Friday, June 27, 2014

Saying Good-Bye

I've never been good at saying good-bye. I get choked up and end up crying, just like my Mom always did when bidding her kids farewell. Three weeks ago, I said my final good-bye to Mom before she died. A week ago, I told Dad good-bye for the last time as he followed Mom into the glory of God's kingdom.

Whenever we visited my parents in Kansas, Mom always cried as she stood on the sidewalk, waving until our car was out of sight. In the car, my tears matched hers as I sadly drove away, leaving behind my parents and my childhood home.

Dad was a career Army officer, so home was wherever the Army sent us. Mom fell in love with the town of Leavenworth, the town they both embraced as home when Dad retired.

Mom's years as an Army wife were spent moving from pillar to post. Dad was already in France when Mom followed with her six children. My youngest brother Pat was born on this tour of duty, the second of my parents' children born abroad. Nancy, the baby of the family, was born several years later in Alabama.

Dad taught me lots of practical life lessons - how to swim and ride a bike, how to gap spark plugs and read a wiring schematic, how to row a boat and play tennis. Dad also taught me the value of hard work, the meaning of dedication and what true love was all about.

Mom showed her love for us with midnight feedings, after school snacks, late night chats, long-distance phone calls, cards for every occasion and no reason at all, and always being there for us with an endless, timeless and eternal love. Mom didn't just love her children - she cherished us. We were her life and for us, she would gladly have given her life.

Dad was the family photographer so there aren't many photos of him with us when we were younger. Mom hated having her picture taken so there are even fewer photos of her when we were kids.

Even more rare are photos of Mom and Dad together, except a few taken by one of us kids when Mom wasn't looking our way.

Mom and Dad served as godparents to several grandchildren and were proud to share their love of God with their children and grandchildren. Dad converted to Catholicism after we were grown. Every Sunday, Mom and Dad were at church, leading by example. My parents' commitment to serving others extended beyond church and family to include years of volunteer work with scouting, our schools and the community. This photo was taken after Jenny's Baptism at Immaculate Conception, Mom and Dad's church.

Dad worked a lot when we were kids, but he had plenty of time for playing when the grandkids visited. Dad would lay on the ground playing with the grandkids. He'd also take them to play with his model trains in the basement. As Dad got older, he really enjoyed holding the babies in our family.

Mom loved her grandkids the same way she loved her kids, with all of her heart. Mom loved to work puzzles and share stories with her grandkids. The grandkids who lived nearby were often treated to a walk downtown with Grandma for an ice cream cone.

For those who lived nearby, Mom and Dad were at nearly every game and event. For those who lived far away, they shared in the joys and heartaches of everyday life with cards and phone calls.

Mom and Dad probably said every single parenting line that exists. As an parent, when I open my mouth to share some wisdom with my kids, I’m not sure if I’m going to hear my mom or my dad but know that one of them will be speaking through me. I remember Mom saying “Go and ask your father,” and Dad asking, “What did your mother say?” 

We learned from an early age to “look it up” when we didn’t know the answer to something. We learned that knowledge was power. There were always encyclopedias and books in our house to find the answer to any question. Books were our internet.

We were taught from a young age to be proud of our country. Dad flew the American flag on the front porch, a symbol of the country he loved. It's only fitting that Mom and Dad will be buried in Leavenworth National Cemetery, where the American flag is always flown.

Mom and Dad were proud of their children in a quiet way. They didn't praise us for the sake of praise or to raise our self-esteem. They had high expectations and we rose to the challenge.

Mom and Dad were excited to become great-grandparents. My grandson Kyle was their first great-grandchild, but now there are 10 great-grandkids with one more on the way.

The most recent photo of Mom and Dad with their descendants was taken 10 years ago at a family reunion. The family has grown even more since then. Mom and Dad leave behind eight children, 26 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, a legacy of their 66 years of love and devotion.

In her later years, Mom could always be found on her favorite davenport in the living room, with her collection of Snoopy and KU Jayhawk items behind her. Mom sat here working puzzles and watching TV.

In his later years, Dad was in his recliner in the living room or across the hall on his computer, looking things up and taking care of business.

I always talked to Mom more than Dad on the phone, but I learned a lot from Dad. On my last visits home in spring of 2014, I spent a lot of time talking with both of my parents. Dad shared war stories and let me help him with a few things around the house - a rarity for a man who never asked for help.

I was never an only child, don’t remember being the youngest child at home, and wasn’t ever really the oldest child at home. None of that really mattered then, nor does it now. Living in our home was always interesting and I really don’t remember ever wishing that I’d been in someone else’s family. There were always brothers and sisters around to play and fight with and there was always noise and commotion in the house. To me, those were all good things.

How do I say good-bye to the woman who loved me more than her own life? To the woman who taught me so many valuable lessons? To the woman who will always be a part of me long after her life is over? How do I say good-bye to the man who was my first hero? To the man who taught me right from wrong? To the man who will live on in me forever?

My siblings and I will say good-bye to our parents by living our lives well, by loving one another and our God, by raising our children to be good people who help others as our parents did. You gave us life and love and taught us more lessons than you’ll ever know. Thanks for always being there and giving us all that we needed. As your journey ends, ours continues without you. As you march forward to your well-deserved places in God’s kingdom, may the lives we live pay honor to you. As you look down on us from above, may we hear and feel your guidance, comfort and love with us always in the whisper of the wind, the gentle rain and the rising and setting of the sun. Thanks Mom and Dad for a job well done. I love you now and forever.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Daddies and Daughters: A Forever Love

There's something special about the relationship between Daddies and their daughters. A dad is his daughter's first hero, a role model for every man in her future. As a little girl grows, she learns many lessons from her dad.

Daddies teach daughters practical lessons: how to ride a bike and swim, how to fix stuff and correct mistakes, how to fish and row a boat. Daddies teach daughters life lessons: how to stand up for your beliefs, how to face difficult challenges, how to be brave in the face of adversity.

Daddies teach their daughters self-confidence and that the sky is the limit if you work hard and stay focused. With each new lesson learned, a dad's encouragement helps his daughter's self-assurance grow.

Daddies aren't always big on words, but actions speak louder than words and a dad's love shines through his actions. Even when a dad is far away physically, a daughter can feel the warmth of his love.

Daddies teach their daughters how to behave properly. Table manners, courtesy and thoughtfulness are all important lessons daughters learn from watching how parents behave.

Daddies teach daughters how they should be treated. When a daughter watches her dad treat her mom with respect and kindness, she will expect the men in her future to treat her the same way. It's traditional for a dad to walk his daughter down the aisle and give her away in marriage to her husband.

As daughters become young women, a dad's role changes from a daily parenting role to a mentoring role of support. Dads become grandpas with the birth of grandchildren, a role many dads relish.

A dad who worked long hours when his daughter was young has the opportunity to relive his daughter's childhood when playing with grandchildren. When grandkids are young, grandpas enjoy getting down on the floor to play and teaching the grandkids new things.

Daughters hold a special place in a dad's heart, no matter how old they are. Daughters look up to and admire their dad and may become their dad's caretaker as he ages in a reversal of roles.

They say you can't go back home, but that's not really true. Even when you're not a little girl, the feelings of love and devotion between parents and children remains. Daughters who move away have to work harder to enjoy a grownup relationship with their parents. Frequent phone calls, emails, letters and visits back home strengthen the feelings of love and respect.

As time goes by, a daughter's love and respect for her first hero grows. As an adult balancing work and family, a daughter realizes and appreciates the many sacrifices her parents made for her.

My Dad taught his daughters many life lessons: to be brave and courageous even when facing insurmountable odds, to treat others with dignity and respect, to think through the consequences of actions, to help others in need, to stand proud and tall and to be strong even when life is unfair.

Thanks, Dad, for loving Mom in life and grieving her death. The love you two shared for 66 years can't be diminished in death. She's waiting for you now and I know the reunion will be wonderful.

Thanks, Dad, for serving as a shining example of Christian fatherhood for your daughters and sons. You taught us well and gave us the strength we'll need to continue when you're gone from our presence.

As we move gradually toward a life without you and Mom, I know you'll both be looking down on us and guiding us in our daily lives. I'm so grateful for the lessons you taught me, the love you showed me and the strength you gave me. Thanks, Dad, for being my first hero and the best Daddy a girl could ever have.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Death is the Great Equalizer

Military cemeteries have a much different appearance than civilian cemeteries. Each tombstone looks alike, engraved with name, rank, branch of service, wars served, dates of birth and death. Some of the newer tombstones also contain a few words like, "Beloved husband and father."

Maybe the military recognizes one of the realities of death. Death is the great equalizer. In death, we are all alike. Whether you're a prince or a pauper in life, death will eventually come knocking at your door.

You may be sipping champagne and nibbling on caviar-topped crackers or begging for food scraps on a street corner during life, but when death comes to call, the result is the same.

Whether you've spent your life doing good deeds and helping others or hurting everyone in your life as you reap a path of destruction, death is your final earthly reward.

Unlike many journeys taken in life, the final journey toward the unknown is taken alone. Although family may be gathered around the bedside, the last few steps are a solitary journey.

Stories of near-death experiences have been written by people young and old. A light at the end of the tunnel, a man dressed in a long, flowing gown and feelings of peace are among the experiences shared.

Death may come peacefully in the middle of a winter night or in the sunlight of a bright summer day. Each of us lives life according to our own desires, but we have little control over the final chapter of the book.

No matter what a person's life experiences have been, there's no good way to prepare for death. Making peace with the past, mending fences and saying good-bye to loved ones helps ease the burden for those left behind and may offer peace of mind for a dying person, but it won't change the inevitable.

In the end, the kindnesses performed in life will be remembered long after death. The joy of the memories made in life will remain even after the sharp, blinding pain of loss becomes a permanent dull ache.

In death, we leave behind the trappings of life but sometimes small reminders of life are left by those who mourn the loss.

Like a monster from childhood, death lurks under the bed, behind the closet door or in a dark alley, waiting quietly and patiently for just the right moment to snuff out life.

Death is not fair, especially the death of someone you love. Death takes the young and the old, the cherished and the forgotten, the loved and the despised.

No matter how we fight against it, death comes to us all eventually. Death leaves behind a void that can only be filled with memories. As the sun sets on the life of a loved one, hold on to the memories.