Thank you to everyone that was able to join us yesterday for the Celebration of Life service for Dad. It was a great service made special by the those present and those with us in spirit. Several asked for me to share the text of my tribute to Dad from the service and I also thought those who were not able to attend, might appreciate reading it. Text is below.
20 years ago on April 18, Dad stood in front of a group, not unlike this. Almost exactly 2 years later, in front of a similar group, he did it again. The occasions were the funerals of (as he and his brothers called them) his Daddy and his Momma. The visual he painted masterfully in both of those services was of an older couple walking peacefully down a path holding hands. For the next few minutes, I want you to hold that visual in your minds as we celebrate the life of my Dad – the Rev. Dr. Thomas R. Sigmon.
First of all, thank you. On behalf of my Mom, my sister Mary Beth, Dad’s 2 brothers Jerry and Donny, and our entire family, we are truly grateful for your presence. God has blessed us with many things – but the greatest of those gifts is the love of friends and family. In that regard, we are truly blessed that you are with us today as we celebrate Dad’s life.
One of my earliest memories of my Dad was when I was about 6 or 7. He wasn’t the strictest parent by any means, but he did expect discipline and self-control – and often made his point in the subtlest ways. Like most children that age, sitting still and being quiet in church wasn’t the easiest task. So eventually, I was reassigned to the front pew – right where he could see me – at all times. Undeterred, I still wiggled and squirmed and talked to anyone close enough to hear a whisper – until one Sunday – in the middle of his sermon – he inconspicuously inserted “William, sit still and be quiet” – and then proceeded as if nothing had happened to finish his sermon. To this day, I think I was the only one who heard him.
Now if the subtle didn’t work, he could get our attention in other ways. As Mary Beth and I grew a little older, like most siblings – let’s just say – we had our moments. When things got too out of hand, consequences followed. At some point along the way, Dad started giving us a choice of consequences. We could choose the selected punishment, or we could take a “good talking to”. Now for those of you who don’t understand that, for a preacher’s kid a “good talking to” is basically another way of saying you’re going to get your own personal sermon. It might be 5 minutes, or if we had really messed up, it could be an hour. After one of the particularly long “talking to’s”, Mary Beth and I came up with what we thought was a brilliant idea. We surmised it might just be easier to take the selected punishment and avoid the “good talking to”. So the next time we were in trouble we eagerly accepted our punishment – and then you know what happened? You guessed it – we got the “good talking to” anyway. Eventually we learned to embrace the “good talking to” and while the circumstances that led to the talk were avoidable, those personal sermons shaped in large part who we are today.
Like most families, holidays for us were family time. Each one typically involved an early rise and a little time at home. But they were nearly always followed by trips to Newton or Hickory to spend time with his parents, brothers and their families, as well as my mom’s extended family. Dad cherished time with his extended family and made sure even after his parents passing, that we spent time together. His brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews weren’t just related – they were family. The significance of this was never clearer than this past Christmas. Despite the struggle of walking to the car or even across a room without being exhausted, he was determined our annual Sigmon family gathering would occur in Newton as usual. There was no way he was going to miss it – and of course, he didn’t.
Now – Dad wasn’t really one to brag much. But he too had his Achilles heel. Ask him about his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and he would smile instantly and then proceed to tell you how each one of them was perfect. Matt, Jenny, Marshall, Jordan, Kamryn and Ryder – they could all bring out his “inner child” – and a playfulness I had almost forgotten from my own childhood. “Paw-paw’s” or “pop’s” back was always available to each one of them for a “horsey ride”. And sometimes more than 1 of them at a time. Of course, as they got older – and more significantly, bigger – he lent his back in other ways. The “horsey rides” turned into trips to ball games, plays, swim meets, horse shows, graduations, weddings, etc. Whatever, wherever, whenever – he was there.
Now while all of that illustrates the kind of father, brother, grandfather, etc. that he was – forgive me, but none of it holds a candle to how he loved mom. How a husband loves his wife teaches children so much. Chief among these lessons, it teaches how to love and how to be loved. This fundamental teaching – is – and WILL always be – so vital. It’s not a given. But I can promise you, our dad was the best role model one could ask for in this regard.
Mom and dad were married in September of 1960. That’s 59 years, but who’s counting? Mom and dad somehow missed the part about life being a marathon and not a sprint. Dad started serving his first church when he was 19, married at 21, finished college and divinity school, was ordained, had a daughter, etc. – all by the time he and mom were 25. They had probably moved 10 times before I was born and probably twice that many since then. To keep this pace you simply cannot do it alone. It takes a special partnership, one that is supportive and nurturing – and one that is built on mutual respect. Dad’s ministry was a partnership with mom. Not because he had to or needed to. But because his love for mom was so strong that he couldn’t imagine doing anything without her.
A few years ago when mom had serious back surgery, followed by a lengthy recovery, she spent several weeks in the Asbury rehab center. Through the years, I’d come to expect, that whatever was going on, dad was always there to support mom. Sometimes that was encouragement – sometimes it was quiet time while she slept. Regardless, he was there. Because it was normal to me, I really hadn’t thought about it that much until a couple of weeks ago when one of the nurse’s at Asbury stopped me and asked me a question. She asked me, pointing to dad’s room, “is that your dad?” When I responded yes, she proceeded to tell me how she had witnessed my dad’s devotion to my mom a few years back. She added, “He was there every minute of every day. Never leaving her side. He must love your mom a lot”. And of course we know he did.
Dad’s life calling was God’s work. And I’m not just talking about his profession. Most everyone here knows about the churches served, the marriage ceremonies, the baptisms, the mentoring, the things he started in the community, and his ministry to the poor, imprisoned or hungry. But dad’s life calling, which he answered to the fullest, was to treat everyone he ever met as one of God’s own. The best way I know to illustrate that is this. For as long as I can remember, anytime I was with dad, if there were people close to my age or younger working with him, he would always introduce them to me, and then say this is “your sister” or “your brother”. After mom and dad moved to Aldersgate, this continued with the staff there as well. To be honest, I’ve long since lost count as to how many brothers and sisters I have. AND if I’m completely honest, the first few times he did it, I thought he’d lost it. But somewhere along the line, I began to realize that the relationships he built were founded in his endless capacity to love – the conversations had, the stories shared, the problems solved – everyone he met was “family to him”. Wherever he was, whoever you were – dad was going to make sure you knew he loved you and more importantly that God loved you.
Over the past few months Dad and I talked about his life journey and how he felt about death. He would want you to know that he was very much at peace with death. The diseases that had stricken him literally took his breath away. And any anxiety he had was only related to that instinctive human reaction any of us would have if we weren’t able to catch our breath. Now truthfully, given the convergence of his numbered days and Tax Day, he was also a little anxious that mom would forget to pay their taxes. But Dad – if you’re listening – rest easy – the check cleared, so I know she paid them. But in all seriousness, if anything could make the last few weeks easier, its knowing that however much dad loved me, our family, all of you and hundreds, if not thousands of others, he was at peace with his passage to a better place. A place where love has no boundaries and thankfully, he can finally breathe easy again.
As the weeks ahead turn into months – and the months eventually to years – our memories will most certainly yield more joy than sorrow. And yes, believe it or not, the day will come soon where the absence of dad’s physical presence will no longer be the source of sadness, but inspiration. As I look out to my family and all of you, I see my dad. His spirit lives on in all of us in so many ways. We have to remember he’s really not gone, and that his presence is permanently indwelled in our hearts and minds. Best of all, we’ll see him again soon enough. Until then, he’d want us to love each other and love others the same way he would of. That, after all, is his most important legacy.
Knowing my dad was a gift given without condition. In some way – big or small – he made our lives better – he made us better people – better sons, better daughters, better fathers, better mothers, better spouses, better brothers, better sisters and better friends. He taught us humility. He taught us to love and how to be loved. He taught us to give more than we receive. He taught us to act wherever there is a need. And most of all he taught us that as God’s children, we are all family, made in God’s image, and called to love each other unconditionally.
So finally, I bring you back to the visual of the older couple holding hands. We see them walking slowly on a path. From behind they are approached eagerly by another person who has just emerged from a large celebratory crowd. That person breathing easy for the first time in a long time, is grinning ear to ear, saying Momma, Daddy – “I’m home”. The couple’s hands separate briefly, quickly grasping the hands of their son, and they continue walking forward slowly on God’s Heavenly path. Few words are spoken – there are just smiles.
Thank you so much for being here and God Bless!