Heather's granddad, Victor Menking, passed away this week and she flew down to Abilene, Texas to be with family to celebrate and honor this great man. He and Elline just celebrated their 60th anniversary two days before hand and Papa served his country for over 40 years.
Death is never easy. When Heather's dad called to tell us, Heather wasn't home at the time, so I took the call. And I knew. I knew because Papa had been ill. I knew because Dad hesitated. I knew because my heart already ached with the loss. Not just for me, but for Heather and her family, and for my children who will have trouble remembering Papa in the years to come because they are so young now.
I lost my Opa many years ago, yet the day we found out is still fresh in my mind. But what I remember more is what took place a number of years later. Heather and I were watching a movie, The Doctor (1991), with William Hurt. It was not particularly memorable, but one scene had a deep and unexpected impact on me. Hurt, who is playing the doctor, is walking towards his car in a garage and comes upon an elderly gentlemen who is standing beside his car, struggling. I don't remember why; lost keys, forgetfulness, something else. But his mannerisms or struggles or appearance reminded me so much of my Opa that I was overcome with grief and loss in that dark theater, and I broke down and cried.
The pain and loss subside, but never fade completely. They are part of who we are and as difficult as it is, I'm thankful. Without the hurt, I wouldn't be reminded how important it is to cherish our time together now. To be thankful for every moment we have. To strengthen the ties to family that give us our strength and sense of place. To hug my girls instead of being upset when they do something that drives me crazy. To love my wife, my friend.
60 years. Heather and I will celebrate our 17th this year and, although thankful for every year, I'm awed by those who have 40, 50 and 60. I pray there will be many more for us. If you listen to NPR at all, you may know that on Fridays, the have a story about the StoryCorps. This is a project that travels around the U.S. and invites people to come into a sound booth and record stories about family, friends and life. One couple, Danny and Annie Perasa, are exceptional. Not in the eyes of the world so much; they are not particularly beautiful, rich, influential or well spoken. But the story they tell about their love cuts to the heart. Danny talks about his love for Annie in basic terms; "Being married is like having a color television set, you never want to go back to black and white."
I invite you to go to the NPR web site and listen to their last recording before Danny passed away as anything I could write would diminish what you will hear (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5230164 and hit the "Listen" button under the title). I hope that my love for Heather is as evident to her and our children as Danny's love is for Annie.
So thank you and good bye, Papa. We will miss you. And Lord, help us all to cherish our family and friends now.