Thursday, November 27, 2014

We Give Thanks for All of These

Thanksgiving is a time we pause to give thanks for our many blessings. We are surrounded by blessings every day, yet we don't always take time to consider just how blessed we are. Let us give thanks for all of these.

Our faith in God renews us and gives us strength through times of trial. For our faith in God and His great love for us, we give you thanks. We live in a land of plenty with enough food to eat while others have little. For our willingness to share with others, we give you thanks.

Each of us has a unique story passed down through the generations. For the gift of our heritage and our ancestors, we give you thanks. Our lives are filled with moments we remember for years to come. For our cherished memories, we give you thanks.

The good Lord gives and He takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. We give thanks for our grandparents, now in His eternal embrace. On this first Thanksgiving without my parents on Earth, I give thanks in a special way for the gift of Mom and Dad. They gave us life and taught us how to live through their actions. For these, we give you thanks. May we offer peace and love to all we meet in their memory and in your loving name.

We have been blessed with good health. When our health fails, we live in a country with doctors and nurses to help and heal us. For these, we give you thanks.

God's grace brings us through every day. As we watch the chaos around us, God calms our minds and our hearts, bringing His peace and comfort. For this, we give you thanks. God is the giver of all life. Through His mercy and love, our children came into our lives. May God continue to bless our family. For the gifts of my husband, our children and our families, we give you thanks.

There's a special bond between a parent and a child that can never be broken. May we always hold our children in our arms and in our hearts. For the gift of children, we give you thanks.

How different our lives would be without our children. They bring us laughter and joy, blessings and love. Our cherished memories of their younger days remind us of who they were as we watch with gratitude to see the people they are becoming. For these gifts, we give you thanks.

From our children came our grandchildren. The mutual love between grandchildren and their grandparents is a wonderful gift. We give thanks every day for the gift of our grandchildren.

Life is filled with blessings, but there are also many sorrows. When difficult times come our way, our faith in God gives us the strength to persevere. Through the darkest of valleys, we know God is with us, guiding and protecting us along the journey. For the gifts of faith and God's guidance, we give you thanks.

Grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins and in-laws are all a part of our family's heritage. Our extended family is a gift from God. For the wonderful gift of our family, we give you thanks today and always.

Every day, we are showered with gifts. We often take our blessings for granted while focusing on the difficulties in life. May we always give thanks.

The blessings of home and family, memories and life surround us. May we never take those we love for granted. For the gift of love in our lives, we give you thanks.

It's hard to appreciate the sunshine if you've never seen the rain. May we find the blessings in life, even when times are hard. May peace, love and our faith in God sustain us. For all of our blessings, we give you thanks. 

Blessings abound in our world. We touch others with our love and they touch us. Our hands become your hands to help those in need. For all of these blessings, we give you thanks.

Thanksgiving is more than a day. Thanksgiving is a way of life. May we always be grateful for what we have. You offer us your perfect love. May we extend that love to those we meet every day. You tell us to give thanks in all things. Let us give thanks today and every day for all of these and celebrate Thanksgiving every day.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Thanksgiving Through Tears: The First Year of Grief

Holidays were always special in our family. I'm so grateful that my parents gave us so many precious holiday memories as I face the first year of holidays without Mom and Dad.

Although I married and moved out of state when I was only 17, I have many happy memories of childhood Thanksgivings, where Dad spent the day in the kitchen. Mom made our everyday dinners, but Dad was the extraordinaire holiday chef in our family.

Because of work and school schedules, I didn't ever come home for Thanksgiving after I moved to Virginia. Instead, I recreated an Atkins family Thanksgiving for my kids each year. Thanks to my oldest sister, Sue, I have this photo of Dad carving the turkey at a family Thanksgiving celebration.

Whenever I count my blessings, God and family are at the top of the list. We made these gratitude leaves to decorate our Thanksgiving table last year, letting the grandkids write their own. One of the gratitude leaves I made says, "Parents and siblings," among my greatest blessings in life.

In previous years, we also made gratitude turkeys and gratitude trees. For many years, we've each shared something for which we are grateful as our Thanksgiving prayer before the meal.

Life is filled with blessings. From the food we eat to the God we praise, we have so many reasons to celebrate and give thanks every day, not just on a single day filled with turkey and all the fixings.

On this first Thanksgiving without Mom and Dad, I'm grateful that I have a four-generation photo of Mom and Dad with me, Jenny and my grandson Kyle, Mom and Dad's first great-grandchild. Our memories are precious, but photos are an extra bonus.

I'm also grateful to have photos from back in the day of each of my kids with Mom and Dad. In this photo, Jenny and Dad are playing with little people while Mom sits on one of our family's high chairs in the background.

Mom hid her face from the camera, but some of my older photos caught Mom off-guard, like this photo of Mom helping Jenny walk on the windowsill at the Kansas City Airport.

On one of our many visits to Worlds of Fun, I took this photo of Lauren driving Mom in a funny car. Mom didn't ride too many of the rides, but she always enjoyed riding in these cars.

I have farewell photos from many of our visits back home, including this one when Jenny and Lauren were teens. Spending time at Mom and Dad's house will always be a precious memory to me.

Family meant so much to Mom and she passed that sentiment on to all of us. Family gatherings are one of my favorite things in life. Whether it's just me, Kenny and the kids or our extended family, I love spending time with family.

The best thing about memories is that nothing can take them away from us. Even though I'll never see Mom on her front porch again, I'll always remember how happy it made her to sit there, watching the world go by in her corner of the world.

Jack was Mom and Dad's second grandson, born just a few years after his cousin Chris. Although Dad loved all of his grandkids, he always enjoyed spending time with his grandsons.

Dad often made funny faces for the camera, just like Jack does. Maybe it's genetic or just a guy thing, but photos like this one of Dad make me laugh.

As I gather for Thanksgiving with my children and grandchildren this year, I'll feel the presence of Mom and Dad everywhere. From the joy of holidays that Mom exuded to the day spent cooking that reminds me of Dad, I know they'll be there with me as I give thanks.

Mom and Dad and all of our beloved loved ones who have passed before us are with us always in our hearts and in our memories. Nothing can take that away.

One of Mom's favorite sayings was, "This too shall pass" and I know it's true. The first year will be the hardest year for all of us. The pain of Mom and Dad's deaths is still so deep and raw. Although we'll always miss them and the pain of their loss will always be there, the depth of the pain will lessen over time.

One of my favorite sayings is, "Life goes on and life is good." Although there's a deep sadness in my heart as I face the holidays without my parents, I choose joy. Life is good and God has blessed me with so many gifts. I will always be grateful for the gifts, especially the wonderful gift of family.

May your family be richly blessed, at Thanksgiving and always. Blogging Grandma Sandy, signing off for now.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Veterans Day Tribute to My First Hero

What makes a man a hero? Bravery, integrity, strength, courage against all odds, selflessness, perseverance, sacrifice and honor are all traits I found in my first hero, the man I called Daddy.

My Dad taught me many valuable life lessons - some with words, but most through his actions. By watching Dad's actions, we all learned the meaning of patriotism. defines patriotism as "devoted love, support, and defense of one's country." Dad devoted most of his working years to serving America, at home and abroad.

Most of Dad's military life took place out of the sight of his family. Unlike most civilian jobs, kids generally aren't invited to visit military parents on the job.

The old saying goes, "If the Army wanted you to have a family, they would have issued you one." Somehow, Dad found time for his family, despite his career.

As a child, I had no idea of the dangers Dad faced, especially when he was overseas. As an adult, I thanked God many times that Dad survived three wars, returning home to us after every hardship tour to pick up his life with family where he left off when he was deployed.

I don't have a lot of photos of the Daddy I remember from my childhood - the Dad who took us fishing in the canoe, taught us to bowl and play tennis, cooked big holiday meals and gave us rides on his back at the pool, diving underwater without warning to the child riding on his back.

The Dad of my youth was a Boy Scout volunteer who was euqally comfortable feeding a crowd of scouts on a camping trip and cooking S'mores over the backyard incinerator with his kids.

Dad took us downtown on Saturdays, giving us pennies to put in what he called “the goofy machines.” Dad also taught us how to do practical things. When Dad took us out fishing in the canoe, he taught us how to row the boat.

When Dad taught us how to play tennis, we had to shag the balls we hit astray. When we were bowling, Dad never made fun of us for rolling a gutter ball, Instead, he would say, “I’ll give you a dollar if you can knock down the one on the other side.”

As I grew older, Dad taught me many other practical lessons, including how to read a wiring diagram and how to gap spark plugs. I was more than a little bit crazy in my teen years, but I always knew my parents had my back. Dad walked me down the aisle as my years as an "at home kid" came to an end.

On my earliest trips home after moving to Virginia, there were still siblings living at home. Dad spent a lot of time at Boy Scout camp during the summer, with camp weeks often overlapping with my visits home. Dad always smiled and waved good-bye as Mom shed tears at each farewell.

Dad could often be found on the floor when grandkids came to visit. Whether he was playing Little People or letting grandkids climb on his back, it was clear to see that Dad delighted in his grandkids.

Although Dad enjoyed all of the grandkids, he especially loved the babies. At every family gathering, you would find Dad holding at least one baby, often making goofy faces and noises at them to make them laugh, as he did when we were little kids.

Summertime trips back home always included watergun fights, cookouts and a trip to Worlds of Fun, where Dad recorded the day on film and rode on various rides with the grandkids.

Dad was often the grill master at family cookouts. The burgers were always charred on the outside and pink on the inside, "the best way," according to Dad.

With such a big family scattered from coast to coast and beyond, it was rare for all of us to come home at the same time. In 1994, we all gathered together for our youngest sibling Nancy's wedding.

Following tradition, Dad walked Nancy down the aisle and danced with her at the reception. Dad looked almost regal at the festivities surrounding the wedding of his baby girl.

Dad and Mom renewed their wedding vows a few years later for their 50th anniversary. Father Bill McEvoy, who grew up with us kids, celebrated the Mass with Mom, Dad and our family.

All of us kids and our children came home for the happy occasion, marked by many photos, including this one of Mom and Dad's growing family.

In 2000, Dad was diagnosed with cancer. We were all devastated. My kids and I went home for Dad's surgery, joining Mom and most of my siblings, nieces and nephews in the waiting room. Dad never complained, never showed any fear and, if he was in pain, didn't show it to any of us.

Dad kicked cancer's butt in 2000. Just three months after major surgery and treatments, Dad drove cross-country alone for my oldest daughter Jenny's high school graduation with a side trip to the World War II Museum in New Orleans. Mom flew in for the graduation with my older sister Kathy. After driving back home, Dad took a second road trip a couple of weeks later to Oklahoma for my niece's wedding, this time accompanied by Mom.

The following summer, Kenny and I drove to Kansas with our four "at home kids." We enjoyed family gatherings at Mom and Dad's house and my brother Pat's house and took photos on Mom and Dad's front porch.

My oldest grandson, Kyle, was Mom and Dad's first great-grandchild. Kyle was just a baby when we visited Kansas in 2001 so he didn't come along. The following summer, Mom and Dad posed for four generation photos with me, Jenny and Kyle, who kept trying to get down. Dad was clearly amused by Kyle's antics.

In 2004, all of us traveled home to celebrate Dad's 80th and Mom's 79th birthdays. Although Mom hated having her picture taken when we were kids, she relented a bit and even smiled for photos with the grandkids.

Lots of family photos were taken at the big birthday party, including one of Mom and Dad with all of their children and this one of all of the family members who were present. Mom and Dad had 23 grandkids at the time, who ranged in age from 28 years old to the youngest three, who were all 1 year old. Kyle, who was 3, was still my parents' only great-grandchild.

In 2007, I took multiple trips home to visit Mom and Dad, including one in December when my kids and grandson Kyle accompanied me. I always tried to take group photos with Mom and Dad. In this photo, Mom and Dad posed with all of their grandkids who were home and their two great-grandkids.

Dad lived a life filled with service to others. In addition to 28 years serving in the Army, Dad worked in the Kansas prison system for 10 years, serving in various capacities including warden of the Kansas State Prison in Lansing. In his spare time, Dad built a train setup in the basement, which many of the grandkids were fortunate to enjoy when they visited.

Dad was an active Boy Scout volunteer from 1968 until his death. It seems appropriate that the Dad I remember whistling his way through life had a Delaware Indian scout name "Nechasin Achpiquan Woapalanne," which means "Watchful Whistling Eagle." Dad received many awards for his service to the Boy Scouts, including the Kaw District Award of Merit, the Saint George medal, the Silver Beaver award and was honored in 2011 by the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America as a James E. West Fellow, the highest honor awarded to adult scout volunteers.

Dad was also very active in his church, serving many years at Immaculate Conception - St. Joseph Parish as a lector, Eucharistic minister and song-leader commentator.  Dad also served on the Pastoral Council, was secretary of the Finance Council, served on many church committees, was PTO president of the Catholic grade school many of us attended and later served as first PTO president of the consolidated Catholic schools in Leavenworth.

I'll always remember Dad first and foremost as a family man, the first man in my life and our family's hero. My brother-in-law Jim took this photo and several others of Mom and Dad with their three middle daughters on one of my visits home.

Dad battled cancer and won more than once, but in the end cancer took his life. Dad died on June 21, 2014, surrounded by family. Although we always thought Dad would die first, Mom preceded Dad in death by 16 days. Dad died just nine days after celebrating his 90th birthday by sharing cake and ice cream with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Dad was proud of his military service and wore with honor the three war veteran hat I bought him on one of my trips to DC. On the day he died, Dad was visited by two members of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, who awarded Dad honorary membership in the organization. Members of the Patriot Guard Riders stood guard at the funeral home and church and escorted Dad to his final resting place, where he was buried with military honors, a hero to the end.

Each year on Veterans Day, America honors her heroes, the brave members of the U.S. Armed Forces who served in times of war and peace. This Veterans Day tribute is a gift to Dad, my first hero. Thank you the many gifts you gave to your family and thank you for your service to others and to the country you loved. We will love and miss you always!