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.

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