I write this post under the saddest of circumstances. My father passed away on Monday night. We had just had a family picnic and were sitting down to have drinks…
So, here is Wednesday, and what do I have to say for myself. Well, my father and I were very close. We always were! Thick as thieves for the past 33 years. My father was a professor of biology at UNB for many years (from 1972 until he retired), but music was always one of the things that we shared. I started playing the violin when I was six because he played the violin around the house. My older brother had also started lessons, and I wanted to join in. One of my favourite photos from my childhood was of me standing on the footstool moving the pistons on Dad’s tuba while he played. This goes back a long time! Other than music, we shared a love of the outdoors and of the water.
As mentioned, my father was a prof. He loved his work and did a great job at it. He had a reputation for being tough… no bird courses with him, but he was fair and always aided those who seeked help. At the end of his career he was in essence a guidance councilor to undergraduate students on top of his regular teaching assignments. A dedicated man who caught the 6:30am bus to work… A man who prepped all of his lectures the morning of… The man who never had lecture notes for students to copy…. It was all in his head!
We played music together from the time that I started playing the violin… Violin duets, fiddle duets, tuba/violin duets, and, of course, family fun… This meant that every Sunday night the whole family (me on violin, my mother on clarinet, my brother on viola, and
my father on tuba) would play music together. Classical, Broadway, Australian Drinking Songs… This was a tradition that we continued every Christmas eve right up until the last Christmas. If he and I were in the same house,
there was always music! Recently (five years ago) I had started both a fiddle group and an amateur baroque music string ensemble, and my father joined both. The fiddle group was really more to be with me and my mom as the music was no challenge for him, but the early music group was something that made him push himself and work on the violin more than usual.
My father ran the Fredericton International TubaFest. This is a two-day event to which he invited usually at least three clinicians and a pianist and at which we usually had 15-20 participants. The last one he ran in 2011 was our 8th year. One of our clinicians had passed away (John Griffiths) and we had a memorial to him during our 7th annual event. Mom and I are thinking of running the event one final time in 2012 as a memorial to Dad. My father had been attending tuba conferences around the continent and had decided to hold one in our hometown. He was dedicated enough to this event to take it on singlehanded and to be willing to bankroll it if necessary. It never came to that, but he would have been willing.
So, what else can I tell you about my father. He loved to travel, and instilled that love in me early on! During my childhood we lived in New Zealand twice and Texas once. We drove across Canada in a van one summer and drove down to Texas the year we lived there. We traveled to Hawaii and Puerto Rico as well. Since I moved out, my parents have also lived in Australia and British Columbia. I made the trip to visit both times.
My father passed way during a family vacation to Maine. My family owns a small island on a lake in Southern Maine where my aunt and uncle reside during the summer. This island is where my father spent his summers as a child. He loved the water… Loved being in it and on it, a love that I share. We have enjoyed many an early morning paddle on the lake before the wind picked up and before most everyone else was
awake… that magical time when the water is still warmer than the air and there is mist rising off of it. My uncle read a letter to us this visit that his mother had written in which it mentioned that my father had just come in with yet more fish, and that he had been called off of the lake to come do his chores. It is a nice circular situation that led my father back to the place of his childhood for his death.
My father had been short of breath for a few days and was going to visit the doctor upon our return to get everything checked out. He did not want to miss this vacation. We had a really good day on Monday with him coming for a swim with us. He had actually commented on how good he felt that morning, and he seemed to have a bit more of a spark in his eye. Mom and I had gone for a canoe and picked some blueberries as well. In the evening we had a cook-out with hamburgers, chips and dip, and then were settling in to evening drinks when my father’s breathing became very laboured and he essentially lost consciousness for a couple of minutes. As we were in the process of calling 911, he came to. He wasn’t sure why we were all panicking and wanted to know what was wrong. We told him what had happened and that we were taking him to the hospital. We only got him part way to the boat to shore before he collapsed. He never made it to the hospital.
There are lots of good things about this story. My father was well right up to his death. He was able to come on vacation with us one last time to his childhood summer home, a place that he loved! He felt pretty good and was able to participate in the activities of the day, although he did feel tired. He got to visit with my brother, his wife and children just last month. I was here with my mother, and
she was surrounded with family. Also, my father had that one final lucid moment with us… He didn’t understand why we were panicking. I asked him to raised his arms, speak a sentence, and my aunt got him to stick out his tongue. He did everything we requested, although when he stuck out his tongue, he did wave it around a bit and roll it up just to poke fun at us for our worry. I will always remember that moment!
So many fond memories of my father… When I was in high school we went to the Gaelic College in St. Anne’s, Cape Breton together to study fiddling. He and I were in all of the same classes, sat next to each other, and were generally considered to be trouble. Also in high school he and I shared a music stand in the local community orchestra. We were enough trouble there that I was moved to first violin while he was kept on second violin. We still managed to sit next to each other and cause trouble! My father lived a great life, and if he were here, it seems to me that he should have no regrets. He and my mother traveled a lot, and traveled even more after he was retired. Just last winter they drove to Arkansas to visit my aunt, went to Nashville, Branson, Arlington… The spent a month and a half traveling around. They still had plans for places to go, but were not putting anything off for later. A full life with more dreams left. I feel lucky that my parents were still planning. They were not in a home, they were not incapacitated in anyway… My father in essence died the way that most of us hope to: quickly, painlessly, after a great day, and surrounded by family. Also, my mother has been left with lots of support! It will of course be hard, but there are still lots of us around to help out!
RIP Richard T. Riding, born Jan 6, 1943, died August 1st, 2011.