Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Remembering Pap

I wrote this a few years ago for a tribute book about my Grandfather, Chester "Pap" Freed...

I think about Pap (“Pap-Pap Hair”) a lot, and I have such wonderful memories of this wonderful man.  I’m so thankful that God allowed me to spend so much time with him, despite my living most of my life about 200 miles away.  I wish I had as many fond memories of Grandma, but she just wasn’t as much a part of my childhood like Pap was.  And, more importantly, I spent time with Pap as an adult, and I truly believed he helped shape me into the man I am today.  Mom and Dad get most of the credit, but I am so happy that I was able to spend so much one-on-one time with Pap during those early adult years.

Some of my earliest memories of Pap center on the old Hopwood house.  I remember always getting to sleep in Pap’s bed when we would visit. It wasn’t quite the honor you might think, since Pap’s snoring could wake the dead, and I spent most of the night listening to the “thunder” in the bed next to me and staring at the head with the knife in it’s mouth hanging from the ceiling in the “blue” bedroom (and those of you who’ve slept in that room probably know about that head).  That old house sure was spooky.  Another time, I remember Angie and I sleeping in the attic bedroom and hearing the fire alarm at the fire station up the street go off in the middle of the night and us being scared to death!  Anyway, Pap would wake up at the crack of dawn (and usually even earlier).  I pretended to be asleep until he left the room, and then I would follow him all the way down to the basement and watch him shovel coal into the furnace.  I don’t know if he knew I was watching him or not.  When he finished shoveling coal, he went into the Barber Shop, I guess to prepare it for the day’s customers. I remember one morning watching him put on these big boots. He went into the Barber Shop and it was flooded with about a foot of water. He just swept it all outside with a broom.

The kitchen always smelled like syrup to me, and it seemed like Pap was always cooking something.  We always had pancakes (“hotcakes”) for breakfast. And I ate a lot of peanut butter fudge.  Much later, during Pap’s “bachelor” days at Hague Lane, Pap regularly made his “famous” chili with everything (and I do mean everything!).

Pap gave me many haircuts over the years. I always first asked Mom if it was okay, and she would say, “Okay, but just ask for a light trim.”  Of course, since Pap cut everyone’s hair pretty much the same way, a light trim didn’t mean much, and I wouldn’t have a whole lot of hair left on my head when he was done.  But I always got a lollipop from him.  Years later, in my teens, when I wore my hair much thicker and Pap hadn’t cut my hair in several years, Dad & Uncle Jim (Freed) talked me into letting Pap cut my hair.  Pap got out those big vacuum clippers and pretty much sucked all of the hair off from around my ears.  I was mortified, and I truly thought I looked like Bozo the Clown! Thank goodness it was summer and my hair would grow back before I went back to school.

But, as a kid, I used to just sit in the Barber Shop all morning and watch Pap give his customers their shave and a haircut.  He also would give me a bottle of pop to drink.  To this day, whenever I drink a strawberry pop, my favorite, I think of him and the Barber Shop.

Another neat memory was when, just before that fateful and tragic trip my family and I took to Canada in 1987, we and my Mom’s parents stopped in Uniontown to drop off our dog, Ginger, who
Pap was going to watch while we were on vacation.  It was one of the few times, in my memory, that all of my living grandparents were together, which was just so cool (“neat”, “awesome”) to me. Pap and Bebop (my other grandfather) wore matching hats that said “Old Fart”, and my grandmother (Grammy) wore one that said “Old Fart’s Wife”.  It made for a great picture. That was the last time they were all together.

After high school, I was fortunate to be able to drive by myself from Maryland to Uniontown, and I made many, many solo trips to visit with Pap.  What a wonderful time that was, and I am so thankful for every opportunity I had to spend one-on-one time with Pap.  He and I would talk for hours, and he passed along so much knowledge and advice. He once told me that one of the greatest things in life was the pursuit of a woman.  I’m sure the lessons he taught me about the Fairer Sex were what helped me, years later, in choosing a wife.

I usually arrived at Pap’s on a Friday afternoon, and Pap was always sitting in his comforter in front of the big screen T.V., with the sound loud enough to hear from the top of the hill on Hague Lane. Pap couldn’t always see the volume button on the remote, so he just left it the volume where it was, regardless of how loud it was. When I visited with Pap, all I needed was a sleeping bag, and I would camp out each night on the dining room floor.  Unfortunately, Pap was an early riser, and every morning he would wake up at the crack of dawn (I know the Hague Lane house didn’t have a coal furnace!).  He went into the kitchen, turned on the radio, then went to the front door, went outside (slamming the storm door behind him) to get his newspaper, and returned to the kitchen to drink his coffee.  I guess he either forgot I was there, or he was hoping I might wake up and make him some hotcakes for breakfast.

On September 6, 1992, almost one year before he entered the Gates of Heaven, I was honored to be the one to present him when he was entered into the Hopwood UMC Hall of Fame. Much of the family was there, including Mom & Dad, Aunt Nancy & Uncle Jack, Aunt Rosey & Uncle Jim, Uncle Paul & Aunt Charlotte, Aunt Sandi, Mindy, Aunt Karen & Uncle Dick, Mark, Mandy, JJ, and Aunt Minnie.  I still don’t know why I was given such an honor, but Pap certainly was deserving of the Hall of Fame honors.  I was nervous, but stood at the front of the church with Pap and read the biography of his life that was printed in the bulletin. Afterwards, we all had lunch at the Sun Porch.  It was a great time.

On Easter weekend in April, 1993, I visited with Pap and took him to Hopwood UMC for the Easter service. Aunt Sandi invited us over to her apartment for Easter dinner.  Taking advantage of the beautiful weather that day, I opened up the t-tops on my 442 and we drove over to her place. Pap really seemed to enjoy the drive.  That was a wonderful weekend in so many ways, but it was also the last weekend I saw him before his cancer was diagnosed as terminal.
God works in mysterious ways.  The summer of 1993, I was working in a temporary position in the office that would later hire me permanently (and where I still work to this day).  Due to the way the job was set up, I had used up all of the allowable hours and I stopped working at the beginning of August.  This allowed me to spend a great deal of time in Uniontown with Pap during his last days. It was a sad time, but being together with so much of the family for such a concentrated amount of
time is such a warm memory to me.  There was just so much love in that house during that time.  I enjoyed spending so much time with everyone, despite the circumstances.

Pap eventually got to the point where it was difficult for him to stand up on his own, and we would pull him up and place him in one of the kitchen chairs. We would roll him from his room to the bathroom. Then, one night, when many of us were sitting around the kitchen table playing cards, we heard the bathroom door close. We all looked at each other, silently counting heads, trying to figure out who had just gone into the bathroom. Pap had surprised us all by getting up all on his own.

The last couple of days of Pap’s earthly life were so difficult, watching a man with so much life slowly dying.   For two straight days the nurse would wake everyone and we would gather around Pap’s bed, praying and telling him it was okay to let go. Pap held on, though, as if waiting for something. Dan and Erin McCusker were the last to arrive, late the night before Pap’s birthday.  I believe Pap was waiting for them.  I think there’s something grand about making it to his 83rd birthday, and maybe that was also what he was waiting for.  But, that morning, I will never forget holding his hand during his last few breaths, seeing him suddenly open his eyes (I believe he was getting his first glimpse of the face of Jesus), and then slowly closing again as his body breathed its last.

Teresa, my wife, used to tease me when I talked about “growing up” in Uniontown.  She told me she could see the pride in my face and words as I described my love for Pap.  She mentioned many times that she wished she could have met him.  Ironically, she would get that chance, much sooner than any of us could imagine, and I truly believe their meeting in Heaven was a grand and glorious occasion.

Many of us, especially the grandkids, were asked to speak at Pap’s funeral service at Hopwood, and Jeff McCusker ended up being the only one to speak.  I felt bad at the time, but I just didn’t have the words.  I did write some things down that day, and I just discovered them while typing this up. So I’ll end with what I wrote then:

“I still think Pap was one of the greatest individuals I ever knew, and even if you met him only once, you would come away knowing that you’ve met someone wonderful.  And today, he is getting the ultimate reward – eternal life in God’s Kingdom, and he truly deserves it.  Thanks, Pap, for everything.”

I’m looking forward to seeing him again.  I’ll bet it’ll be a great reunion. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Online Dating Escapades

I've been doing this online dating thing for a few months now, and I'm actually pretty happy.  I met a wonderful young lady with whom I seem to have a lot in common.  We've been dating a few weeks now and there seems to be mutual interest in and attraction to each other.  We've talked about having God at the center of our relationship, and it's apparent He is guiding us both in so many ways.  I like the direction we're going.  I am legitimately excited.  We even share the same birthday (we were born on the same day, in the same year)!

This online dating is really frustrating, though, and I'm really glad that my membership runs out in a few weeks.  While it appears that I've had success, it wasn't so easy getting there and I'm still not sure I would recommend it.  It can be frustrating to get messages from women who either don't read all the way through my profile, or just ignore my listed preferences.  I've heard from many women well outside my distance preferences, and regularly get contacted by women significantly above my age range.  Then there are the women that send me messages questioning my preferences, as if I don't know who I'm looking for since they don't match up with me.

I received a message from a young lady last evening who took the time to compliment me on my profile, but then take me to task for expressing my preferences in my profile because she didn't match one of them.  So she is upset at me because she doesn't meet my "requirements".  She closed her message by insulting me.  Since she didn't specify which "requirement" she was upset about, I looked at her profile and discovered that we had very little in common, and there were multiple areas where we didn't match.  I took a guess and figured that her issue must have been with my distance preferences.  She lives in northwestern Virginia, just a bit outside of the area I prefer.  So I decided to write her back.  I apologized to her for being so picky, and I gave reasons for choosing my preferences as I did, which are based on my experiences with online dating, specifically focusing on the distance issues (I've done long-distance relationships and found they just don't work for me).  I did question her as to why she chose to send a message to me if it was only to criticize me, as that seemed to be an unusual way of looking for online dates.  Additionally, I made a point of mentioning that it appeared we had very little in common.  She wrote back rather quickly early this morning to let me know that her criticism had to do with my education "requirements".  She assumed that, because I listed that my matches have a degree, then that ruled her, and potentially many other dates, out of the running before we even began communication.  She said that, even though she had just started online dating after her 18-year marriage failed, my profile was the first that she had seen that had so many "requirements".  She again insulted me, this time for being "close-minded", and wished me good luck in my "conquest".

Of course, she's right.  Even though I argued that these were only preferences, not "requirements", I shouldn't rule out anyone who could be a potential match just because of an educational background.  The only defense I can give is that I honestly assumed that this preference would only come up in searches, and could not be seen on my profile.  That's no excuse, though.  I know better.

The other side to this is the anger that is shown to someone you've never met only because they have preferences you don't match up with.  I don't get that.

This dating site has been a mixed bag, honestly.  I'm pleased to have found someone I really like who matches up well with me.  But the negatives far out-weigh the positives.  In a future post I will share another story about a phishing scam I fell for involving an uncut-diamond-dealing, rich philanthropist who tried to get me to commit my love to her even though we hadn't met, and even though her profile, which said she was divorced from Oregon, didn't match her background as a widow from Spain.  You can't make this stuff up.  Maybe I can sell the movie rights to Lifetime Network?  That is, if they haven't already made this movie.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

It's Just So Big...! *or* Look At The Size of That Hole!

I have been so so fortunate to travel to several exotic places in my job as a manager/cartographer, namely Oklahoma City, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Palm Coast, FL, Oklahoma City....well, okay, not exactly exotic.  I'm kind of sick of the repeated trips to OK City.  But I really had a great opportunity last week to travel to a place that everyone should visit at least once in their life:  the Grand Canyon.  This was a legitimate work-related trip to speak at a conference attended by helicopter tour pilots.  What a great location, though!

Since it was much too expensive to fly directly to the canyon, or even to a nearby town like Flagstaff, AZ, I ended up flying in to Las Vegas and driving the 4.5 or so hours to the Grand Canyon.  This was fine with me, since it would also take me down a portion of old Route 66, another one of my road trip passions.  In addition, the time in the car alone would give me opportunity to talk with God, something that I also enjoy and put to good use during my cross-country  road trips from my younger days.  I had a lot to talk about with Him.  The only unfortunate part of the trip was that I was required to take the economy car as my rental.  I ended up with an almost new Fiat 500.  This car is really small.  And I own a Mazda MX-5 Miata, a little 2-seat sports car, so I know small cars.  The Fiat is trying to compete with the Mini Cooper, but my opinion is that the Fiat is a cheap competitor.  It isn't very comfortable, has no get-up-and-go, and just looks weird.  But that's the car I was dealt.  So off I went.

North-western Arizona is kind of mountainous, but extremely barren and desert-like country.  But I like it.  It gives me the look and feel of really being Out West.  There is something about being in this part of the country that causes me to feel like I am far from home, which I am, but it goes even further.  It has a beauty to it that can't be matched by anything you can see back east.  I'd imagine this is something in my blood, since I know that my grandfather, Chester "Pap" Freed loved reading books about The West, and, when given the opportunity to visit his long-lost brother in Idaho (along with three of his sons, my Dad included) back in the mid-70s, he jumped at the chance and really had a great time.  I'm convinced every state, and I've now been to 41 of them, has a unique look to it.  Arizona is one of those that has multiple looks to it, from the mountainous, forested northern section, to the deserts of the west.  I really like it.

The history and culture of Route 66 is another draw for me.  Route 66 points to a different era, one that I feel such a connection to, the Forties and Fifties in particular.  I sometimes feel like I grew up at the wrong time.  I love the Forties, from World War 2 history and the Big Band era, to the Fifties, with the great cars, early Rock and Roll, and an innocence that is absent in today's world.

Williams, AZ, the last town bypassed by Interstate 40, which replaced Route 66 in Arizona, back in 1984, has completely adopted that persona of a different era, and has Fifties-style diners, lots of neon signs, and store after store pushing Route 66 t-shirts, hats, and memorabilia.  It's a lot of fun.  I stopped at Cruiser's Cafe 66 and enjoyed a bowl of good, spicy chili and tender pulled-pork BBQ.  If not for my diabetes, I might have gotten a shake to go.

Williams is also the "gateway" to the Grand Canyon, as this is where one would jump off I-40 and head north towards the canyon.  It was dark by the time I started up this road, and, almost immediately after I left the town, I saw a herd of elk on the side of the dark road.  This meant I had better stay alert.  One elk was easily larger than my little Fiat.

I arrived in Tusayan and my Best Western Hotel at around 9 and collapsed into bed almost immediately.  I just can't drive the long-distances like I could in my younger days without exhausting myself, and after 6+ hours in a plane, and then another 5 hours of driving, I needed my sleep.  Fortunately, the following day wouldn't require me to appear at the conference, so I was free to spend part of it at the Grand Canyon.

I awoke early and got ready for my drive thru the Grand Canyon.  Words and pictures cannot come close to describing it.  It is just something every individual has to experience.  This was my third trip to the Grand Canyon, and it never gets old.  It is just so BIG!  One of God's greatest earthly creations.  I just can't describe it; I can only encourage you to go see it with your own eyes.  Heavenly Father, you created all things, and beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but the Grand Canyon doesn't compare with anything else I've seen.  I took close to 50 pictures and they don't capture it's immense size and spectacular scenery.  I can't describe it, so I'm going to stop here.

I spoke at the conference the following day.  All I can say about it is that helicopter pilots are a different breed.

I awoke early on Friday, packed up, and headed south, back to Williams, and then west down Route 66.  It was such a great time!  I reminisced about my earlier trips down the same highway, enjoyed seeing recreated Burma Shave signs beside the road, stopped at a little museum in Ash Fork, AZ, the "Flagstone Capital of the World" (the museum was run by an older couple who had moved here from Chicago to escape the cold weather in the north, including ceremoniously getting rid of their snow shovel, not knowing it could get just as cold and snowy in this part of Arizona!), and then stopping in Seligman, where Route 66 was reborn by gentlemen like Angel and Juan Delgadillo, who were determined to keep their town from dying when it was bypassed by the interstate.  Angel had a barbershop, which has now been converted into a gift shop selling all kinds of Route 66 memorabilia.  Juan ran the Snow Cap, and neat and stylized drive-in restaurant selling things like "dead chicken" and ice cream, and using his sense of humor to entertain his customers (door knobs on the wrong side of the door, a bathroom outhouse in a phone booth, and an old convertible with Santa Claus in the driver's seat and a Christmas tree in the back, parked just outside).  There was a tour bus full of Japanese tourists parked outside of Angel's barbershop when I arrived.

After a stop in Kingman, AZ, at Mr. D'z Route 66 Diner for lunch, I headed north again towards Las Vegas.  I had splurged a bit to stay at the Luxor hotel (a huge pyramid), and I bought a ticket to see Criss Angel, a celebrity magician.  But Las Vegas just holds no appeal to me.  It is filled with twenty- and thirty-somethings who all seem to drink to excess, dress too provocatively, and gamble for the heck of it.  Vegas has officially dropped the "family-atmosphere" it pushed a decade ago, and is now pushing an atmosphere focused on sex (the Luxor had a "dancer" on a runway-style stage in the middle of the casino dressed in her underwear, in full view of anyone and everyone, including minors!).  You can bet I won't ever bring my young daughter to this town!  I was up early on Saturday morning (3 a.m. Vegas time) to check out and get to the airport for my early flight home.  Walking through the Luxor, I was surprised to see that the place was still hopping, with young women drunk on whatever booze they'd been drinking, dressed in skimpy dresses and barely able to walk, and couples sitting on tables making out in various corners of the casino.... I couldn't get out fast enough.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip, and I will forever look at it in appreciation and opportunity related to my job.  I'm also thankful that God gives us such beauty to appreciate in our world.  I know it can't compare to what we have waiting for us in Heaven, but, for what we have here on Earth, it's pretty darn cool!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Forty Days and Dave Brubeck

My church, Grace Community, is studying 40 Days in the Word, and I was reminded of one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite jazz pianists, Dave Brubeck, best known for his rendition of "Take Five" (go ahead and Google it; it's a classic!).  The song is called “Forty Days”, and, according to Brubeck, it was written to represent Jesus’s 40 days in the wilderness as he is tempted by Satan.  The passage is from Matthew 4:1-11 (NIV):
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God, he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan!  For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
I believe the song represents this passage well.  It is very atmospheric, with a haunting melody that includes a cello introduction, followed by bass, cello, and piano solos.  Even if you don’t care for jazz, I think you’ll find that this song captures the scene perfectly.  Enjoy!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Today Could Be A Monday In Russia...

Title is courtesy of my cousin, David, who has a talent for witty statements, the above which prompted me to write.  I'm told my family is strange in that we love Fall & Winter much more than Spring & Summer.  I'm not sure why, but it's true.  Give me a dreary overcast, 50s-ish forecast, and I'm pretty happy.  Today fit the bill.  It's Monday, and the dreariness outside reminds me of what, in my mind, a typical Russian Fall day might look like.  Actually, it could be Pittsburgh instead of Russia, since the weather in both places looks the same.

Columbus Day is one of those rare holidays where the Federal Government gets the day off, but my girl has school, making it a Home Alone kind of day.  Which meant, instead of making myself useful and taking care of some chores or running errands, I did a whole lot of nothing.  After walking my daughter to school, I sat with the dog in front of the TV for much of the morning, in between loads of laundry (I guess I did a little more than nothing).  Faithful Pup Scout was very happy to have me all to herself.  It's not often it's just the two of us at home.

My mind has been weighed down in recent days due to a lot of things happening at the office.  Our director decided to shuffle much of our management structure, throwing us all into new jobs and responsibilities, then announced he was leaving for new pastures in Atlanta.  My boss was moved into a new position, which moved me into his position (at least temporarily), and one of my employees into my position (at least temporarily).  I'm now responsible for 70+ employees instead of only 45.  The temporary part is what has me concerned, because, if I'm not in this new position for good, then there is a chance I could be placed somewhere else, instead of my old job.  Even though I have a lot more responsibilities and the stress that goes along with that, at least I know what I'm doing.  It's the unknown that has me concerned.  I know better, of course.  This is one of those "you just gotta have faith" moments that God throws our way every so often.  And I also know that I should just be thankful I have a job at a time when so many people don't.

So why do we worry about things we don't have control over?  I wish I knew.  It's so easy to say we'll hand over our worries to the Lord, but we don't.  At any given moment, I'm worried about my daughter being dressed warmly enough for school, what to make for dinner, rush hour traffic, those on my prayer list, whether the dog is making a mess on the kitchen floor, whether my employee with cancer is going to be at work, if the young lady (from Australia!) I just rejected on the online dating site is going to be upset at me, or how long that piece of spinach has been between my two front teeth.  Why do we let these things bother us? Worrying causes us so much harm.  I have high blood pressure, hypertension, diabetes, sleeplessness, and thinning hair because I worry needlessly.  I really don't have an answer to the why.  I know how to fix it, but I don't do it.  I seem to have painted myself into a corner....

There are good things happening, too, though, to balance out the negative, worrisome things.  A high school friend of mine just contacted me and wants to get together.  That came out of left field.  We were never buddies, especially not in high school, and have only recently, over the last few years, even communicated on Facebook.  She's pretty awesome, so I'm looking forward to seeing her.  I'm not even worried. :-)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Looking for a Date?

All right, I'm about fed up with the whole online dating scene.  I've tried all of the sites, gone on about a dozen dates, and continue to attract the wrong women.  So I'm looking for help.  If you, the reader, would care to assist me in offering me feedback, I'm going to post my online profile.  Thanks for your help.

20 things about me: 

1. I love the Lord! 

2. I love my little girl! She's 8, very cute, very smart, and makes me laugh. 

3. I believe your work ethic is more important and impressive than how much money you make.

4. I believe it's important to tell your loved ones everyday how much you love them. You can't say it enough.

5. The city of Pittsburgh is a wonderful place! I am very passionate about my Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates. I'm also a die-hard Terp! 

6. I'm a bit of an introvert, but will open up with the right person. 

7. I love road trips! I've driven the entire length of (what's left of) old Route 66. Driving through God's beauty in the American West is both therapeutic and humbling. I've driven through 41 U. S. states and 5 Canadian provinces, but I've been to only one other country. 

8. I like the mountains a little bit better than the beach. 

9. I believe in chivalry and respecting the opposite sex. I'm a traditional guy...a bit of a throw-back. You can trust me to always be a gentleman with you, and you can expect to be seriously romanced if we hit it off. 

10. My favorite movie of all time is IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. If you haven't seen it, I can't recommend it enough. Especially if you can see it on the big screen. It always puts me in a Christmas spirit. 

11. One of my role models is Richie Cunningham from HAPPY DAYS. Most guys wanted to be like the Fonz. I wanted to be like Richie. 

12. I would love to have a tennis partner. 

13. My favorite movie of all time is JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO. You'll like it only if you GET it. Most people don't GET it. It is amusing and inspiring, filled with symbolism, and very romantic. 

14. I'm not a great cook, but I make a mean pot of chili. I probably go out to eat more often than I should. 

15. I love roller coasters! Not only are they a lot of fun, but they seem to be a metaphor for my life. 

16. I am frequently accused of being a nice guy (yes, the kiss of death when it comes to dating, but I can provide references), but I will do whatever possible to never finish last. 

17. I don't care for coffee or beer. I just never acquired a taste for either. I'm not against my partner drinking, however. 

18. My favorite movie of all time is REAR WINDOW......and NORTH BY NORTHWEST.....and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN......and OCEAN'S ELEVEN....and CARS...and MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON...and TOMBSTONE...and GLORY...and GRAND CANYON...and...! 

19. WHO I'M ATTRACTED TO: You are beautiful (to me), inside and out. You honor old-fashioned values with modern sensibilities. You are a Christian. You are a person of high-character and confidence. You love your family. You are a bit of an extrovert, but not overbearing. You enjoy playing and watching sports, or will at least put up with my passionate fanaticism. You understand my need to take care of my daughter, though I promise you will receive the attention you deserve. Your friends may describe you as nice and attractive. You are happy, both with yourself and your life, but you recognize that a potential mate can only enhance your life. You put God first, and you understand that by doing so, you open yourself up to love. If this sounds like you, I might like to meet you. 

20. God has blessed me with a wonderful life. One of my favorite verses is, "And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast." I Peter 5: 10. With Him, life gets better each and every day.

Pap's Last Moments

When my grandfather was dying after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, with much of our family surrounding his bed, and with everyone praying and telling him it was okay to let go (he had been comatose for several days, but seemed to be hanging on to life despite his weakening body), he suddenly opened his eyes and looked straight at the ceiling. I was holding his hand and knew this was the end, but I wondered, why now? What was he seeing? Then his breathing become very labored, and he slowly closed his eyes as his body breathed its last breath. Amid the sobbing and praying of family members that broke the silence of the moment, I am convinced, when he opened his eyes, he was seeing the glory of Heaven, with Jesus welcoming him with open arms. The thought filled me with comfort, and I sincerely believe, one day, I will see him again and be able to ask him about what he was seeing in that moment before he left this life.

Friday, September 21, 2012

High School Reunions

Watching GROSSE POINTE BLANK on TV made me think back on my 25-year high school reunion this past June.  This movie, about a guy returning to his hometown for his 10-year high school reunion (among other things), came out the same year as my 10-year, so when I see it, I think of high school reunions.

I had a great time at my 10-year reunion.  I was on the reunion organizing committee, and that allowed me to have a lot of involvement in the planning.  I also got to spend a lot of time with some old friends that I hadn't seen in a really long time.  Even though I was an introvert in high school and did not go to parties and things like that, I was accepted by the popular crowd because we had many of the same classes.  My high school class, the Class of '87 from Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro, MD, was really special, and may be unusual as high school classes go.  We were a smart, close bunch of kids, from many different backgrounds, but there is this connection that has existed with us that draws us together in a way that is hard to explain.  I think we are the only class that had teachers and the entire school administration attend the 10-year reunion, and they may have had a better time than us, the students.  Anyway, at the 10-year, I was able to rekindle many of these relationships.  The only thing I didn't do was dance, since I just don't.  I think the only negative was that my high school crush, Allison, was married (I was still a single guy; didn't meet my wife until a few years later).

I went to my 20-year reunion and did not have a very good time.  Despite being three years removed from the death of my wife, and feeling good about myself, I had attended with the hope of having a good time and reconnecting with many old friends.  Aside from a few close friends, most hadn't seen me since the 10-year reunion.  Several knew about my wife, and that seemed to cast me in a different light, I guess.  I knew it was going to be a difficult night when I first walked in, went to the registration table, and watched several classmates immediately turn and walk away, whispering to each other as they glanced my way, and before I could get out a, "Hi, you haven't changed a bit!"  I spent the evening with many avoiding me completely, and, as I learned later, not talking to me because they didn't know what to say to me, and the whole evening was just an awkward mess.  I went home early in a funk.

As my 25-year reunion approached, several friends contacted me and asked if I was coming.  I made it clear that I really didn't want to after the experience I had at the 20-year.  However they tried to convince me that it wouldn't be that way this time, that classmates were more mature and really wanted to see me.  I still wasn't convinced, but one friend talked me into attending the Happy Hour on the Friday before the reunion and, if I had a good time, I could purchase a ticket for the reunion then.  I reluctantly agreed.  And, to my surprise, I had a great time.  Even Allison was there, newly divorced, but, unfortunately for me, in a new relationship.  But it was great catching up with everyone.  The Happy Hour was more of an alumni gathering, and included many from different classes, so that made it even more fun.  Enough years had gone by that no one even asked me how I was doing, with all of the undertones that accompanied it, which was a question I was asked too often by those that did talk to me at the 20-year.  At the end of the evening, I was convinced that the reunion would be fun, and I purchased a ticket to attend the next evening.

And I had a decent time.  Unfortunately, there were several people, not at the Happy Hour, that still obviously didn't know how to talk to me, and didn't, and even avoided me, but I wasn't going to allow that to bother me.  I talked to the people I wanted to talk to, and enjoyed it. I only wish Allison was still available. :-)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

How I Met Your Mother

I wrote the following on April 4, 2000, on the 2nd anniversary of the day I met my wife, Teresa....

Two years ago today, my cousin, Dan, and I had breakfast at the Shoney's in Montgomery Village. Our conversation gravitated towards the Easter play that was going to be performed at Montrose Baptist Church that evening, of which Dan was a cast member, and he said I might enjoy coming to the show. In fact, he said that there was a young lady in the cast that I might enjoy meeting. Though I had some reservations about going (I had gone to Montrose a year earlier and decided it really wasn't my kind of church), and I didn't really tell Dan I would go, I did end up going. Dan hadn't tried doing any match-making with me before, so I was intrigued.

I sat near the back and proceeded to watch the show. It was very well performed, though I was mostly occupied with trying to figure out who the young lady was that Dan had wanted me to meet, since he hadn't told me her name. After the show ended, Dan came over to where I was sitting and said he was getting a group of cast members together to go out and get something to eat, and that he would see if "Teresa" would go, too. She was backstage cleaning up. I still didn't know what she looked like. Dan said we would all meet at Bennigan's on Rockville Pike.

I headed over there in my Grand Am and met up with Dan and a few other people and we discovered Bennigan's was too crowded, and our wait would be a long one, so we told everyone to head over to Fritzbe's instead. I didn't know where it was, so I stood with Dan and a few others on the sidewalk outside of Bennigan's to direct people over to Fritzbe's that hadn't arrived yet. When a young lady in a Grand Am showed up, Dan went over to her car and told her we were going to Fritzbe's. After she pulled away, Dan said that she was the girl he wanted me to meet.

I followed Dan over to Fritzbe's and we went in. There were already about 5 or 6 people there, and Dan introduced me to them, including Teresa. We shook hands and Dan proceeded to sit down......before I could get a seat anywhere near Teresa. We spent the next hour or so on the same side of the table with two people between us, Dan included, not able to say one thing to each other the entire time we were there. In fact, there was one other person on the other side of me that didn't have anyone to talk to except for me, since he was on the end of the table, so, feeling obligated to talk to him, I was left out of most of the conversation at the other end of the table involving Teresa. So, there I was, wondering about that beautiful young lady on the other side of the table, not able to have any direct conversation with her, with the guy who wanted me to meet her sitting between us.

The evening finally ended, and as we were going out the door, I was able to at last say something to Teresa. As she walked to her car, I said, "Hey, you've got a Grand Am, too!" The next day, Dan asked me if I wanted him to get her phone number for me and see if she would be interested in going out. One month later (sorry, I'm a little slow), we went on our first date. Ten months later, I proposed to her, and we were married 5 months after that. Thanks, Dan, and you were right: I DID enjoy meeting this wonderful young lady, and I'm even happier every day to call her my wife.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Letter to My Wife

Wrote this letter to my wife, Teresa, almost a year after she died, at the height of my depression...

My Wonderful Wife,

The year is going by so fast! The Christmas season has just ended and we’re gearing up for a long winter. I actually am looking forward to the overcast days and snow, though I know you liked it better in the warm sunshine, unless it was snowing and school was cancelled!

Melody is still the center of our lives. She is growing so fast, and can do so many things. She is such a sweet, friendly, smart, strong-willed little girl. She reads her books everyday, and knows so many words. I can’t wait until she can talk instead of babble in that language only she understands, so that I can understand her. She seems to have a lot to say. Yesterday, she pulled herself up onto the ottoman and started using the TIVO remote to fast-forward through the parts of Sesame Street she doesn’t like in order to watch what she does like: Elmo’s World. She has more toys than she knows what to do with. Between her first birthday and Christmas, she now has enough to fill five rooms: her bedroom, the living room, the rec room, Mom & Dad’s family room, and your parent’s living room. She is the most beautiful baby in the world. Fortunately, she gets her looks from you!

The Pittsburgh Steelers are having one of the best seasons in the history of the NFL. It’s very exciting to see them finish the season at 15-1, with their new rookie QB, Big Ben Roethlisberger, undefeated in 13 starts. I think they’re Super Bowl bound. Your Redskins, unfortunately, didn’t have a great season, despite the return of Joe Gibbs. Maybe next year will be better. The Maryland Terps football team struggled, too, but I’m hopeful that the basketball team will do well in the highly competitive ACC, despite a blowout loss to the Tar Heels over the weekend. Ward Burton, our favorite NASCAR driver, had a disappointing season in the Netzero car and was unceremoniously let go. He doesn’t have a new ride yet, and I don’t have that same feeling of excitement as the new season approaches next month without him.

I continue to struggle with things. Life is not the same. I find myself just sort of sleepwalking through my days. Work is stressful at times. Being a supervisor is not as much fun as cartography, but at least everyone is fun to work with. I actually have found that I look forward to coming to work again, sometimes, so that’s good. I’m dealing with a few health issues that have me scared, though I know everything will be fine. Everything was easier when we went through these things together. I trust that God will continue to take care of me, and us.

Mom & Dad, your parents, and Angie continue to help me care for Melody, and Lauren is continuing as Melody’s nanny. I’m so blessed to have them in my life. I pray continuously for your parents, knowing how much they’ve lost, but I’m so thankful that they are involved in my and Melody’s lives. Your friends, Kristen and Elizabeth, come by weekly to visit. Cherish, Jennifer, Cherice, Melissa, Addie, Nancy, Carol, Irene, and Michelle check in with me often, as well, and I appreciate all that they do for us. Many friends from my past have re-entered my life and I enjoy opportunities to get together with them: Tucker, Darrell, Kirk & Jim.

I went to the cemetery last week for the first time since they placed the monument on your gravesite. The monument is very nice, as is the location. While I was there, it was cold, overcast and rainy, which kind of fit my mood that day. Sometimes I wish I could turn back the clock and re-live the happy moments of our time together. I know that’s impossible, but I’m glad to have so much video tape and pictures, and all of our emails to each other over the five + years we were together, to remember you.

This past weekend was the annual Ya-ya Christmas party. You were greatly missed, but we had a good time. It’s not the same without you, though. Your friends are so wonderful to me, and to Melody. Kristen, Elizabeth, Cherish, Jennifer & Rob (and newborn Alana) overloaded us both with gifts. I appreciate them, and their friendship, so much. I’ve noticed just how important it is to have them in my life, since they help me remember you. They tell me stories about you from before we met. And they aren’t just your friends anymore. They are mine, too.

As much as I enjoy spending time with all of these people, I still have a huge void in my life. I miss you so much! Ours was such a perfect marriage. Even if I wanted to, I’m reluctant to pursue other relationships because of my feelings for you. It’s hard for me to imagine starting all over again with a new relationship. But I don’t like being alone, and I don’t like that Melody doesn’t have a Mom now. I miss being able to do “couple” things. I miss dining out with you, and going out to the movies with you, and taking trips together. None of these things are fun to do alone. It’s so hard seeing so many happy couples everywhere. And I don’t like being a single father. Our time together was just too short. I will trust the Lord to guide me and help me through this. I know, through Him, everything will be fine.

Thank you for making me so happy, my Dear. God allowed us to experience His love for us in the love we shared as husband and wife. Through that love, you helped me to be a better man, husband, and father. As Melody’s Mom, you shaped the foundation of her development into the smart, wonderful little girl she is, and we have tried to carry forward with her as you taught us. We will love you forever, my dear!


Melody's First Big Trip

No real rhyme or reason, but here's another essay, this one from October 11, 2005, describing the first trip I ever took with Melody.  Enjoy!

I wanted to share with you the details on my first trip with Melody, just the two of us. It was very eventful! It was an overnight trip to Ocean City, MD. I made reservations at one of our favorite hotels on the boardwalk and Melody and I would plan to leave following work on Friday, with a return on Saturday. Unfortunately, as the day got closer, the weather forecast got worse and worse. On Friday, it was supposed to rain all day, but there was hope it might clear out by Saturday morning. We went ahead with our plans. I thought we might be able to visit with my first boss, JB and his wife, too.

The day started on Friday with Lauren bringing Melody into my office. It was raining very hard, so I met them in the parking garage and I brought Melody in, giving Lauren the afternoon off. We had to go to the Security Desk in the lobby so Melody could get an "official" visitors pass (we spent the rest of the day calling it her "badge"). We went around to see several people and say hello, then we had lunch at my desk. She had french toast, her second french toast meal of the day (Grammy made it for her for breakfast, too).

We left the office at 1:30, about 30 minutes later than planned, but everyone at work wanted to see Melody before we left. We hit a wall of cars on Colesville Road heading out of downtown Silver Spring, so I phoned the office to let everyone know that rush hour might be bad. Gary answered and confirmed the traffic problems and said the power was out at several signals. I immediately headed for the back streets and made our way over to Piney Branch and New Hampshire Ave. to get around the traffic and onto the Beltway.

Melody had fallen asleep at this point. That's when I began to worry. I should have used the bathroom before we left the office. I knew I wouldn't make it all the way to Ocean City without needing to stop, and I wondered how I might stop with Melody sleeping. I didn't want to wake her, but I certainly didn't want to leave her in the car by herself. I decided to head for home. It was a little bit out of the way, but as long as traffic was moving, we should be able to stop and hit the road again with only a short delay. Unfortunately, traffic was very heavy on I-95 north and it took much longer than expected. When we got to my house, Melody was still asleep, so I left the radio on with the engine off and rushed in to take care of business.

Back on the road, we headed for the Bay Bridge and the Eastern Shore. We hit a major traffic jam at the bridge, right around 3 p.m., just as JB called on my cell phone. He was surprised we were only at the bridge, and doubly surprised that I actually went to work this morning, but we planned for me to call him after we checked into our hotel and Melody and I would go out to visit with him and his wife this evening. Melody woke up from her nap at about this time, too. Her first word was, "Monkees." She really likes the Monkees music and T.V. show, and she's been watching the DVDs a lot recently. So, I put in a Monkees CD for us to listen to. Traffic began to clear out and we crossed the bridge and went on our merry way. Melody was in good spirits and we talked and sang all the way to OC.

We arrived in OC at around 5:30 or so and made our way to the hotel. I pulled in, parked, and got out my paperwork for the hotel. This was the first time I noticed a problem: my reservation was for Sunday night, not Friday!!! I screwed up! After traveling through 39 states, 3 countries, and 5 provinces, this was the first time I had ever made a mistake like this. I panicked a little, wondering what we should do. Melody was oblivious and seemed to be quite happy, though after 4 hours in a car seat, I could see she was anxious to get out. I checked and found out the hotel was booked solid, and there was a classic car show going on in OC for the weekend, so rooms might be scarce.

I figured we first needed to get some dinner. Melody and I were both hungry. I stopped at the Bull On The Beach and we went in and ate. Then I phoned Expedia, with whom I made the reservation, to see if they could help me find another room (and cancel my reservation for Sunday). I got lucky and we found a room at another hotel, though it was going to cost twice what the first one cost. We worked our way through OC to our new hotel. Everything went smoothly at check-in and we unpacked and got comfortable in our room. It was now after 7 p.m. I knew there was no way Melody would be able to handle another ride in the car tonight, so I called JB to let him know we would not be able to make it over. I think they were disappointed, as were we, and I shared my story about messing up the reservation. He told me that we should have called him, since they have a very nice, very large home and we could have stayed with them, but I really didn't want to inconvenience them. Unfortunately, he had to work all day Saturday, so we would not be able to see them on this trip.

Melody and I decided to take a walk over to the attached mall and get some ice cream, so off we went. The mall seemed to already be set up for the off-season, as a lot of stores were closed, including the ice cream place, so we went back to the hotel restaurant, a Denny's. We walked in and noticed right away that it was not very busy. Everyone looked at us as we walked in, including the staff, making me just a tad uncomfortable. We waited for a table, but, after 10 minutes of waiting, no one came to seat us. I told Melody in a moderately loud voice that we would go somewhere else, and nobody stopped us from leaving. We found some ice cream in the lobby snack store and went back to our room.

We watched a little television until I noticed the clock said 10:05. It was later than I thought. So Melody and I got ready for bed. Another disappointment from the reservation mess up was that, instead of a nice, big King-sized bed that I had reserved, we were stuck with 2 double beds. Because Melody is a gymnast while she sleeps, and I needed to sleep on one side of the bed to keep her from tumbling off, we were looking at some pretty tight quarters. I placed two chairs next to the bed on one side, and laid down on the other. Melody wouldn't be able to fall out unless she did a pole vault. I took off my watch and discovered that either my watch was an hour slow (doubtful), or the hotel clock was wrong and we were in bed much earlier than I thought (likely). Oh, well, we needed the sleep after the long trip in the car. We washed up, put on our PJs, read a few books, said our prayers, and went to sleep.

I woke up at around 1 a.m. with a foot in my face. I woke up again at 2:30 with a knee in my stomach. At 3:30, the blankets were gone and I was literally on the edge of the bed, clutching my pillow to keep from falling. Melody was still sleeping soundly, sideways in the bed. At 7 a.m., I decided I had had enough sleep, and so I grabbed a shower and got dressed. Melody awoke a short time later and seemed very happy. We had a leisurely morning, got ready, and headed out for breakfast. We decided to skip Denny's and look for something a little nicer.

Outside, it looked like a hurricane! Wind and rain beat down on us and we ran to our car. Melody clutched her hood in her hands to keep it over her head, as the wind tried to grab it all the way to the car. Once there, we headed out to the Dough Roller for breakfast.  Melody and I enjoyed our french toast (again!) and omelette, and the friendly attention of the waitress, a result of Melody's "cuteness factor", I guess. At least, that's what the waitress kept saying. After we ate, we went back to our hotel. It was still raining hard and the wind was howling. We had to park pretty far from the hotel, since everyone eating at Denny's was taking up all of the closer parking spaces. This time we used the umbrella, though we almost lost it due to the wind and it didn't really keep us very dry. We packed up and checked out, rushing back to the car to keep from getting too wet.

Rather than just head for home, we decided to make the best of the situation and go to the boardwalk and see what was open. Unfortunately, not much was open. We went to one of the arcades and spent about an hour in there. Melody won a bunch of tickets playing skeeball, so she traded them in for a little plastic bracelet. The girl working at the counter gave Melody a noise-making rattle, too, another result of the "cuteness factor", I guess. We also had a few cheesy pictures taken in one of those little photo booths, which will be a nice souvenir of our weekend.

We braved the elements once more and found that the kiddie playland indoor rides were open. This meant we could ride on the carousel, which Melody enjoyed a great deal. However, I lost her pacifier when I wrestled it out of her mouth for a picture, and it landed somewhere underneath the ride. Melody was distracted enough by her enjoyment of the ride to notice. We rode a few more rides before deciding we really needed to get some lunch and hit the road before we got too close to nap time.

Too late! We got in the car and drove over to Applebee's for lunch. Melody decided she didn't want to go in. I said we were going in. She said no. This set the stage for a battle of wills that became quite ugly. We went in to the restaurant and the hostess took us to our table. Melody would have none of this, and began to yell quite loudly, bringing every eye in the place squarely on us. I apologized to the hostess and told her we would not be staying. We went back to the car. Melody said, "No! Eat lunch!" I said, "No, we're leaving." She began to physically fight me to keep me from putting her back in her car seat. It was quite a struggle. I knew we couldn't go anywhere unless she was in her seat, and she knew it, too. After a few kicks to the face (mine, not hers), I got her buckled in.  Then we hit the road for home.  I was wiped out! A few minutes later, I looked in the mirror and she was fast asleep. I knew that this episode occurred only because she was so tired. She is such a good little girl!

The rest of the trip was uneventful and we headed for home. Overall, it was a nice trip, despite the poor weather and hotel situation. I was very encouraged by Melody's ability to travel in the car for such a long distance, too. I look forward to many more trips

Honoring Mommy

Still going through old files and came across this little essay I wrote describing how Melody and I spent the four-year anniversary of my wife's death by honoring her memory on a trip through her history.  Written on April 19, 2008:

Today, four years after Teresa's home-going, Melody and I spent the day honoring Teresa's memory by traveling and visiting places of significance to her life.

We started the day by driving to Reservoir High School, where Teresa taught from 2002 until her passing. The memorial garden was filled with blooming flowers and Melody ran around enjoying the beautiful weather.

Next, we stopped by Howard County General Hospital, where I explained to Melody that this was where she was born (it was also where Teresa was taken the night she passed). We didn't go any further than the lobby, and before she could start asking too many questions about the whole birthing thing, we headed out to our next location.

Next, we went to Rocky Run, the location of several of Teresa's birthday celebrations. Melody and I enjoyed lunch, then we went to the store to get some sunscreen (we were starting to get a little too much sun with the top down on the car -- the weather was warm and beautiful!).

Next, we went to Mt. Hebron High School, which is where Teresa began teaching. Following her death, the students there planted a tree in her memory, however the tree has apparently been removed. Unfortunately, Melody fell asleep and took a nap during the next part of our journey.

Melody awoke as we approached our next destination, Crest Lawn Memorial Gardens, where Teresa's body was laid to rest. Melody asked lots of questions about death, and why Teresa's body was here, and how could she be in Heaven, too? It was a pleasant, though sad time, and Melody gave me a long hug as we said our goodbyes to "Mommy."

We enjoyed the next part of our drive, down Rt. 97 towards Rockville. We drove by Montrose Baptist Church, where Teresa and I were married. There appeared to be a service going on, so Melody and I were not able to go into the church. Melody was disappointed about that, but after explaining where we were going next, she got excited.

We then headed over to the University of Maryland, in College Park, where Teresa and I both attended (at different times, and we didn't know each other until several years later). We parked near the Student Union and Melody & I visited the Jim Henson memorial, which is a statue of Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog. After we walked around the Union, we went over to McKeldin Mall and Melody and I stopped by the statue of Testudo, the Terrapin. I explained to Melody about the tradition of rubbing Testudo's nose for good luck. Then we walked down to the ODK fountain, which has Teresa's name engraved on it. Next, Cole Field House, but there was a cheerleading competition going on, so we couldn't go in (at least, without paying $20). We walked around Cole to see Byrd Stadium (though Melody tripped on a curb and didn't feel like walking around anymore). We continued our tour by car, and we drove around campus, checking out the dorms Teresa lived in while she was a student, and stopping by Comcast Center, where the Terps basketball teams play. We parked again near Rt. 1 and got some ice cream at the Cold Stone Creamery. After we ate, we headed north on Rt. 1 to Laurel.

We made one last stop at Crestleigh, the apartment complex where Teresa lived with Kristen after she graduated from U of MD, and before Teresa and I were married. Then we stopped at Ledo's for a pizza before heading home.

We miss Mommy so much, and wish we could have had more time with her. We understand God had other plans, and we are content with the knowledge that we will see her again. We're also thankful for all of the wonderful memories and pictures we have of Teresa and her life with us. It's hard to believe it's been four years already. But we will never forget the significance of today, and we want to honor Teresa's memory by celebrating her life. Today was just such a celebration.

Today Show Essay

I've been going through a bunch of files on my old PC and came across the following essay written by my wife, Teresa, shortly after our daughter, Melody, was born.  Teresa was suffering from severe exhaustion that, in hindsight, can be linked to the heart issues that eventually took her life, but we didn't know that at the time she wrote this.  The TODAY Show was having some kind of contest, which is why Teresa wrote this, but she never submitted it.  I posted it on her memorial website at, and am reproducing it here.  And I'm convinced that Melody has been inspired by her mom.  Enjoy!

            When I first heard about this contest on The Today Show, I was sitting in my living room with my mother nursing my four-week-old baby girl.  I looked at my mom and looked at Melody Grace and thought, “Inspire me?  All this child has done is drain me…of sleep, of energy, of time.”  I was in the middle of a textbook case of the baby blues.  However, now, four weeks later, I see a different picture; I have been inspired by my baby girl the way only a baby can inspire.
            I sat this morning as she napped in my arms and held my hand with her two little ones and thought of all the inspiration she brings.  A new baby represents hope, and I have so much hope for our future when I look into her blue eyes.  As I watch my parents effortlessly turn into grandparents, I see that she has inspired them to laughter, youthfulness and fun.  As I place my infant into my dying grandfather’s arms and see his whole demeanor change, I see how she inspires healing and smiles.  Even as I interrupt the writing of this essay to answer her cries, I realize that she is daily inspiring me:  to prioritize, to be a better mother, to be a better daughter, a better friend and a better woman, and hopefully, to one day inspire her right back.

--Teresa Shirlen Freed, January 8, 2004

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

GO ON Going On

There's a new show on NBC called GO ON, starring Matthew Perry.  He plays Ryan, a radio sportscaster whose wife recently died, and who now finds himself in a support group made up of a strange group of people who each have experienced a loss.  It's a unique subject for a comedy, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it.  However, it definitely has its funny moments.  In the pilot episode, Ryan attends the support group for the first time, and arrives before the group leader/counselor, and he rallies the whole group to play a single-elimination bracket tournament (a la March Madness), where each person goes up against another and has 15 seconds to garner the most sympathy for his or her situation.  The "winner" is a middle-aged Hispanic woman who apparently speaks very little English, and no one understands her rambling in Spanish, but assumes it must be a very sad story.  She beats out the elderly African-American gentleman who made it to the final by continuing to harp on the fact that, not only did his wife pass away, he's blind.  My description does not do it justice.  I laughed out loud.

I like the show from the standpoint that it can take such a serious topic, death, and create comedy without necessarily making fun of it.  Sure, the characters are kind of thin (television just can't create complex supporting characters anymore), and some of the jokes are a bit out there, but the show's heart seems to be in the right place.  I get it.

I wrestle with the term "go on" occasionally, even though I am eight and a half years removed from experiencing the death of my wife.  After she died, I found myself reading every book I could find on death and losing a spouse, and every one had the same bottom line advice:  Life goes on, time will bring healing.  I found myself trying to figure out how to go on with my life, and I just couldn't shake the grief.  I found myself sinking further and further into a hole of depression, and I didn't know what to do.  I never lost my faith, and I always felt God was with me, but that knowledge just didn't translate into something I could grasp to pull me out of that hole.

I hit rock bottom about a year after Teresa's death.  I realized I needed to reach out, and I did by sending out a plea in the form of an email to my pastor friends.  I feel really blessed to know so many pastors, and many answered my call in different ways.  Some offered prayer, some passed along phone numbers of medical professionals I could call, and still another, a long-time family friend, even offered to accompany me to a doctor to talk about my situation.  Only one, my current pastor, called and said we should get together and just talk.  And we did, the very next day.  To this day, I still recall that conversation and sincerely believe that Mark helped me on my path of recovery.  He helped me realize that I needed to help myself before I could do anything about the other areas of my life that were causing me to fall into that hole.  His advice triggered something in me that allowed me to figure out how to "go on."

A few weeks after our conversation, I found myself going through one of my wife's old purses, cleaning it out so that I could donate it, along with a lot of her other things, to the Salvation Army.  In a pocket in that purse I found a small, square sheet of paper, on which was written in my wife's distinctively "teacher-style" handwriting, the following verse:  "And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast." - I Peter 5:10.  I was immediately struck by the powerful message of these words, and felt as if my wonderful wife had written this note directly to me.  And the tears came.  And through sobs I thanked the Lord for allowing me to find this little piece of paper, and for giving me such a wonderful marriage, as short as it was, and for helping realize that I didn't have to "get over" her death to "go on."  Her death was a part of me; it is and always will be a part of who I am.  By trying to get over it, I was trying to erase that part of my life in order to move on, which is impossible.  But by accepting it as a part of me, as a part of my life story, I am able to go on.  This was an important realization, and brought about true healing.

So the lesson here is that you don't, can't, and shouldn't try to get over those painful, tragic events that occur over the course of our lives.  They are what makes me "me", and you "you".  You need these experiences to complete who you are, no matter how painful they may be.  And, ultimately, they allow you to GO ON.