For those who were unable to attend Dad’s funeral, I thought I would share in writing what I shared during the service today.
Kenneth Duane Darling: 6/12/48 – 7/12/17
Several have asked me in the preceding days about why I would choose to preside over my dad’s funeral. I must honestly admit that there have been several times during this process that I have questioned it myself. Am I crazy? How in the world will I ever get through this? The answer to the first question is that I probably am crazy, but that’s a topic for another day. The answer to the second question is simply, I don’t know if I will. Having said that, I am going to fight as hard as Dad fought these past five months and honor him the best way that I know how.
The finale from the musical Hamilton is called “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” Three questions are asked. The reality is that we have no control over the answer to any of these questions. You see, eventually, someone is going to tell our story in one way or another. That’s why I had to be the one to tell Dad’s story today.
All of us that are gathered here today have stories to tell about Duane Darling. I have a hunch that if we went around the room and listened to all those stories, we would find a common thread of self-sacrifice. You see, Dad was fiercely devoted to his family. He would do anything possible to make sure that mom and I had anything we needed. That self-sacrifice didn’t stop with just his wife and son. It reached to his entire family and beyond. If Dad saw someone with a need and he had it in his ability to help meet that need, he would.
My earliest memories of my dad are probably around the time that I was 3 or 4 years old. At the time, his work schedule at the fire department was something like 4 days, 4 nights, off 4, so there were sometimes extended periods of time where I didn’t see dad a whole lot. Despite not seeing Dad all the time, I never had any doubt that he loved me. For some reason, when I was that age, one of his favorite things to do to me would be to sneak up behind me when I was playing on the floor and throw my blanket over my head. I would quickly yank the blanket off and we would commence wrestling around on the floor laughing the whole time. The shift schedule would later be changed to 2 days, 2 nights, off 4 which made all of us happy.
I also have great memories of our family’s yearly trips to Hershey Park. At least once a year we would load up and take a trip to Hershey. I think my favorite trips were the ones where we would take Dad’s ’81 F150. Us kids would get up in the bed of the pickup and ride all the way up there in the back of the truck. Yes, you could legally do that in those days. Dad took me on my first roller coaster, my first looping roller coaster, and even got to ride with us when Carrie rode her first roller coasters. On our most recent trip to Hershey, Dad would still ride the Comet and the SooperDooperLooper. I started to head over to ride Sky Rush and Dad decided that he wanted to ride it with me. Well, by the time that ride was over and the train was sitting on the brake run, I looked over at Dad and his face was as white as I’ve ever seen it. From that point on, he stayed to the two old faithful coasters at Hershey.
Dad and I shared a love of baseball. He was an assistant coach on every little league team I ever played on and when I started playing ball for school, he was always changing his work schedule around to be at my games (home and away). He often drove the bus for away games. I think that it was during these years that my relationship with Dad grew from him not only being my Dad, but my friend. Baseball was a way that we bonded. I think my favorite memories of baseball with my dad are when I took him to Oriole Park to see the Braves play the Orioles for Father’s Day. Dad had become a Braves fan during the early 90’s so an opportunity to see them play in Baltimore was a rare treat for him. When I stayed in Cleveland, TN for a summer while working on my master’s degree, mom and dad came to visit. We drove down to Atlanta to see the Orioles play in Atlanta during Cal Ripken’s final season. We both loved the game, and even during the offseason, it was rare that our conversation didn’t turn to baseball at some point.
Another thing that I can say about my dad is that he supported me whole heartedly in everything I did. When I was traveling around as a child singing up and down the east coast, he was always there driving the bus to get us wherever we had to go. Dad loved driving and he would drive any length of time at any hour of the night to help us get around. In the 5 or 6 years that we traveled, I can only think of one trip that he missed due to work. There’s that self-sacrificing thing again.
During my high school years, we attended church in Severn which was a 36 mile one way trip for us. I was one of those kids that was involved in anything and everything that was available. I played in the church orchestra, youth praise band, teen hand bell choir, adult hand bell choir, and was a youth leader. Consequently, there were activities that had us driving to Severn sometimes 4 or 5 days per week. On Sunday’s we would often just spend the day in Severn. I remember during my senior year of high school our youth praise team did a worship night for the entire church every Sunday night. There was dad, every week, helping me to set up my drum kit beforehand and tearing it down afterward. Dad was proud of what I had accomplished and wanted to continue to help in any way that he could.
When I met Beth, Dad was so happy for me. He very quickly accepted Beth as part of the family even before we were married. He treated Beth not as a daughter in law, but as a daughter. I pray that I can be as gracious to my daughter’s future husbands MANY years from now.
And speaking of my daughters, it would be completely impossible to not talk about what those two little girls meant to him. I couldn’t be on the phone with him for more than 30 seconds without him asking me how they were doing. I will never forget last month I was up here on Dad’s 69th birthday and he was feeling crumby. It was the day before they were going to put his port in and the last thing he had on his mind was celebrating a birthday. Well, I got the girls on the phone and they sang Happy Birthday to him as only Carrie and Hannah can (complete with all the extra cha cha chas). That was the only time that I saw my dad genuinely smile that week and his face lit up. He loved them so much and was so proud of the young women that they are growing up to be. You can rest assured that those two little girls felt the same way about their Dad Dad. They loved him to pieces.
My Dad taught me what it was to love your family above everything but God. I watched him take care of mom when cancer attacked her in the late 1990’s. For the last several years, I’ve watched him adjust his work schedule to be able to take mom to doctor’s appointments whenever necessary. He loved mom so much. I truly hope that I can show the same kind of love to Beth and our daughters that Dad showed to Mom and I.
In 2 Timothy 4, Paul is writing to Timothy from Rome. He is keenly aware that his time on earth is winding down and he wants to leave his young protégé some encouraging words to help him through the grief that losing Paul was sure to bring. Paul pens these words to Timothy. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
Duane Darling fought his fight with courage, with dignity, and with honor. From the first time that we heard that horrible word, ‘cancer,’ the only thing on dad’s mind was beating it. He was convinced that with the prescribed treatment and the Lord’s help, that he was going to be just fine. In fact, as recently as two weeks ago he would still mention his plan to return to work as soon as this was behind him. Cancer wasn’t going to beat him, he was going to beat cancer.
Well, last Wednesday those of us who knew and loved Dad were reminded of the words of Isaiah: His ways our not our ways. If we had our way, Dad would have kicked this cancer’s butt. God’s way was to look at His faithful servant and say, ‘You know what? You’ve fought long enough. You’ve endured enough tribulation. It’s time for you to come home where you belong.’
The very selfish side of me wants to look at God and say, ‘but You’re taking my father away from me and that’s not fair.’ In fact, I’ve said that to Him more than once during this past week. I doubt I’m the only one. The painful (for me) truth that I must come to terms with is that while I will miss my Dad terribly for the rest of my time on this planet, Dad is infinitely better off than he would be even had God chosen to heal his physical body. As much as Dad loved everyone (and we all know that he loved everyone), he wouldn’t come back if he had the chance. He is now reunited with loved ones that have gone before, and he is waiting for those of us left behind to join him on the other side of eternity.
The way to meet Dad is clearly marked. The life he lived while here on earth points the way. That way is found only in accepting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Dad wants to see every one of you over there. Whether that happens is now up to us. Jesus has paid the price for our salvation. The question that remains and the question that Dad would want me to ask today is have you accepted Christ’s gift. If you have, you can have the peace that comes in knowing that today is just a temporary goodbye. It’s a see you later. If you don’t have that assurance that when your time comes you would make it to heaven to see Dad and much more importantly, Jesus Christ, then Dad would want to know what’s stopping you. The gift of salvation is free to any who would receive it. You just have to believe. Dad would beg you to not let another moment go by without accepting Christ as savior.
It is obvious that we are all feeling the pain of our loss here on earth today. We will never ‘get over’ the pain that we feel. I want nothing more than to hear my dad’s voice just one more time. However, if I truly understood that wonder that heaven holds, I couldn’t possibly ask him to come back no matter how bad my heart hurts. Dad now has a brand new body. There is not even a hint of cancer anywhere. He is experiencing no more pain. He has met his savior face to face. I can almost hear him saying, ‘If you could see me now!’