Bill Sniffin: Saying Goodbye To My Father – Seems Like Yesterday

Bill Sniffin writes: "Dad was an Irishman. He had freckles and always a twinkle in his eyes and a great sense of humor. And especially in his old age, he had become the perfect grandfather figure."

Bill Sniffin

May 23, 20214 min read

Sniffin 1
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

By Bill Sniffin, publisher

“I love you, pop.”
“I love you, too, son.”

The last words exchanged between a father and son.

As a long-time newspaper writer, I knew that someday I would be writing Dad’s obituary.

Some twenty-one years ago on May 23, 2000, was that day.

I said good-bye to my 81-year father a few days before he died.

Tom Sniffin Sr. was being treated for an assortment of ailments at the Boulder, CO Community Hospital.  When Nancy and I left him Friday, May 20, 2000, he was just being prepped for an experimental procedure to use a special device to open up an artery in his neck.

Although he appeared to be doing well, his condition regressed over the weekend and was near death from brain hemorrhage.  We got the phone call on a Monday night that he was unconscious and slipping fast.   My sister Sue Kinneman from Green River (now Riverton)  met me in Rawlins and we drove down to Boulder together, where we also met up with our brother Ron who lives in Cheyenne.

My mom and three more of my eight brothers met us at the hospital.  We got there at 5:10 a.m. and Dad died at 5:30 a.m. Ironically, my mother said that she had told Dad we were coming down from Wyoming and she was sure he hung on long enough for us to say our good-byes.

Lots of memories about Dad.

The first time I saw my dad cry was when I was 13. 

His dad (my grandpa) had died and they were having an old-fashioned wake in the living room of my grandparents’ home in Wadena, Iowa.

The place was a beehive of activity, and there in the middle of it lay my grandpa in his casket.

Suddenly, we heard a loud sob and then some anguished crying.  It was Dad. He was kneeling in front of his father and he said, “What am I going to do without you?”  His broad shoulders were trembling as my mother and my grandmother rushed over to console him.

He and my grandfather were business partners and were also great buddies, in addition to being father and son.  Dad was devastated by the death of his best friend.

What my dad saw back then in 1959 is what my brothers and sisters and I saw 21 years ago this month as our past slipped away from us forever.

Dad and mom lived in Lander from 1978 to 1991 and made a lot of friends here. They then moved to Colorado, which was easier traveling for my 10 siblings. Dad loved his time in Wyoming. Once in a while he would complain about the distances.  He always called that road from Shoshoni to Casper “96 miles of nothing.”

I know, I know. Both Phil Roberts and Lois Herbst have reminded me of all the wonderful things to see on that stretch.  But back to my dad.

What kind of man was he?  I would say he measured up pretty well, if you note the unconditional love given him by his wife Betty for nearly 60 years. It takes a heck of a man to deserve that kind of devotion. Mom died last July at age 96 and our big family is getting ready to give her a proper sendoff in October.

Dad was an Irishman through and through.  He had freckles and always a twinkle in his eyes along with a great sense of humor. And especially in his old age, he had become the perfect grandfather figure.

He was a caring person.  He could tell you exactly which of the kids or grandkids were travelling and he would monitor the weather and say prayers to get them safely where they were going.

As the ultimate family man, my vision of him is seeing him asleep in his favorite chair with a little baby also asleep on his chest.

My father was blessed and this family has been blessed. He carried his Catholic rosary with him at all times and he always said he was praying his kids home from every trip. 

Our family held his funeral in Lafayette, CO., and then held another funeral and burial service in the little missionary church in Wadena, in July, 2000. 

More than 100 old friends gathered to join us in saying good-bye.

Dad always worried about the weather.  On that sunny day in July, the temperature barely climbed above 70 degrees — perfect weather for a funeral in a small, stuffy church.

We’re sure he had something to do with it.

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.