Saturday, August 29, 2009

Life Goes On...

In the wake of traumatic events, it is so true that life goes on. It does because it must. My father has passed, but I am still here, my children, and my husband are still here, and I continue with the mundune and not so mundane activities that compromise our lives.

I realize that my children are looking to me, watching to see how I handle this tragedy in our lives. If I am ok, then they are ok. If I loose my balance or wallow in sadness, then they too are lost. Here are some things that I know: death is a part of life. Everyone dies sometime, and I for one would not want to live forever. I believe that there is another place - I hope a better place. I believe that some existence continues, just in another form that I can't currently understand. I want my children to see death - whether it be a beloved grandparent or a childhood pet - as part of life, natural and while not to be sought, also not to be feared.

And so... life goes on. The children had their orientations at school the other day, and they are both eagerly preparing for next week when they will join their friends for the first day of school. It was wonderful to meet the teachers, both of whom I liked very much. I am happy to be able to volunteer in the children's classrooms, I look forward to that every year.

It was funny, while we were there 3 of my oldest daughters previous teachers and the principal all commented on how well she did on the Connecticut State Mastery Test, otherwise known as CMT. Last year, in spite of "the Incident", my oldest daughter managed to score across the board in the 97th percentile. We are very proud of her. Needless to say, this year I am looking forward to getting her results and seeing her progress. Her new teacher says that he is going to be very busy making sure she doesn't get bored. Did I mention that I really like that man? My Dad would have been so proud to hear how well that Sporty is doing in school, and he would have loved how excited my little Posh is to start her first day of First Grade!

I am getting back to the everyday things - doctors appointments, dog walks, girlfriends, occassionally hating the Navy(not really...), and taking care of the house. Life truly does go on. I realize that I have to make the most of my life, the way my father did. We all have to make every day count, because none of us know how many days we have. Sometimes I really do think that it is the small, every day activities that really comprise our lives and make a differenct in the lives of others. That's the best way that I can honor my dad, by being a good mother, a good daughter and a good friend. I hope that I can live up to that.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Worst is Over?

My father was laid to rest yesterday. The ceremony was touching and beautiful - a real tribut to the man he was and the life that he lived. I was amazed - and yet not really so- at the number of people that came out to pay tribute and remember a great man.
Yesterday I had to read my father's eulogy - a conglomeration of words that could never possibly begin to describe who he was and what he meant to me. I did my best and most importantly, I kept my promise and I didn't cry. I held it together, at least while I was talking.
My dad's cousin, Johnnie Leckie was there, in traditional dress with his bagpipes ready. Their sweet and sad strains pierced right through my heart. I wasn't prepared for that. It was comforting to commemorate my father's life at the Church where I had so many times attended with my father as a child. I sat in stunned silence while my cousin, Tim, read the beautiful readings that he selected. ( Even though he doesn't usually "read" at his Church- that's an inside joke) I was amazed that a man who appeared as cold as Father Murphy usually does, could pull together a homily that talked about how my father inspired so many and like an eagle, only wanted to soar to God. My father would have liked that.
Finally, when the mass was over, it was my turn to speak. I felt my knees shake, I had to walk by my father's casket - which was so difficult - and then it seemed like an eternity all the way up to the pulpit. Thankfully I had printed out my eulogy, otherwise I never would have remembered everything I wanted to say let alone formulate a coherent sentence without a reference.
I don't remember the eulogy now, I only remember reaching out to touch my father's casket as I returned to my seat. It was the first time that I had done so. His pallbearers were comprised of friends and family who solemnly and with care completed their duty. I watched my father's casket go into the hearse and then, we were off to the cemetery.
My husband and I had fought all week to make sure that my father recieved full military honors. We finally got word on Thursday afternoon that the Air Force was coming from Andrews Air Force base to do the honors. When we pulled up, they were there waiting for my father. They gently lifted him out of the hearse and the honor guard carefully carried him into the chapel for the final words to be said over his body before being laid to rest. I watched them fold and snap the flag, making each crease crisp with pride. My father would have liked that.
When they were done folding, the captain of the honor guard held the folded flag until the Priest was done. Then came the moment that I both longed for and dreaded - the presentation of the Flag. I wanted the flag with all my heart - I already have plans to mount it along with my father's medals from his time in the service and his picture, but at the same time, I would much rather have my father than this flag to remember him by.
The sergeant handed me the flag and said some kind words about the President, the United States Air Force and a grateful nation. He placed the flag in my arms and I felt it's weight for the first time. He stepped back and gave my father his final salute. I will never forget that.
The airmen also coordinated a fly over. I didn't get to see the planes, but I could hear them - I remember saying to my husband, "They're coming." I saw the reflection in the memorial wall. It was an amazing and beautiful tribute for a man who had done so much and served his country so loyally.
They say the worst is over. I've eulogized my dad, and he's been laid to rest. Yet today, I feel the enormity of his absence more than ever. Today when I got home to Connecticut after the long drive, I only had one call to make. I will never share my good news ( in quite the same way) ever again. I wouldn't say that the worst is over. I would say that I will miss my father every day for the rest of my life, and that is just beginning.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

In Memorial

When my father was 18, in training for the Army Aircorps, he was told that as a pilot, he wouldn't live to see 21. We always used to laugh together when I said that it was a good thing he had a contingency plan. My father lead a full and amazing life, and most importantly, he lived it on his own terms - always, but that doesn't surprise anyone who knew him.
My Dad was born on a cold day in December in 1923 to Leona and James Beadling. His Grandmother claimed that he was the ugliest baby she had ever seen. My dad used to laugh and say, "You know it had to be bad if even your Grandmother said you were ugly. Grandmother's think all babies are beautiful." During the height of the depression, my father went to live with his Grandparents, his Aunt Stella and his Uncle Roy. He loved them very much and they raised him as their own son. They taught him the qualities that I believe most characterize his life: determination, loyalty and patriotism.
Most of my father's favorite memories about his childhood revolved around his favorite sport - football. My father was the Captain and quarterback of his highschool team. Long before that though, he tells stories about always wanting to play with the older boys, challenging himself to play harder and better. Those boys used to tell him that he couldn't play, he was too small and he would get hurt, to which he would indignantly respond, " I won't get hurt! Let me play!" When he was in the 8th grade, he wanted to go to football training camp with the older highschool players. He asked the coach and was told that he could attend but that he couldn't stay with the other players. He got permission from his Grandparents to camp out - on his own for the week of training. He cooked his own food over a camp fire and stayed by himself in a tent every night for a week just so he could attend that football camp. He was always very proud of that. He earned the respect of everyone there, including a local business owner who came out and cooked him eggs for breakfast on the last day of practice.
On December 7th, 1941, my father was at a friend's house playing cards after Church when President Roosevelt came on the radio and announced the attack on Pearl Habor. The next day, my father went into the city with his friends to join the Marines. Because he was only 17, he needed one of his parents to sign a consent form. His mother refused to sign.
My father asked if he joined the Army Aircorps whether she would give her permission , and realizing that his birthday was just weeks away, my Grandmother reluctantly relented. My father walked into the city to take the required entrance exam for the Aircorps. Of over 100 boys there that day, only 30 passed the physical and went on to take the written test. My father told me that it was a grueling ordeal but he resolved to do his best and answer each and every question. At the end of the day, the recruiter administrating the assessment, called out three names, one of which was my father's. My dad said that he looked at the other two boys there and in his heart he feared he was about to hear some sad story about how they didn't make it, but since he walked all the way there he resolved to stay and hear what the recruiter had to say. Those three boys were the only three to pass the entire evaluation that day, and so my father proudly entered into the Army Aircorps.
He fought in two wars - both World War II and Korea. He served as instructor pilot in P40s and P51s during World War II and then bravely returned to battle during the Korean War as Squadron Commander of over 50 extremely dangerous night missions in F84s and F86s in suppport of the Marines on the ground. After Korea, my father told me that he knew that hell was not full of flames they way most of the stories say, but that the worst levels of hell were cold, like the Chosin Resevoir. My father never forgot the Marines, his comrades in arms, or the lessons that they taught him. One of his favorite phrases was "Proper planning prevents piss poor performance" - a remnant of his time in the military.
My father loved the military and he deeply loved the country that he served, but most of you know that he didn't really have the personality for taking orders - so he went into the Reserves to continue fly fighters and serve his country, while at the same time going to work in the Airline industry.
While in the Guard, my father flew the F102. He loved to fly jets - especially with his friends George and Joe. They spent their time together at Mach one with their hair on fire, which is the way they liked it. The three of them were always together. One night my Dad was late coming home from the Guard. My mother got a call from his friend Joe - long after she had gone to bed - saying that my Dad had an accident, "He ran into me!" Joe quipped, and that's just how the three of them were.
During this time my father also worked for Allegheny Airlines - then US Airways - and did so until the age 60 - mandatory retirement. He enjoyed his time working there and also serving as a Union representative for the Airline Pilots Association. He made many, wonderful, lifelong friends, some of whom are here with us today. After his retirement, my father continued working for US Airways as a trainer in their simulator, assisting other pilots in becoming the best that they could be, encouraging them to constantly improve and hone thier skills in an airplane.

My father was probably the most loyal person that I have ever met. He always used to tell me that "friend" was one of the most overused words in the english language. In his opinion, if someone was your friend - really your friend- then they could call you in the middle of the night and expect to have you help them, in any way that was required. My father was that kind of friend, as many here can attest.

He was a very passionate person- he loved deeply, held grudges, felt things intensely - you just had to get him into a political discussion to know these things about him. He was an idealist who believed that a man's word and his honor were everything. My father was a man of integrity - he did what he said and said what he did. He was a man of deep and abiding faith and he lived that faith every day. He lived his life on his own terms and that is really all any of us can ask. I know I speak for my sisters when I say - he is our father, he will forever be our hero.

Friday, August 7, 2009

He's Waiting

Two days ago my father was admitted into the hospital. He's battle with Cancer has taken a serious turn, and he has developed deep tissue thrombosis, which is often the result of chemotherapy and inactivity - in other words, he has a rather large blood clot in his leg. The doctor sent him to the hospital and while he was there, he had another attack of extreme pain, in addition to a bloody bowel movement.

The doctors don't know where the blood is coming from, they are trying to find out. My mother always says that medicine isn't a science and she is so right about that. It always seems like doctors are scurrying around trying to rule out what could be wrong with us to finally discover what "is". With competing doctors - i.e. a surgeon, a cardiologist, a cancer doctor and a GI specialist - also comes differing perspectives on prognosis. One doctor yesterday told my family that my father's death was imminent - hours or days at best - the rest disagreed. I've come to the conclusion that none of them really know.

Here is what I know: my father is getting tired. There is only so much that an 86 year old body can handle. He's in pain, and he's feeling stretched and thin. In short, I beleive that he knows the end of his life is near and that he is ready for what comes next.

I know who is waiting for my father. I've seen him once in a dream, as I was on the cusp of marrying my husband and becoming a mother for the first time. He was waiting for me in much the same type of place that he is waiting for my father now - it looked like a hospital. He was young, though not as young as he should have been - and so very handsome. He always had such kind eyes, or so I have been told. He smiled when I saw him and seemed surprised that I didn't know him. My heart recognized him though, it was my brother, Jamie, the one who died when he was three, long before it was ever possible that we could meet. He smiled and told me that my life was going in the right direction. I felt such peace after that. I wanted to tell my father that I know my brother is waiting for him too. It's been such a long time, and for all these years my father has carried a terrible burden of guilt. It's time to lay that down, along with the pain and the cancer, and go to the next place.

I guess that is what faith is all about - the blind leap - moving from this plane of existence to the next without really knowing for sure what you will find when you get there. I know that my father's faith will carrying him to a much better place... one where there is no pain, and no more cancer.