Eulogy for My Beloved Papa
Sylvester H. "Ves" Lathen
1-26-1918 to 2-21-2013
Given at Leavenworth National Cemetery
March 1, 2013
At 2:04 this morning, I finally sat down to write what I’m about to share. It’s not that I hadn't been thinking about it non-stop or that I haven’t been playing, quite literally, thousands of memories in my mind since last Thursday. My problem: How do I sum up, in five minutes, the entirety of what this amazing man accomplished in his 95 years, much less the impact he’s had on my life?
Sylvester H. Lathen…affectionately known to most people as Ves. Some of you knew him as Dad, some as Grandpa or Great-Grandpa. But to me, he was Papa…always in my heart synonymous for HERO.
He was the first man I ever loved. He’d wrap me up in those big sailor arms, scented with Old Spice. Highlights of my childhood were summers spent on the farm with Papa & Gran. I’d watch countless hours of Popeye, Bugs Bunny and Sylvester & Tweety while playing paper dolls with Papa. He had the patience of a saint as he answered my plethora of questions about every imaginable topic. I’m sure he must have been counting the seconds until Gran would return to help entertain me, but he never once showed it. He always made me feel like the most important little girl in the world.
He continued that love with my children, welcoming each one with his warm hugs and his warm belly, the best baby napping place in the world, as countless photos with all seven of us grandkids and 30 great-grandkids bear witness. I feel blessed, as I know my brothers and my cousins do, to have been loved by this extraordinary man for so many years, and I hope you great-grandkids realize how rare it is that you've experienced this treasure as well.
He welcomed not only our children as we expanded (and expanded and expanded) his legacy, but also each of our spouses. Papa and my husband became fast friends and buddies when we married on his 94th birthday, and Scott was the lucky one in the family to last hear Papa’s voice. After joking that he was going to look like “Santie Claus” from his lack of shaving during his hospital stay, Papa let out his contagious belly laugh and gave Scott a playful, “Ho, ho, ho!”
He sure made us laugh every day with his ornery sense of humor. Sharp as a tack, he tossed his wit around so quick you’d be doubled over laughing before you ever knew what hit you. And there he’d sit…with his sly little grin. I sometimes think he missed his calling….he would have made one heck of a comedian.
Papa loved his BBQ, a good medium rare steak, peanut butter & onion sandwiches…and maybe just a hint of Ancient Age. “You are My Sunshine” was one of his favorite tunes. He cherished growing up on the farm with his parents, Frank & Bertha, and his brother Gene. He had a soft spot for his little curly blonde-haired daughter, Generia, and also treasured his 16-year-old daughter, Ann, whom he later inherited when he married Billye Sue Berryhill in 1963. He took great pleasure in being a long-time Mason and Shriner, and traveling the 50 states with his beautiful Sue. And he always looked forward to Lathen family reunions with his beloved cousins, nephews and extended family.
Papa had a heart of gold and, despite his sometimes crusty Navy exterior, he was really just a big ol’ softy, who could be reduced to tears at any sentimental moment.
He was, hands-down, the most patriotic man I've ever known, a dedicated Navy Chief so incredibly proud to have served his country for 30 years. And he shared the best stories about his times at sea. I can never listen to “The Star-Spangled Banner” or watch the American flag fly without thinking of Papa. I loved following him to the flagpole at dusk to witness the pure ceremony with which he would lower “Old Glory,” and then raise her again at sunrise.
He cared for my Gran with this same reverence. She was the “Sunshine” with whom he spent nearly 44 years. The last several years of Gran’s life, I witnessed him devotedly cared for her throughout her courageous battle with Alzheimer’s, a disease that robbed her of so very much…yet she always knew his face, his voice and his touch. He would sit beside her and hold her hand for hours.
On one of those occasions, I overheard him whisper to her: “We sure have had a good life, haven’t we?”
“We sure have,” she said.
“I’d do it all over again, wouldn't you?” he asked.
She smiled and said, “I sure would.”
Many times following Gran’s death, I’d notice Papa staring pensively out the window and ask what he was thinking. I already knew the answer. “I miss my Sunshine,” he’d say.
I once asked Papa to finish this sentence: If I had my life to live over, I would…
“I’m pretty well satisfied, Suzy. I've had a pretty good life all around.”
I know there must have been a remarkable reunion in heaven last Thursday morning as Sue threw her arms around her husband and welcomed him Home, and I know this time he’s never letting go of his Sunshine.