  She was smiling.

I smiled back.

Lucky, lucky us.  Though, if you ask him, he will say that he’s the lucky one.

 

52 Replies to “Grandpa Tom”

  1. Perfect tribute to Grandpa Tom. I’m sure when he returns to DC he’ll come with strawberry jam.

    1. Or he’ll send 30 jars in the mail! 🙂

  2. A legend.

    No, … a Legend.

    Enough said.

    Well, not quite. It’s really been great to read a little light coming in through these last two postings. Keep it coming.

    1. Thanks. It’s uneven, this grief thing, but my dad is certainly a bright spot.

  3. Sheryll Brimley says: Reply

    Tom’s chocolate chip cookies are the best!!! He also told me to have hope & that it was ok to wish for a Christmas miracle (even though my nurse’s common sense told me something different). I remembered his kind words as we spent Christmas Eve with Shawn, listened to carols & prayed for a Christmas miracle.

    1. Yes – he still always had hope, which was important for me getting through the time in the hospital. Thank you so much for sharing this, Sheryll!

  4. Amy Haffner says: Reply

    I am bawling my eyes out!!! This is so good. Tom is so good. You are all lucky! Wow! This is a blessing. Amy Haffner

    1. He is truly a blessing!

  5. I loved this post so much – what a touching tribute to such an incredbile father. I loved reading this – thank you for sharing. XO

    1. And thank you for reading my dear friend!

  6. Dick Running says: Reply

    I am known your mom and dad for many years. Your dad has been a fiend, a client, and my doctor for many more years than I can remember. One of the best things that I think I can say about anyone is that they were kind. YOUR DAD IS VERY, VERY KIND! As a doctor, your dad was extremely thorough, really smart, and funny! He and his talented finger discovered my prostate cancer in 1998!

    1. Thank you for sharing this – I really appreciate you reading and telling me a little more about my dad. He is truly the kindest.

  7. Such a lovely tribute to your dad–so glad he has been there for you, and what a special relationship for your kids to have with him. Thinking of all of you and hoping that summer will provide a nice respite from the day-to-day craziness. xoxo

    1. I think summer will be a nice break…..though we already so miss Grandpa Tom!

  8. beautiful post and a special tribute about your dad. thank you for sharing…

    1. Thanks my friend. I wrote from the heart, but it became a tribute 🙂

  9. FYI, his strawberry jam is better than his cookies. I’ve been deliciously eating PB&Js every day at work with it, and am going to be so SO sad when it’s gone.

    Lovely post, as always!

    1. He left some extra jam for you – let’s hang soon and I’ll give it to you!!

    2. His jam is the best!! 🙂

  10. Your dad sounds like an amazing guy, and I am so glad he is able and willing to be with you all. Might I suggest you get the poor man a subscription to the Longhorn Network? Channel 320 on FIOS. Alternatively, he’s always welcome at my place for Texas games. 😀

    1. Well, that’s a great offer! And yes – next year I certainly need to up my Texas football watching game!

  11. What about the jam?? 😉
    Dr Tom absolutely rules.

  12. We are so very lucky. This was a lovely article, perfectly sums up Tom Clark. Love him so much!

    1. And he loves us too!!

  13. It’s impossible to summarize Grandpa Tom in one post! One of the greatest human beings ever. If anyone ever wonders how you got to be the strong, amazing, resilient woman you are, they just need to meet your dad. ♥️

    1. He is the best, isn’t he??

  14. Lindell Johnson says: Reply

    Hi Marjorie,
    Kelley Mason Adams’ grandma here. Tom was our doctor, and no doubt, he is THE BEST. This was beautifully written and captures Tom so well. I’m so sad for you and your kids, but Grandpa Tom will help you all get through this.

    1. I love that you love my dad too. He’s the best!

  15. Beautiful post Marjorie. xo

    1. Thank you!

  16. Sarah-Jane Greenway says: Reply

    Grandpa Tom is one of my all time favourite people. When we arrived at the hospital in such a rush on the day Shawn died, I pulled him out into the hallway about 5 mins after we got there. I looked at him and asked, “So is this really happening? He’s going to die?”, and I will always remember the moment he looked at me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “yes, he’s going to die”. And his eyes were full of sadness and pain, but SUCH empathy and compassionate and strength. He is truly a wonderful human being and we are all so lucky to know him.

    1. I didn’t know this story, but of course I can definitely picture it happening. My dad has been the best when the time has been the worst.

  17. Here is to Tom! And those chocolate chip cookies! Can’t wait to help welcome him back in the fall. Hook ‘em Horns!

    1. Hook ’em!

  18. Cathy Phillips says: Reply

    Dr. Tom is kind, thoughtful, and generous. Whenever Jim arrives home from golfing with your dad, he brings greetings, and sometimes jam, and once a set of 60s CDs he had assembled for me. He has helped Jim deal with my medical issues. ❤️

    1. I’m so glad that he’s back home to reconnect with everyone….though we miss him here!

  19. Malinda Moore says: Reply

    After my dad died and my mom was approaching 90 she moved from Ohio to Albany. Tom graciously agreed to be her physician. I knew that he would engage with her and treat her with the same respect he shows everyone, no matter their age. Well, she was smitten from the get go. She couldn’t wait to go to her quarterly check ups. The first question Mom asked was, “How are your girls?” She loved hearing him talk about you and Lindsay, with such love. And then there was football. Mom, an ardent follower of Ohio State and your Dad with his Longhorns , well, let’s just say the conversation was animated and fun. And he ended each visit pointing out how well she was doing. The best medicine he dispensed each visit didn’t require a prescription, but it did play a major role in keeping her healthy and happy into her 96th year. Oh, one more thing. We just finished a jar of Tom’s strawberry jam which Nancy and Skip shared with us. THE BEST!

    1. I love this story – thanks so much for sharing it!!

  20. I love this so much. You mention this, but I have to say that it means a lot that he immediately made an effort to remember me and details about my family. He does this for all of us in the mom crew. Other things to love about Grandpa Tom–his gift of gab, encyclopedic knowledge, and most of all–his devotion to and love for you and the kids. This probably goes without saying, but you and your Dad are alike in the best of ways.

    1. Oh, mama, you are too kind. I do love that my dad knows all of my friends so well. It’s just awesome.

  21. After my dad died and my mom was approaching 90 she moved from Ohio to Albany. Tom graciously agreed to be her physician. I knew that he would engage with her and treat her with the same respect he shows everyone, no matter their age. And I knew that he wouldn’t over treat her. Well, she was smitten from the get go. She couldn’t wait to go to her quarterly check ups. The first question Mom asked was, “How are your girls?” She loved hearing him talk about you and Lindsay, with such love. And then there was football. Mom, an ardent follower of Ohio State and your Dad with his Longhorns , well, let’s just say the conversation was animated and fun. And he ended each visit pointing out how well she was doing. The best medicine he dispensed each visit didn’t require a prescription, but it did play a major role in keeping her healthy and happy into her 96th year. Oh, one more thing. We just finished a jar of Tom’s strawberry jam which Nancy and Skip shared with us. THE BEST!

  22. Such a great testimony of all your Dad is! Love every word of this. And I might add, your dad makes damn good eggs too!

    1. Yes he does!

  23. Oh what a beautiful testament to your awesome dad. You are so like him, Marjorie! You both have the most optimistic and upbeat spirit and take joy in the simple moments. You are good people!

    1. He is a force….one that I need in my life!

  24. You have captured Tom in this blog. Well put, Marjorie. Tom is an amazing father, brother and friend. He is easy to love.

    1. Yes he is!

  25. […] not trying to take away from the many family members and godparents and even the awesome role played by my dad to help make my kids’ lives happy ones.  But it’s not the same.  When my kids think […]

  26. Nicole Starr says: Reply

    I’ve been waiting for a Grandpa Tom post! My memory of your parents from our freshman year mainly revolve around your mom and all the incredible care packages she would send each holiday to make our room more festive. My mom was always in awe of your mom’s ability to do things like that. I have of course been thinking of your dad a lot this past year and have been both comforted to know he’s there with you, and grateful to the universe that you have such an incredible father. What a beautiful post…thank you for sharing as always.

    1. Gosh – I don’t even really remember that, but I love that you do!! Thanks so much for writing this, and for reading the blog. I think of what fun we had that year – it was great.

  27. Paula Donnelly says: Reply

    My golf-obsessed retiree dad is in the DC area on a regular basis. If your dad every needs a day on the links and a partner, let me know 🙂 Although it certainly sounds like he could walk onto a course and walk off with 3 new friends.

    And this will be a fabulous post for your kids to read and cherish someday.

    1. I love this! And yes – I’m planning on saving this blog post for my kids forever.

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