In Memory of Jim Brake
by his son, Perry
November 20, 2001
These are words and phrases my sister, Jan, used to describe our Dad on the occasion of Mom and Dad’s 60th wedding anniversary a few years back. I would like to remind you of how those words described Jim Brake in the past, and how they continued to describe him in his final days.
Dad was Industrious – In his younger years, Dad was always busy, never sitting still unless it was for a boxing match on the battery-operated wireless, and later, on TV. If he wasn’t building additions to the house, he was sawing wood, with a misery whip early on, and a chain saw later…or splitting wood, or digging a well, or tending his garden. Or even catching fish…although he enjoyed fishing immensely, he also considered successful fishing as a means to put food on the table for his family. Although his mind wanted to do all those and many other things in later years, his body didn't support his desires. One thing he did continue until his body completely "pooped out" as he would call it, was to make latch hook rugs and pillows. After being found slumped in his chair a week and a half ago, one of the first things he said was that he might not be able to finish a latch hook pillow that he had started for his great grandson in time to give it to him for Christmas. This shows not only that he was industrious, but also caring, thoughtful, and always giving.
Dad was Inventive – Our property on the Toutle was full of things that Dad had invented, some of which we might not have recognized as being his inventions because as far as we knew everybody else in the world was using the same tool, or same structure, or whatever it was he had built. At one time, Dad made these things because we couldn't afford the store bought variety, but later in life he continued doing it because he was a very frugal man, and because he truly enjoyed this tinkering. As we were cleaning his apartment over the weekend, we found the remains of a wire coat hanger near his chair, shaped in just the right way to do something…just what it was supposed to do will remain a secret known only to Pop for now.
A Smiling Dad – Dad was always smiling unless…maybe…he caught one of us skinning a deer when the season hadn’t quite opened…this is a hypothetical situation, of course…and then he might slip into a concerned frown and say something like, “Oh, golly, boys.” Even in the last few months when we know that Dad was very uncomfortable, when anybody walked into his apartment, he would muster up the best smile he could, and then, and only if you asked, tell you where he was hurting.
Encouraging – Dad was seldom demanding of his children, and I think he was probably the same with those who worked for him on the job and with his caregivers in the recent past. Rather he set the example and encouraged others to do what is right, sometimes “encouraging” them a little harder when the first dose didn’t take. He encouraged all of his kids to study, but, for example, didn't demand that we spend X number of hours cracking the books. When something went well, he was the first to pat us on the back, and when something didn't go quite so well, he was still the first to pat us on the back and tell us all would be OK. He set the example, and patiently waited until we had all learned the way.
A Giving Dad – Dad was forever giving something to others. When we were young, he would bring his lunch sandwiches home from Camp Baker to make sure we had enough to eat. He would give up his favorite fishing hole to a friend or loved one just so he could experience the thrill of watching that person catch a fish. And when we had more fish than we could possibly use, he would give salmon and steelhead to complete strangers, expecting nothing in return. Since he moved to Tacoma and was more limited in his physical ability, he gave his time and love freely to anybody who needed encouragement or a reassuring hug. He used what physical strength he had left by making latch hook rugs or pillows for all his great grandchildren. And as replacements for the sandwiches from Camp Baker, he brought back to his apartment bananas, raisins, milk, jelly or whatever of his own food that he didn't eat in the "mess hall" as he called it. He wasn't satisfied unless we took these goodies home.
Dad was Always Joking – Although Dad was very serious about the important things in life, he recognized one of those “important” things as being humor, and it could be for his jokes that he is best remembered by some. I had dinner with him Friday before last and he told me what he said were his two favorite jokes…one about the ocean not saying anything to the transoceanic flight overhead, but rather just waving. The other about the hydramatic handshake…only we older folks remember that cars with hydramatic transmissions had “no clutch.” Dad kept up his jokes to the very end…if you hadn’t heard one of his jokes, he would be very happy to tell it to you, and if you HAD heard it, he would be happy to tell it to you again! Even though Dad couldn’t communicate verbally toward the end, his expressions told us he was telling us a joke…we didn’t need to hear the words…we had heard them before.
Dad was Courteous – When he was quick enough to get there, Dad always opened doors for ladies…and men. When walking with a lady on a sidewalk, he taught me to walk on the side closest to traffic. When Dad didn’t hear someone properly, which was most often the case, he didn’t say “huh”…it was always a courteous “pardon” or “pardon me.” He NEVER forgot to say “please,” and we are pretty sure one of the last phrases formed on his lips was “thank you.”
Dad was Caring and Thoughtful – Dad made a lot of new friends while he lived at Peoples Retirement Community in Tacoma, and I think his caring nature and thoughtfulness had a lot to do with that. Because of his hearing problem, he wasn’t able to communicate verbally very well…so he communicated by his actions…and a lot of people heard his message. I would like to point out two examples. Don, a relatively young, able bodied man, moved into Peoples Retirement Home a couple months ago…he had a full beard and long hair, and none of the residents seemed to accept him…except Dad. They ate at the same table for a while, and then at adjacent tables, and every meal, Dad and Don, two guys who had problems communicating with others, would exchange a few words although the two probably had very little in common. When Don learned that Dad was slipping away, he told me that Dad had turned his life around because of his compassion and thoughtfulness. And then this scruffy looking man who others might have thought to be a thug, cried. He asked if he could visit Dad in his final hours. Don held Dad’s hand for 15 minutes or more…and again, he cried. Don had known Dad for only a short time, but he had already recognized Dad's special character. Witnessing Don’s love for our Dad really helped the family through that difficult time. As I was leaving Peoples the last time over the weekend, one of the staff told me she had seen Don wandering around proudly showing off one of Dad’s Bibles we had given him. Even in death, Dad was a witness to others.
Dad also developed a special relationship with the staff at Peoples. After a few encounters, the ladies on the staff weren’t the least bit shocked when he called them “Honey,” or insisted on a hug when they brought him his medications or whatever. A couple of those caregivers were particularly attached to Dad and Dad to them. They tended Dad day and night, whether officially on duty or off duty, during his final days. I’m not going to embarrass them by asking them to stand, but if you get a chance, talk to Sara, Betty, and Jennifer…I have a notion they will have more to tell you about Jim, or James, or Mr. Brake…Dad to me…than I have. They made Dad’s final journey very comfortable for him, and for his family…and we thank them.
I would like to add one more descriptive word for our Dad, Grandfather, and friend…he was a peacemaker. I never saw Dad even get close to getting into a fight in anger, although he had been trained as a boxer while he was in the Army and probably could have held his own pretty well. But that wasn’t the kind of “peace” I had in mind when I said he was a peacemaker. He also did whatever he had to to make sure every interaction with others human beings…whether friends, family, or strangers…was a peaceful and happy occasion without sadness, remorse, rancor, or anger. And Dad left this earth to join his Lord last Thursday in the same manner…peacefully and surrounded by family and some very special friends.