We said goodbye to my sweet dad this past week. I thought I'd post the obituary and tribute here, although I've already posted them elsewhere. This blog has told his story all along, so it's fitting that I should share these final bits about my Dad in this little corner of the web where I sum up the stories that make up my life. This marks the beginning of a new normal for us all.
Robert William Raymer (August 26, 1945 – March 9, 2017)
It’s with sadness and relief that we share news of Bob’s passing at the age of 71. He lost his fight with cancer but triumphed in the end. After months of suffering, he died peacefully at home in Elmira. We held his hands and sang him home. He was surrounded by love and was ready to go, with no regrets.
Bob was predeceased by his parents, Rev ID and Ada Raymer. He leaves behind his beloved wife, Marilyn, and his children: Kari and Russell (Bishop), Jeffrey and Christine, and Jamie and Lynda. He will be lovingly remembered by his eight grandchildren: Rachel, Isobel, Evangelina, Emma, Ridge, Oakley, Kesler, and Henry. He is also survived by his siblings: Don, Bonnie (Sawler), David and John.
Bob lived a life of adventure and service. Although born in Truro, Nova Scotia, he headed out into the world at a young age. Teaching was, for him, a calling. He spent 41 years investing in young people - in Canada’s North, Waterloo Region, Kenya, Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong. With his calm demeanor and love for mathematics, he impacted students all around the world. But he and Marilyn considered Elmira home and raised their kids there. After his second retirement, he worked at Floradale Feed Mill where he found tremendous satisfaction in his role as health and safety officer.
Bob loved to work. He never stopped working, thinking, learning or helping others. He loved fishing with his buddies, playing cards with his friends, traveling with his sweetie, joking with his grandchildren and dreaming with his kids. Bob played a mean accordion, navigated the stock market brilliantly, took up beekeeping and was still playing tennis, and winning, at 71.
Bob’s faith was, above all, the driving force in his life. He loved and served God, and lived an abundant life as a result. Bob was loved and respected by so many people. He chose to die as he lived – with grace and humour and integrity, and with the absolute certainty that all was in God’s hands.
Bob received wonderful care during his illness. The professionals at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre were as kind as they were brilliant. The doctors and nurses of the local palliative care team made it possible for him to live in comfort and die in peace, at home where he belonged. And at every step of the way, his wife Marilyn was his very own compassionate caregiver – qualified, competent and so very steadfast in her care of him right until the end.
So, we celebrated my sweet Dad's life on Sunday afternoon, and it was a really good funeral. My face is sore from all the smiling and talking, but it was so good to hear so many stories about my dad and the good he had done with his time on earth. My dear friend Ken had warned me that I would feel unexpectedly elated by the visitation and funeral, and appropriately devastated in the days and weeks to come. I think he was very right.
I jumped at the chance to say a few (a lot of) words about Dad. I thought I'd share them here, for those who couldn't be at the funeral, or those who are curious about this man that I have been sharing about over the past few months. I called it "Ten Things You Should Know About Our Dad". My brother and my mom both spoke eloquently and earnestly about Dad before I did, and mentioned several things that I had planned to share. In fact, there was a beautiful consistency to all the tributes shared about Dad - a testament to the truth of our stories and summations of him. Anyways, here are a few things you should know about Bob.
He was a Musician
Dad grew up in a household that valued music and he had a gift. He had a beautiful voice and could harmonize with anyone. He could sit down and play any tune by ear on the piano. He could comfortably accompany someone on the organ. I even remember him playing the guitar at one point. And he could play a mean accordion. We called him Silent Bob long before he lost his ability to speak. He was never one to waste words. But he would use music to express himself, most often to my mom. He would play “I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill” on the piano to serenade her in the mornings. Maybe some of you saw the video I posted a few weeks ago, of dad playing “Have I told you lately that I love you” on the accordion for my mom. It was heartbreakingly beautiful. He’s been playing that song for her for 48 years. And in these past few months, the other song that he has played over and over again has been “Til the Storm Passes By”. He played it to encourage others and he played it to remind himself. He played it because when you have song in your soul, you keep on singing – even if you have lost your voice.
He was an Investor
Dad loved the thrill of playing the stock market and he was really good at it. For those who were willing to listen, he was always eager to share his strategies and tips for making sensible moves and solid returns on the stock market. But nothing thrilled him more than investing in people in general and his kids in particular. He was the brains, and often the money, behind all of our endeavours. He would get so excited. It didn’t matter what kind of outlandish plan we proposed to dad, he would always say the same two things: “Go for it” and “How much do you need?” He has been ridiculously generous to us and many, many other people who needed a little bit of help along the way. It wasn’t charity or handouts to Dad; it was always investment. He and mom have several sponsor children and Dad followed their progress with delight. He wrote them letters of encouragement and support, because he believed that it was important to invest in them beyond just the financial contributions to their wellbeing. He bragged about their accomplishments as if they were his own children. He was a very wise investor.
He was a Peacemaker
Dad is pretty new to the Anabaptist scene. Pacifism isn’t something we grew up talking about but it is something Dad lived out in many ways. He wasn’t passive, but he was someone who could pacify the angry and build bridges where there was division. He was a peacemaker who made peace simply by being his quiet self. His calm, cool and collected demeanour brought peace into tricky situations. Many teenagers found peace and safety in his classroom when their lives were so chaotic elsewhere. He also provided a safe space for many kids who stayed at our house over the years, for short and long periods of time. Our home was always open and available for those who needed sanctuary. He served as Staff President at the high school, where he advocated for his colleagues and diffused difficult situations. His was always the cooler head that prevailed in any negotiations. Now, for the record, I would like to point out that for a long time he was taking medications for his blood pressure that prevented him from getting worked about much of anything. We called them his “happy pills” and it was very clear when he had forgotten to take them. I used to joke that it wasn’t so much the Fruit of the Spirit as it was beta-blockers that made Bob such a cool cucumber. But the truth is, Dad was a peacemaker all his life. He brought peace to all kinds of situations.
He was a Seinfeld Fan
I was always surprised that Dad loved Seinfeld as much as he did. He was so very different from those despicable characters. I think maybe he just found them so interesting, and funny, because they were the very worst version of themselves and he never allowed himself to be. Maybe he saw the potential we all have to be like them, and found it amusing to watch it all play out. Anyways, he loved Seinfeld and often quoted the show, hoping that someone, anyone, would notice and play along with him. He would often randomly shove me across the room, saying “Get out” just like Elaine on the show because he thought it was so hilarious. And then there was the car rental. I kid you not – he and I were renting a car in an airport, somewhere, and after the agent had gone over all the extra costs for insuring the rental vehicle, dad leaned across the counter, and said so very earnestly, in his best Jerry Seinfeld voice – “Just so you know, I’m going to beat the hell out of this rental car”. I was flabbergasted. It was the first time I had ever heard him swear, if that even counts as swearing. He was so shocked at himself, he immediately ducked down behind the counter, laughing uncontrollably, and he was too embarrassed to get back up. The guy at the desk was not impressed. He said he was sick of that stupid joke. But dad, he thought it was hilarious because he loved Seinfeld.
He was a Fast Walker and an Early Leaver
It’s silly how fast Dad walked. When I was in high school, I used to walk to school with my dad; it was our time together. Really not cool to walk to school with your dad, but I did. Well, it wasn’t really walking. I ran alongside dad as he walked to school. He is one fast walker. My poor mom has been jogging behind him for decades. I filmed him one day last summer, ten paces ahead of me, bolting down Bloor Street after getting off the subway in Toronto. I thought mom might appreciate that very familiar view in the years to come – the back of Dad’s head, always decked out in his Floradale Feedmill ballcap, his back pack strapped on and his legs just a-pumping. During his years of teaching at EDSS, he always walked home for lunch. It was 2 km each way. So on his lunch hour, he managed to walk 4 km, have lunch, watch The Price Is Right (he was an expert on all those prices, and knew all those ladies by name) AND have a nap. Every day. Fast walker. He was also an early leaver, from everything. He’d put his hat on and mom would start reluctantly saying her goodbyes. Seriously, I remember as a child, leaving Blue Jays games at the 7th inning stretch SO WE COULD BEAT THE TRAFFIC. We had to listen to the rest of the game on the radio, including what would invariably be exciting overtime innings. He always left early so he could get home sooner than expected. If he went somewhere for two weeks, he’d be home in ten days. When he went fishing for a long weekend, he’d be home by Sunday evening. He always left everything early. Dad left us way too soon, but honestly – not nearly as early as I expected him to. He was always homeward bound, and I am grateful that he lingered as long as he did.
He was an Advisor
My dad had the gift of wisdom. He always knew what to do. It was always the smart thing and the good thing and the right thing to do. My dirty little secret is that I am not actually smart. I am just a girl who listened to her dad and always did what he told her to do. Dad told me to go to University of Guelph, so I did. Dad told me to be a teacher, so I did. Dad told me to buy rental properties, so I did. I have always just asked Dad what to do and found success in life by doing so. You wouldn’t believe how many times this past week I’ve thought “why are we discussing this – just ask Dad’. The other day, Jamie called me because he didn’t know who else to call to ask about buying a new trailer. Funny thing is that I need to buy a new trailer too, and I was also at a loss. Dad loved to tell the story about the time I was living away at university in Guelph and I called him in the middle of the night because my house was on fire and I didn’t know what to do. He was just my go-to guy when I needed answers! We have relied on our wise Dad to advise us in everything for a really long time. And we are all a little bit lost right now. And I know we aren’t alone, because there has been a steady stream of visitors to the door over the past couple of months – people who wanted to let Dad know how much he meant to them and how much they valued the advice he had shared with them over the years. He was so very wise and we all benefited from his advice. Hopefully we learned enough from him too, so that we can keep moving forward, stumbling forward, without him, together.
He was a Server
Serving was Dad’s love language. He didn’t say much, but he DID a lot. He loved to help people and solve their problems. Dad was happiest when he was working on a project of some sort. He and I would never in a million years have met to get together for coffee and just chat. We spent time together working on things. He helped me renovate two old houses in the summers when they were home from Hong Kong. A good day together always included a trip to the dump with piles of junk from my place, and we’d always come home with more junk we rescued from the dump because someone might be able to use something and he would have it when they needed it. Most recently, he helped me set up my beekeeping enterprise. It was a beautiful project that we could work on together and that was what he loved most about it. Even when he was sick, he was still thinking about the bees, ordering supplies, planning for the next harvest that he wasn’t going to see. He was always a hard worker and eager to help everyone. You had to be careful about saying too much around him. My colleagues used to joke about that. “You couldn’t mention that your furnace was broken, for example, because Bob would show up the next day with a furnace in the back of his truck and instructions to meet him at your house later so you could install it together”. I said on the phone “Dad, so do you think I should sell honey dippers with my honey” and ten minutes later, there was an email from Amazon saying that my CASE of honey dippers was on its way. Mom couldn’t think out loud and say, maybe we should hang a shelf over there, because she’d come back from the store and find one installed. Dad loved to help people solve things, fix things, move things, build things, find things, sell things, burn things – whatever. He was happiest when he was helping people and working hard.
He was an Adventurer
For a calm, level-headed math teacher, Dad was pretty adventurous. He felt secure in God’s will for his life, and then felt free to live out his dreams. My mom was the perfect partner for him, eager to join him on the adventures that would punctuate their life together. From the Arctic to Africa, and from Papua New Guinea to Hong Kong – he lived a life of exciting opportunities – a life less ordinary. And this was our childhood – he gave us this gift of travel, of adventure, of cultures and of wonder – a magical childhood. We used to burn stuff for fun, and swing from ropes Dad hung in the trees. We swam amazing reefs, climbed volcanoes, went on safaris and saw the world. He was always up for another trip and another adventure. But you had to keep up, you had to carry what you packed, and you had to know that we would probably head home early.
He was a Teacher
Dad was a teacher. It was a calling for him. He believed that God had called him to be a teacher and that it wasn’t for him to desert that calling, even when other lucrative offers came his way. So he kept on teaching. His father before him had retired from full-time ministry to go and work in full-time ministry overseas, and dad did the same thing. He retired from full-time teaching here in Canada, only to go and work as a full-time teacher in Hong Kong. And when he retired from there, he went to work at the Floradale Feed Mill, where he continued to teach about health and safety. I always knew he was about to teach me something when he started with “Now Kari….” and I listened carefully. He taught us about integrity, about honour, about service and truth. He’d also push me to learn new things. He said “any idiot can get a Math OAC” so I did, and I had to take an extra course just to make sure the math mark didn’t count towards my university admission average. He said “any idiot can change a headlight” and I figured it out eventually. He said “any idiot can install a dishwasher” and I made it happen, with just a little bit of help. And I think maybe the biggest thing he taught me was that people can change – when even my immovable Dad began to think about things differently as he aged and considered other viewpoints. He was learning, even as he was teaching. Dad had a pretty good idea of what was most important in life and he wanted to share it. Even though he was really quite introverted, Dad could speak to a group like this with no difficulty. He could preach the truth like any good missionary, but that’s not how he shared his faith. He lived his life in a way that provided evidence of God’s goodness and demonstrated what it meant to live in the light. He wanted to use his experiences to teach others. When he got sick, he told me to write about it. He wanted me to share the stories, the good and the bad parts, so that people could learn from our journey. That was the educator in him. A good teacher always makes the most of those teaching moments and Dad was a really good teacher.
He was an Example
From what I hear, Dad’s been making other guys look bad his whole life. He’s always been a really good example of a really good man. He lived with integrity and grace, wisdom and conviction, humour and courage. And he died the same way. He had never really suffered in his life before this year. He had never learned to suffer, and he had to learn quickly. He had lived well and he wanted to die well and he wanted others to see that it was possible. Dad had watched his friend Wally die and said that if he could do it half as well as Wally had, he would be pleased with himself. I think most will agree that Dad died well. The day before he died, he was up and sitting in the living room visiting with a friend. When we left that afternoon, Henry said “Bye Baba” from the front doorway and Dad surprised us all by shouting “Bye Henry” from the living room. Those were the last words we heard him say. The next morning, Mom called to say that he was really struggling to breathe and that she had called the doctor. He went downhill very quickly. I rushed in from the bee yard, picked up Henry early from daycare and sped from Paris to Elmira. Dad was blue when I got there, and so much smaller than he had been the day before. He was gasping for air, heavily sedated and ready to go. I know that he waited for me. He squeezed my hand and I told mom we should sing because he had asked me to sing for him every time I had climbed onto his bed in the past few weeks. So, we held his hands and we sang him home – with It Is Well With My Soul. And by the end of the song, he was gone. It was a good death and he deserved it and we were so glad that his suffering was over. Dad was an example right until the end – an example of light and love and a life less ordinary. Exemplary. That was our Dad.