Early in the evening of August 26, 2014, my ex-husband Peter Bacon Hales died in a bike accident near his home in Stone Ridge, New York. No words of my own could come as close to capturing the enormity of my family’s loss as those of our daughter Molly Hales. Following is the eulogy she delivered at her father’s memorial service.
When I was twelve or thirteen, my dad and I decided to make our own Christmas tree decorations. Somehow one of us got the idea that it would be nice to have a “natural” Christmas tree, decorated with pine cones and with strings of nuts and berries—that sort of thing. My dad bought bags of popcorn and mixed nuts still in their shells. But stringing them together turned out to be an unimaginably labor-intensive and frustrating task. The popcorn crumbled to pieces when we tried to put a needle through the kernels. And the nuts didn’t prove much easier to work with. If you’ve ever tried to just crack a walnut, you’ll realize the futility of attempting to poke tiny holes through those thick, tough shells. My dad ended up getting out one of his power tools, an electric drill—the kind you might use to drill through a solid wooden wall if you needed to hang a picture. And then he painstakingly drilled through each individual nut in that colossal bag, while I sat next to him on the couch and strung them together.
That was my dad. No task was too time-consuming, too monotonous, or just too “maddening” to be worth the effort, if it might bring a smile to the face of someone he loved. If it might bring a little more beauty to the world. Or if beauty proved elusive, then at least a shard of truth.
You see, my dad was an expert spinner of tall tales, willing to stretch the limits of believability in order to color a story as vividly as it seemed to live in his own memory. But for all that, he was a lover of truth as well. Not truth with a Capital T, not the Truth that Critical Theory dismantled, but the glimmers of truth that you recognize by the way they resonate inside of you, like a bell striking, its vibrations reaching all the way to your fingertips. I feel that now in my dad’s writing and in his photographs. They cut straight to the heart of the matter, showing you something that it feels, somehow, like you knew all along, but just couldn’t…quite…see. He certainly knew me as well as anyone ever has. But he also saw the best version of myself. I have tried to live up to the version of myself that I saw reflected in his love, and I know I will continue to do so, as we all will.
And that Christmas, with the homemade decorations? Well after all that drilling and threading, our string of nuts barely reached once around the Christmas tree. So my dad just hung it up vertically instead, weaving it back and forth along the front of the tree like a garland. And then he stepped back, admired the effect, and declared it a great success. As he looked at that bare Christmas tree with its one disheveled string of half-broken nuts, I could see that my dad’s face was lit with joy.
Of all the many things that I will miss about my father, this is the one that I will surely miss the most: his joy. His unbelievable capacity for joy. I have never met anyone who was so ready to be moved to tears by life’s small treasures. Who could feel such wonder at the things that the rest of us learn to see as mundane. The early evening sun reflected off of the trees behind the hayfield. The flash of a cardinal’s wings, red against the snow. The lip-smacking pleasure of a dirty martini. The feel of grass under his feet as he walked, barefoot, to the barn.
When I was 18 and struggling through a difficult period, my dad wrote to me. He said: I hope that in the midst of all of this, you are borne up by the ocean of love on which you float. And I was, even then. My dad had a knack for knowing what to say, especially when life seemed bleak. Especially when you weren’t quite sure if you had the strength to keep going, or if you even wanted to try.
So I will end with this wish for you all, from my dad.
I hope that you are swimming in the ocean of my father’s love, and that it buoys you up. Even now, even when it is his death that is dragging you down.
And dad, I hope that you are feeling the ocean of our love. I hope that you are floating on it.