Stopping to Remember

NOTE:  This ended up being a whole lot of {meandering} thoughts and really separate issues.  But one thing got me pondering another…you know how it goes.  :)

My Father-in-Law passed away just before Christmas.

He was 90 and though it was unexpected, as he was just living his life at a 90-year old gait, we had actually said our farewells last August when he travelled here to Colorado for a family reunion in Estes Park.  It wasn’t because he was sick or we are morbid, but he lived several states away and life being what it is, well, he was 90…

August.

When I hugged him good-bye for the last time, this gentle giant of a man who had become almost so fragile-thin I feared he would break, we both wept.  We hugged for a long time and I wanted my hug to tell him how much I loved and respected him and thanked him for his role in my life.  I had this everything-else-fading-into-the-distance moment of zoom-lens-present reality, knowing that the miles between us were great and the days together were gone.

Not everyone gets this.  I was lucky to feel his love and be able to share it back.  In very few spoken words and in very many unspoken, we said our goodbyes.

He went back to Washington.  I returned to my life.

Raymond Leroy Rhoades

Dad Rhoades was older than my parents by a long shot.  He and Dave’s mom had 4 children ranging in age from 8 to 18 when they decided to adopt Dave.  Then when Dave was 8, his little sister Debbie was born.  They definitely had at least 2 families.

1968

He married young, served in the army in WWII, raised 6 children, outlived 2 wives and had plenty of female companionship in his final days (he was an avid game player at the senior center) and served God {amazing servant} with his whole heart every day of his life.

He answered the phone, “Well, Praise the Lord!” And said good-bye with the promising words to meet again, “Well, here, there or in the air.”

He was a Kansas boy.  A soldier.  A railroad man.  He was in law enforcement for many years including 17 years with the Denver County Sheriff’s office.  He was a Bible teacher, a husband, a father and how many grands and greats and great-greats?  I don’t even know.  Many.  He was a father to many. {found this}

But when we parted in August, both of us crying, that parting-promise was understood. It would likely be neither here, nor there, but yes, we’ll meet again.  We will.

December.

We were doing the Nativity photo shoot in Dessa and Ryan’s backyard when we got a text saying he’d fallen and an ambulance was on the way.  He was living with Dave’s older sister and her husband.  Before the next update came, he was gone.  He had been just fine – in great spirits, he wanted to take Ray and Sharon to breakfast and when he went to his room to get something, he just collapsed.  And he died shortly thereafter.

He went peacefully, really, and quickly and I know it was a reward for the life he lived.

I was just running around photographing and videotaping my grandbebes, my reward and gift from God, and Dad Rhoades was going to his reward.  He was gone, just like that.

There was no funeral because he didn’t want a fuss.  And his large (and growing) family is spread everywhere, so now, today, is the first opportunity to hold a service. He’d decided to be cremated and this afternoon his remains will be interred at Leavenworth National Cemetery in Kansas in a Military Memorial and celebration of his life.

Then we’ll go on.  As we have been.

There is a sadness, a contemplation for a man without whom I would not have the family I have.  Yes, he was 90 and he’d lived a full, long life, but still-there is an empty place now.  And the family gathering to memorialize has stirred it in me again, like in December.

I feel sad and some might say pragmatically, “Well, he is in a better place.”  And life is hectic and the days zoom by and we weren’t seeing him nearly regularly enough anyway.  But I feel sad partly because his death didn’t stop us all in our tracks to remember – a man who was not perfect, but who lived and loved Jesus and all of us with strong love.  And there are these generations of his seed serving God today and he was just a regular man who’d serve his country and God and loved his family, but he was also the man who fathered this big group of amazing people who are spread out everywhere living incredible lives.  How will we remember that and honor that?

Dave’s dad died.  His dad.  That is a huge deal.  That is life-altering.  His quiet, loving, easy-to-cry presence is gone from us and we need to mourn that and we need to remember.

The whole system.

How do we mark grief?  Is it enough?  Are we showing enough reverence for life?  It is so strange and culturally varied, the way we “do” death.  I just want to make sure, for my kids, that we don’t just wrap it up as quickly as possible and forget to grieve and to remember.  How long should grief take?  How long should we still laugh when we think about a funny incident with that person gone or burst into tears at a recollection?

My close friend had a young son die recently and already, she feels guilty that the pain is still so strong, a mom who has lost her child.  He was taken in his prime, his early 40s, and somehow we don’t get that the mourning needs to last as long as it needs to last.  And sometimes the mourning will be loud and strong and other times sweet and quiet and full of gentle recollections, but why don’t we have a way to signify that some one has gone through loss and everyone around them should know and maybe cover their tender hearts for awhile?

I follow Rick Warren on Twitter and I am watching him grieve the recent loss (at least as much as a public figure allows us to see on Twitter) of his 27-year old son to suicide.

“Grief is a tunnel to growth,”

one Tweet read.  He is making sense of it all sometimes, with clarity. Other times you sense his deep, reverent pain,

“Some things you don’t get over;  you get through them.”

I love that some Tweets are so prayerful and purposeful, I guess you could say, “I don’t want to go back to how things were. I want to be a better man, more in-tune with Jesus, more compassionate of others.” He is determined to serve others anyway, knowing that healing that brings, too.

Our loss isn’t so unusual or unordinarily painful.  Dad Rhoades was 90.  But…What is the right way to remember and yet release?  To celebrate a life but go on without it?  Should the funeral be in the first 24 hours like some cultures?  Should it be in 3 days or 5?  And then, boom – over?  We’ve had the service now, move on.  Wouldn’t it help to somehow give the grieving hearts of those left behind a way to let it last as long as it needed to last?  We deny the mourning their mourning clothes, their sackcloth and ashes – that which discloses the season death and loss have brought. And the vibrant life once lived becomes a faded photograph with stories forgotten.

I wish there was a way, culturally, we could signify: I have lost some one important.  Please ask me about them and let me tell you their story.  Because I think it would go a long way in both honoring their lives and in healing our grief.  Our mourning could seem normal, acceptable and covered and received.

We are expected to be done mourning during the after-funeral carry-in meal.  Turn on the TV, put on some comfy clothes – get over it.

I am not agonizing daily over Raymond L. Rhoades.  But my husband’s father died, the man who adopted him into his family and treated him with care.  My husband’s father is gone, this adoptive daddy with whom my husband won a father-son look-alike contest when he was 5.  Raymond Rhoades died, him – the card-games playing grandpa, the one with the fork trick and the man passing out coins and bills with love to his grandchildren.  He was important to our family.

Our family is altered.  A father has died.

I need to be wrapped in clothing that says I am sad he is gone.  I am mourning with an eye on the day we’ll be reunited.  Yes it was 4 months ago and I rejoice in where he is and I remember his life with great love and respect.  His life is worth all the time it will take me to do so.

I haven’t said this well.  But these are things I am thinking.  Wondering.

Remembering you today, dad, with great love, always.

{wrote about it here, first} 

7 thoughts on “Stopping to Remember

  1. Hi Mom! Thank you for writing your thoughts and posting the great pictures of Grandpa and his family! You captured so much of what I knew him to be, in the short time that I knew him! I’ve enjoyed listening to him pray and tell stories!
    I didn’t know he had so many great-grandkids, and even great-great-grandkids!!! WOW!!! That is incredible!!
    And I like the idea about having some kind of cultural expression that says, “I have lost some one important. Please ask me about them and let me tell you their story.”

    He is missed and will be remembered! And this blog will be one of the many ways that his legacy will live on!
    Well done! I love you!! :)

  2. Some things I am remembering about Grandpa (some repeats from your memories included):

    – Anytime he came to visit he either instigated or was roped into fixing something with the electricity
    – I don’t remember what house it was, but I remember a yard FULL of rose bushes at his house, I thought I was in heaven it smelled so good
    – Rides to Walmart in the RV to get little presents
    – The fork and toothpick trick..I still don’t know how to do that!
    – Skipbo!!!!!!!
    – Stories of his incredible life, he really was one of the best story tellers ever (and I need a copy of that video from the Acoma house)
    – I love that he always answered the phone “Praise the Lord”. The first time I really took note of that was when Naomi died and we were at their house, everyone kept calling and it didn’t matter that he had already answered the phone 100 times that day, every time it was…”Praise the Lord”
    – A lot of times when you and dad weren’t home I would get in dad’s top dresser drawer and look through Grandpa’s old army photos and medals, I can recall the smell of the box now as I write
    – I always did and do take such pride in telling people my Grandpa served in WWII…he is a hero to me

    I am so thankful for a Grandpa who chose my dad and in turn chose me. I am thankful to come from a man of honor – he led SUCH an honorable life in everything that he did. I am thankful for knowing a man who was ALWAYS kind and gentle. I am thankful for such a rich heritage – to come from a family that deeply emanates the love and grace and pure JOY of the Lord. For that, I am most grateful.

    In a society that tries to push down grief and natural emotions, I too will choose to remember and mourn this loss. My dad’s dad. MY sweet sweet Grandpa who I dearly love and am more thankful for than I can express in words. Thanks for the reminder mom, he is a man that deserves to be remembered and celebrated and I will do both.

  3. This post is so right on, mom.

    Our Grandpa has passed away. It hardly seems real. I remember having a moment a couple of months ago (a month or so after he passed away), where it really hit me emotionally. It’s strange to know that we won’t ever see him again on this earth. Strange and sad.

    It hit me also that my dad lost his father. When I think of losing mine, it takes my breath away and makes me want to burst out in tears and I have to push the thought away immediately. So I can’t imagine what my dad is feeling.

    I’m so grateful that Grandpa had such a long and full life. I’m thankful that he raised the most amazing dad and gave him a shot at a good and Jesus-loving life.

    Seeing him for the last time at the family reunion and all of us sitting around listening to his stories of God’s faithfulness, was surreal and…perfect. I think we all had the sense that that might be the last time we saw him and felt like the Lord was giving us that special moment with him.

    He was an incredible man. You and Storm have hit on so many things already that I remember of him too.

    One of the most special times I had with him was when I wrote a report on him for school, which means that I spent a long time with him listening to his WWII stories. The stories that man had to tell! :) I KNOW that that’s where dad got his love of stories and it’s from my dad that I received my love of stories. So Grandpa’s legacy lives on strong in us today.

    And that’s not to mention his legacy of loving Jesus. He really did the Lord with all his heart and it makes me smile to know that he’s with Him now. I’m sure that nothing could please him more.

    Thank you, Grandpa, for loving my dad and raising him so well. Thank you for serving this country so passionately and instilling a love and respect for the country that the Lord has placed us in. Thank you for serving the Lord wholeheartedly and passing that legacy down to us. Thank you for living LIFE every second and not packing it in when you reached a certain age. We love you and will miss you so very much!

  4. Thank you all again. I am bawling again. A day for bawling I guess.
    We, mom and I are always “making memories” with the grandbabies.
    There is a couple of things that I strive for when the little ones come to visit, sometimes I fall short, but I still strive. And I think that my dad put a lot of this in me, whether he knew it or not.
    To be gentle and kind and not to raise my voice, especially when guiding them in the right direction.
    Do you know why I over buy when we are having a family meal? It’s a spiritual principle that I am instilling in all of you and the next generation- that there is always abundance in the Father’s House!
    I also want the grandbabies to know, that whatever they mess up, I am around to fix. (also a spiritual principle)
    That there is unconditional love in the Father’s House.
    That I am always overjoyed to see them.
    That I just like having them around.
    That sometimes, yes, red Kool Aid in the living room makes me nervous! (not a spiritual principle :)
    That they can ask anything of me, even if the answer may be No at the time.
    That I expect them to honor Nonna and me and the Father’s House.
    That I expect them to be upstanding citizens when I take them out in public.
    That I love them and would die for them if need be, but more importantly, that I will live a life before them that is honoring to THE FATHER.

    I want to pass on a legacy of Godliness to my children and my grandchildren that my mom and dad passed on to me.
    And I expect my children and grandchildren to pass on that legacy to the generations to come.

    Thank you, Honey for being the catalyst for this…

  5. This post was so real and right on! I’ve been sucked into watching Downton Abbey lately and when someone dies in the family everyone wears black to signify to others that they are mourning a loss and going through a great deal. I loved the thought of this. It was so honorable and I agree that in the here and now we don’t even pause to remember or reflect on what has happened. I’m glad you took the time to stop and remember a hero, our grandpa.
    I don’t even think I realized it but he started the seed of adoption in our family and now it has passed down through the generations. He had the Father’s heart in mind when he adopted Dad and then Dad carried it through to adopt me as his daughter and now we have our wonderful Kai. The Father’s beautiful heart displayed in our family and started by Grandpa.

    I love you and I honor you by stopping to remember you, Grandpa Rhoades.

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