My parents passed away eight years ago. Along with family and friends, my siblings and I celebrated their lives on February 29, 2008. Until that time, I had managed to escape the pain of such heart breaking loss. Without this life experience, I could not predict my grief or feelings on that day, and certainly not in the days and years that lay ahead. However, I felt sure my heart would never mend. Grief stricken, I actually believed that having their service on Leap Day would somehow lessen the pain of their loss as I would only have to remember their funeral every four years. Of course this was not true as I think of them, honor them and love them every single day.
I wish I could say that before my own loss I was empathetic and compassionate toward friends who experienced such pain. Not having had such an experience, I don’t believe I was. Sure, I offered prayers, and support, but I was uncomfortable with their suffering. I wanted them to heal, so that we could be happy, comfortable again
Over the years, I have learned that grief is very personal. There are no rules, no right way, no wrong way. No one need apologize for their pain, their struggle to get past their loss, or their inability to cope. Today I am grateful for the opportunities to support those who grieve, to hold them, cry with them, laugh with them, and most importantly be vulnerable together, the ultimate connection. I am comforted knowing that one day they will find the peace I have found.
For me, the best way to deal with the loss of my parents, the absence of their physical presence ,is to talk with them every day, tell them that I love them and miss them, speak about them often and lovingly every chance I get, and honor them in my writing.
I wrote, and read, the following words for their Celebration of Life, eight years ago today. They are forever young and alive in my heart.
Today we celebrate the lives of our parents, Judy and Orlando. In honoring them, we would like to celebrate what they valued most, their family. In our home, family always came first. Responsibility for ourselves, our siblings, and to our family was instilled in us from the beginning. I can think of countless times when I would ask my dad if I could go somewhere with a friend. He would always strongly suggest that I bring one or two of my siblings along. While this annoyed me greatly as a kid, the lesson learned was so important. Your brother and your sisters are your friends, they will be the ones you turn to in your greatest hour of need and it is the relationship you have with them that is most important. He certainly prepared us for what we could have never imagined.
Our dad was strong, tough and demanding. But behind the tough exterior, he loved his family more than anything. Everything he did, no matter how annoying or intrusive, was done because he loved us so very much. He could never bear to see anyone of us sad or hurt. When we were in trouble he defended us, standing by us, no matter what, because he was our dad and that was his job. Our dad worked hard and played hard. And when he played, he included us. I remember our dad rounding us up and heading to Edison High School for a game of basketball. Later on it was soccer. His leadership was unparalleled. Whether it was on the basketball court, the soccer field, in the military environment he love so much, or in his home, our dad had a commanding presence that everyone admired greatly.
Our mom was more subtle, guided by her faith she guided us. If we spoke badly about someone, she would point out the good in them. If we complained about what we didn’t have, she reminded us of all we did have. What we all remember most about my mom is how she befriended everyone. She taught us that appearance, money or things did not make a person special or important. She valued people who were loving, caring and kind. She had a particular fondness for the quirky and unique. She could find good in everyone and everything. Even when her kindness went unappreciated or unacknowledged, she was not deterred. Her ability to forgive knew no bounds. She gave and forgave because it was the right thing to do, never expecting anything in return, except perhaps to makes someone else’s life a little better. Her commitment to her family and faith is an example for all of us to follow. We are blessed to have been loved by such a giving spirit.
My dad was bigger than life, an amazing charismatic soul. When he entered a room he was immediately surrounded by those who wanted to hear his stories and learn from him. My mom was happy to let him have the spotlight, as she was quiet and even a little shy. As much as my dad enjoyed people and places, the place he loved the very most was in the warm hold of my mother’s loving eyes. She was his soul mate, his angel, his home. My parents’ passing says so much about their great love for one another. Together since the age of 19 they would have celebrated 50 years of marriage this September. My father told many of us he couldn’t imagine life without our mom. We are grateful that he never had to. They belong together.
We are so proud to be their children, so proud to be what they called their greatest accomplishment, a strong, loving and loyal family. When we were all very small my dad would let my mom sleep in on Saturday mornings. Using the oven, he would make us big trays of cinnamon toast. When we finished eating he would tell us to wake up our mom by smothering her with kisses. All five of us would run down the hallway to her bedroom, jump on her bed and proceed to smother her with lots and lots of kisses, kissing her everywhere, until she couldn’t take it anymore. I believe that when my mom finally found peace she was received with open arms by my dad who then smothered her with kisses.
I haven’t read this is in a very long time . . .tears flow . . . because I am proud and grateful.