When we were living with my mom a couple years ago I was asked to give a talk on Mother's day. Being my home ward, it wasn't a complete surprise that Brother Blackham, a man I knew well but never really talked to, would come up to me and tell me how much I reminded him of my dad. He then talked with me for about 30 minutes about his memory of my dad. They were home teaching companions and friends. All this time... I never knew.
This was not the first time this has happened. I was a junior sitting in seminary class. We had a substitute who was reading the class roster to determine class attendance. When he got to my name he said, "Are you Ken Derr's daughter?" Turns out he worked with Dad at the Church Office Building. He goes on to say rather dramatically, in front of everyone which horrified me, "Your dad was as big as a mountain with a heart just as big!" I don't know if it was the combination of embarrassment and just the raw tenderness of my dad's name but I just started crying.
I lost my dad when I was six. The memories I have are starting to fade. During my teenage years I felt "the tug" for the first time. I asked everyone in my family about my dad. I got a lot of mixed memories. My siblings either remember the really happy times or the hard times. I was praying constantly to let the sadness pass and I wanted to know if he loved me. Then I had a dream.
My dad is given an hour to visit us. I am six and very short. When I stand next to him all I can see is his hand. I don't look up. I watch from afar as he spends time with his children. I don't let him out of my sight. But all I see is his hand.
There are eight of us so I know it will be awhile until he gets to me. I don't want to impose but it's getting late and I know I won't have much time. I start to become anxious and I fear that I will be forgotten. I don't see him anymore which terrifies me. Did he leave without seeing me? Did I miss my chance? When my anxiety is at it's peak the view shifts.
Here we are, my dad and I, side by side on the couch. I'm looking down at my lap and hands. I look slightly to my left at Dad's hands on his lap. I didn't miss my chance after all. I have so much to say but I can't. Something is holding me back. The anxiety starts again. Calmly he reaches for my hand and this overwhelming warm feeling sweeps over me. I'm instantly calm and I just know. Words come into my head, "I am proud of you."
I wake up.
The next day I felt incredible peace but I'd never had a dream like that before. I decided to ask Brother Crowther who was the seminary president then. I told him everything. I told him of the stress I was feeling about my dad. The prayers I'd prayed to know if I was loved or if he knew me. It was a tearful meeting. Brother Crowther told me the dream was an answer to those prayers and that only I can decipher the meaning.
I've carried that dream around with me for a long, long time. It has carried me through some very difficult moments. Now I'm feeling that familiar "tug" again. I'm missing my dad, missing my step dad. Wondering if I'll ever feel completely whole in this life. Wondering if my family will ever feel whole again.
I have this strong feeling to start his genealogy and to start with his history. This is an incredible feat that does not fit into my plans but I can start.
As my family journeyed to the familiar road to Provo cemetery yesterday I said a little prayer by my dad's gravestone. It was a "help me do this, Dad" kind of prayer. I've often felt him along side me, serving in the church we both love so dearly. The last couple years I've deterred my focus a bit. The everyday challenges of this world can be incredibly distracting. I forget that when I try to face challenges on my own they are always more difficult.
This memorial day I'm grateful for my dad. In no way am I glad that he is gone but I'm happy for those moments when he is close by. And I look forward to the day when I can actually meet him and see his face with my own eyes.
Kenneth Thomas Derr
April 19, 1942 - November 16, 1985