My father died last week after suffering a devastating stroke. He was 94.
Dad’s funeral was simple, the way he would have liked it. My brother and I gave the role of the eulogies to our children, who focused their words on the things my dad would have wanted to share with those who he had the privilege to speak to:
Keep things straight between yourself and God.
I don’t remember a day of my life when I didn’t observe my father reading his Bible or one of his favorite devotional books.He taught me that our relationship with God is your #1 priority in life–not with words, but in the way he lived. Dad pretty much saw life in black and white when it came to his relationship with God. One of the most brilliant engineering consultants of his day and a cryptographer who worked with General Eisenhower during World War II, my dad could find no rational faith other than Christianity. But Dad didn’t lean upon apologetics in his everyday life. Dad was a man who lived by simple faith in a God who loved him who sent his Son to save Paul E. Burke from his sins. And that was that.
- Give from a grateful heart.
My dad seldom went to church without tucking a $50 into his Bible to pass on to someone in need. He taught me that tithing was just a starting point for giving back to the Lord. He gave generously to community organizations, national ministries, and individuals. If a family member brought you to Christmas or Thanksgiving, Dad would probably slip you a fifty. If you were involved in any type of ministry, he’d send more later and maybe buy you a used car when you came home on furlough (my mom would buy you lingerie and Avon if you were a woman).
In my dad’s later years, things became tough. My mom developed Alzheimer’s. In spite of the progression of her disease, he refused to leave her side. This meant moving into an assisted living facility where he was the only resident without Alzheimer’s so he could share a room and a bed with Mom. He held her hand even when she cursed him and no longer knew his name. He was grateful every day that he could remain at her side.
And when his body became wracked by pain, he never complained. In fact, he never even acknowledged his pain. Every day I spoke to Dad, he talked about the wonderful life he was blessed with, even as he gasped through chest pains. He never talked to me without expressing gratitude. No one would ever know he experienced daily physical suffering, had slowly relinquished his personal freedom to care for a wife with dementia, and was a man with impressive accomplishments. Give Paul Burke five minutes and he’d talk to you about God our tell you about his wonderful family.
Love your family.
My dad’s love language was caring for our family’s material needs. He wasn’t a man of great physical affection or emotional speeches. It took me time to understand this when I was a child and a teenager. I believe my father had Asberger’s, although he was never formally diagnosed. But he loved his wife and children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other family members generously. He cared deeply about our needs and every aspect of our welfare, and in his later years, he mellowed to accept our hugs, kisses, and words of affection. And we learned to see the love that he had poured into us and our mother over his 94 years in acts of faithfulness, giving, hard work, investment, care, planning, mentoring, modeling, and provision.
When I was a teenager and younger, I remember my dad doing yard work, home maintenance, and shoveling snow for many of the shut-on and widowed individuals in our church. My mom and dad provided meals, transportation, and home care to those who were disabled, elderly, or in need. Dad frequently provided financially for those who were in need. He was also a great neighbor who loaned his tools and engineering expertise to those who lived around him. You could often find him puttering on a project for someone else, helping them devise a cart to help haul their garbage can to the curb or designing a more efficient snow shovel handle.
Just a few nights before my dad died, he sat up in bed (he’d been in a near coma for days) and spoke to his eldest grandson: “Brian, I’m not afraid to die. I’m welcoming it and ready to go. I’m confident about where I’m going and I’m ready. This is what I’ve been waiting for.” Then he thanked my nephew for the care he and the family had provided for him over the years, pounded down a huge meal, and laid down for the last time.
Dad was well versed in apologetics and finely tuned arguments about the merits of Christianity. But in the end, he lived and died based on simple faith:
God loves us. Keep things straight with him. Give from a grateful heart. Love your family. Love others.
Love you, Dad.You will be missed. Thanks for showing us a simple walk of faith, no matter how tough things got.