Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gratitude and Legacy

My family and I have been amazed and truly touched by the outpouring of love that we've received in the past several days. The well-wishes, cards, letters, food, flowers, thoughts and prayers have been a truly beautiful thing and we are so very grateful. There are certain folks, however, to whom tribute must be made. These are the folks who carried me through and held me together and helped ensure that what could have been a terrible ordeal was instead a peaceful week of tribute and love.

My Family- I've written about Mom and the astounding calm she displayed this week. I'm profoundly grateful for the grace she's shown and the peace she has found. My sister Shirley has lived in our parent's home in St. Marys the past several months. She visits and brings supplies to Mom's assisted living facility and she's been taking care of their business affairs in person. I'm so thankful for her presence there and could not imagine having to get through the past year without her. God bless Aunt Kate, Aunt Nadine, Uncle Andy and Aunt Antoinette for their visits, wonderful food and their great love for Dad. Bless the Steeles as well.....my cousin Larry Joe served as a pallbearer and his father, my Uncle Larry gave me a much-needed break from the sadness with his hilarious stories of Dad's wilder days at the Eagles. Debbie and Dayle Ann were incredibly comforting to Mom while taking care of their own Mom, my Aunt Bonnie, but they took my breath away with their generosity towards Keith and their inclusion of him as family. Aunt Bonnie as ever, remains a rock for her sister, my Mother, and the one moment I knew Mom was comfortable during the funeral was when she was parked wheelchair to wheelchair with Bonnie. Some of the richest moments of my life carry the sound of those two sisters giggling together.

Kaki, JB and The Greenhouse Gang- The flowers created by the Greenhouse Gang were stunning; each arrangement unique, thought-out and utterly gorgeous. My relationship with these folks goes well beyond their product,though. I've been long associated with the Reckard family and Kaki's parents Jim and Barbara treated me like one of their own. Kaki and I have seen each other through some of the darkest of days. The Greenhouse has always welcomed me with open arms. Throughout this ordeal, Kak and JB have sheltered me, made sure I was fed (very,very well I might add) and surrounded me with friendship and laughter. After a long day of travel with a heavy heart, I sat with Kak, JB and Kristy enjoying a quiet conversation about their business. I suddenly found myself gripped with massive sorrow and fell completely apart in front of them. I believe my breakdown wasn't just about my exhausted emotions; it also speaks to the level of deep comfort I have in that house with those friends. I was home and I let go. At the end of the week, they and Kristy gifted me with a commemoration of Dad....a Trollbead bracelet to help me re-embrace the planet without Dad complete with a fish clasp representing his love of fishing. Also at week's end, the Greenhouse created a Whimsical Wonderland for their Christmas Open House and it seemed to signify that life goes on and there is still much wonder and joy to behold. I am grateful to count these folks as family.

Lydia-For a more detailed background of my friendship with this lovely lady, check out my post The Preacher's Kid. Lydia had always been an indelible presence in my life. Her father, the beloved George Harris, officiated the ceremony. Lydia was responsible for that. She also took on a caretaker role this week in many ways and keep in mind that she has two daughters and runs a successful business. She still found time for me and I'm so grateful she did. She came to the viewing, service and the luncheon afterwards. Returning to the church could not have been easy for her but there she was; ever the trooper. The presence of Lydia and her wonderful parents was so heartwarming to me and my family and I'm so grateful for their continued presence in our lives. I also will cherish the moment she faced Neil Eddy and referred to his "stink-eye" for the rest of my days.

Kristy-my lifelong bestie since the tender age of four. We've been through it all together; the good, the bad and the oh-so-ugly. More than 40 years down the line, she was at my side throughout the endless winter of taking care of my parents and I can't emphasize enough what it meant to me that she gave me a daily reprieve during those helpless days. You've read her contributions to the past week: the delicious food, the funny moments. Kristy also gifted me with a beautiful flower arrangement featuring fisherman bookends in honor of Dad. Most of all, she was there....through the tears, the confusion, the heartache. It was a tough week for her as well. Dad always considered her one of his own. Kristy doesn't give herself enough credit but she was quite often the glue that held me together. She is my sister in every way but blood. Kristy often feels undeserving of the accolades but in her heart of hearts she knows what she means to me. Thank you, love, for still being there after all these years.

Keith-Well before I started a blog, I wrote an article about Keith in an effort to enlighten my friends as to the kind of man Keith is. We always lived far away from my hometown friends and they really didn't know him. I won't recount the whole story in the interest of space but will attempt to shorthand it. When we lived in DC, a beloved employee of Keith's and his young son were brutally murdered. The truly tragic and senseless loss of that father and son were beyond imagination. The funeral was fraught with shattered emotions including mourners throwing themselves on the casket and desperate cries to the heavens. I was barely holding it together myself, but Keith stood strong and tall. He needed to be there as a source of strength and calm for the other grieving employees and he single-handedly held them all together. Many folks just see Keith, the hard-working businessman but few see the heroic heart as big as Texas.

Keith was stalwart throughout this experience. While I shuffled through the preparations in a zombie-like state, he made the plane reservations, packed for me and made sure I ate. He drove for 14 hours alone to be there with me. Keith took over the driving duties during the funeral days; driving my family on that slow crawl from service to burial. While I doted on Mom, he was hauling her wheelchair in and out of the trunk or carrying flowers here and there. I admit to conflicting emotions when it came to including Keith in the actual family rituals during the funeral and I carry a lot of guilt about that. In the end, it was selfish....I was wrapped up in grief and I didn't want to have to explain our relationship to the older relatives. My family themselves would prove me wrong and include him as family. Keith is my family and that's how he should be treated...most of all by me. As members of my own family shed their mortal coils from this life, Keith and his family have taken me in as one of their own in ways that were once unimaginable to me. He is a truly amazing and generous man and I am so very blessed to have him in my life. My mother even introduced him to her friend as her "plus one". Indeed, my father himself never failed to thank him for taking care of me. As I say goodbye to the finest man I knew who loved me unconditionally, the finest man I know remains at my side, ever-watchful, loving me unconditionally. I am grateful for Keith most of all.

This will be my last post centering on the funeral of my father. It feels a bit like a magnum opus but I wanted, no, needed to capture it all. Writing this allowed me to sift and sort through the overwhelming emotions of losing Dad and the heartwarming week of tribute that followed. It's a hell of a thing losing a parent. I watched my friends endure it and came to realize that I really had no idea of what they were going through. It leaves a wound that may heal but won't ever completely close. Dad was indeed a very good man. He was an incredible husband who protected and cared for his wife of nearly 70 years even as his own mind and body were failing him. He was an amazing father....always loving and sheltering us even when we broke his heart. He was a fantastic friend and neighbor to all. He was also a Vet....today being Veteran's Day just makes me miss him all the more. Dad was also humble to a fault....he would have been the only one who would have felt undeserving of all the praise.

His are big shoes to fill. Kristy's sister Kara gave me a sympathy card and by the time I had read it, I had read many and was going about it half-heartedly. Then I read her words: You are his best legacy. Those words froze my blood and stopped me in my tracks. I felt unworthy of that legacy and couldn't imagine how I would begin to fulfill it. Leave it to yet another friend and kindred spirit who would help me put that legacy into perspective.....

My friends Connie and Stacie gifted me with the lovely angel pictured at right and that gift was accompanied by a letter that Connie wrote. Connie is a masterful writer and her words brought me solace when I was questioning my role as my father's son....she herself lost her father not long ago. The letter is deeply personal to me but I will end this post with an excerpt from it. Connie's words shone the first light on the path.....

I believe this voyage is humbling because as you strive to be as much like him in relationships, work and life as you can; you will believe you can never quite measure. It is humbling to try and walk in larger than life footsteps and stumble as you move forward. But, I believe as you keep moving forward in those footsteps they become smaller and you find there is no need to measure and compare yourself because suddenly they are a perfect fit. It is at this time that all things come together and there is an epiphany that is so empowering you know you have completed the voyage-life is good, clear and concise.

6 comments:

Kate (Cathy Johnson) said...

Beautiful as always, Greg...you make us part of your circle and I am honored to feel that. You are indeed fortunate to have Keith, and I know he feels the same.

Kristy said...

So beautiful. And as one who has lost a parent I will quote one of the most profound contemporary writers I have read lately: "It gets better." ~ Greg Haught. Thank you Greg.

P.S. "You know ah love you more than mah luggage." ~ Clairee Belcher

Kristy said...

P.P.S. - I'm so lucky 'cause I got the best friend of all!

Anonymous said...

~~ Greg, you continue to astound me with your creative writing of feelings. I am proud to have known you since 1975 and that Kristy too, haha. The manner in the way you treat others is a true genetic find from your father. If Rex Haught doesn't make it to heaven, no one else need try. 'nuff said.

Deanna

Confounded Cook said...

Thank you, Deanna. As for Dad's trip to the Hereafter, I couldn't agree more.

Anonymous said...

Greg....

This is such an amazing post and one I will read again and again. Your words are remarkably moving and humbling. I feel honored to have been one small part of the many embraces that we all shared together as we felt your sadness and tried to help ease your sorrow. Your Dad will be missed by so many.


Kaki

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