Loss

Every year on February 9th, a small group of friends gather for breakfast at Johnny J’s Diner to talk about a little girl who touched all our hearts deeply, and left us far too soon.  Brooke would have been 15 years old on December 24, 2011, but she passed away on February 9, 2004 from an acute asthma attack. I often wonder who she would have been today at 15 years old. She had such a bubbly personality and a smile and laugh that made it hard to ever tell her no…even if you should have. Her siblings knew how to get something they wanted, or do something they wanted to do…they just got Brooke to ask for it. The funny thing was, however, that she never seemed spoiled to me, or to anyone else that I know of. She was just sweet.

Now, 8 years later, we still gather to talk about the little girl who meant so much to all of us…and to console her mother, who still struggles with that day, as well as the month of February and even from December 24th through February 14th, which was the day Brooke was laid to rest…a fitting day for a girl who was born on a holiday, and very much loved.

Of course, Brooke was never a mother, but in her short little life, she practiced for that role she dreamed of having by mothering every baby she ever came across. Her mom, Dani babysat my grandchildren, but it was Brooke who babysat my youngest grandchild…Josh. Dani could help…a teeny little bit, but not very much, because Josh was Brooke’s baby, and everyone might just as well get that fact through their thick head, because that was the way it was.

Brooke touched the lives of young and old alike. She had her very favorites though, like my husband, Bob for example. Whenever Bob walked into a room Brooke was in, she ran over to him and gave him a big hug. She was almost like a little girlfriend, and I might have been jealous, had it not been for the difference in their ages. She loved him so much, and it was very hard to be jealous of such a sweet little girl, so I had to be content to share him whenever Brooke was in the room.

Now, 8 long years after her passing, we can each remember how she touched our lives, and I’m sure the stories will all be shared as we gather to look back on the life of a child that has been gone longer than she lived, and yet seems to still be so very much with us. Her memory is everywhere…every time we hear a child laugh, every time a little girl takes a shine to Bob, every time we see Madyson, Brooke’s little sister, who looks incredibly like her older sister…so much so, that I often call her Brooke. And so we gather to console her mother, and remember the little girl who touched our hearts.

Most of the time, when you think of the words “Heaven Sent”, it pertains to a person, but today, that is not the case, or at least not exactly. A short time after my dad passed away in December of 2007, a cat started hanging around my mom’s porch…howling from hunger. Mom couldn’t stand it, and gave him some food. That was the beginning of such a beautiful relationship for our entire family, but especially for my mom and my sister Cheryl, who live together. Once he was fed, Quincy, as he would be dubbed, was here to stay. He never left again…until yesterday. Yesterday our Quincy went to Heaven. The veterinarian believes that he ingested antifreeze. By the time we knew what was wrong with him, the damage had been done. We are devastated by this tragic loss. We all loved that cat very much.

So rarely does an animal that is a perfect match for your family, literally show up on your doorstep. We didn’t even know that we needed him…but God knew. Quincy was a companion to my mom during a difficult time when she was often lonely, and  he was a caregiver too. When my mom fell several times, Quincy stayed right beside her. He wanted to make sure she was alright. He was also a very social cat. He loved to carry on a conversation with which ever of us might be at the house at the time, but he and Cheryl were particularly good friends. He was a part time outdoor cat and a part time indoor cat, but when you came over or they came home, Quincy was usually there to greet you. He loved his family so much. And, he took his responsibility very seriously. He was the man of the house.

Quincy had a special personality. He loved to sit on top of the back of my dad’s easy chair and sometimes when you sat down, you didn’t even realize that he was there…until he would reach down with just 1 claw, and very gently touch your head. He always used a claw, but never hurt you with it. As I said, Quincy was part outdoor cat, and so once he had made sure things were ok in the house, he wanted outside for a prowl…even if only for a few minutes. Then, when he was ready to come back in, he would jump up on the air conditioner and scratch at the window, until you opened the door. Yes, he was spoiled…the king of the castle, for sure. Quincy didn’t think he should have to drink out of a cat dish either. He wanted to drink out of a bowl in the sink, or the water dripping from the tub faucet. That was more special…like he was. And, while he had a bed to sleep in, he fully enjoyed curling up in the bathroom sink too.

I’m sure Mom and Cheryl will get another cat, but there will never be another cat quite like Quincy, and our family will miss him very much. Angels come in many forms I think, and I believe that Quincy was an angel sent by God when we really needed one. He may have been just a cat to many people, but to us he was people…he was family…and he was definitely Heaven Sent. We love you Quincy, and we will miss you very much.

When a soldier is serving his country, so far away from home, he often feels like he will not be returning to the same world he left when he joined the service, or was drafted, as used to be the case. The letters from home mean more to that soldier than their writer could ever imagine, and yet, so often, what starts with the best of intentions…to write daily letters…soon slips and ends up being every couple of weeks or once a month. That schedule works well for the person writing from home, but is terribly hard on the soldier, so far away, and wondering if they have been forgotten.

My dad’s letters home from World War II, while varied in content, really said just one thing…I wish I was home. In his letter from July 4th, 1944, he talks about all the great things the family did on Independence Day. My dad writes, “The picnics, drives, swimming at Manitou Falls, the ball games, and all kinds of stuff like that.” He goes on to say that it all seems “so long ago” and I can almost hear the sense of loss in his words. Then he talks about how he can “remember each little detail” and how the “little things like that stick in a fellows memory their whole life, because those things that seemed unimportant at the time, all go together to make up one wonderful word…Home.” He continues, “And the fourth of July is as much a part of that word, as the front door is a part of the house.”

I have found that there was a writer living inside my dad too. Something I had no idea about before. His words painted such a clear picture that I almost felt like I was there. And, between the lines, lived the pain of the loneliness that a young soldier was feeling. Then, I could see my dad, pulling himself up by the bootstraps, and setting aside his feelings so his mother wouldn’t worry, when he lightly said, “Say, let me know what you did on the fourth. Will you? Where you went and if you had fun.” He went on to talk about the flowers that grew in England…a subject he knew his mother would like, although my dad always did like Lilacs too, and missed them in England. When I was a girl growing up, our yard was always full of them. I guess he always wanted to feel like he was home and Lilacs were a big part of that to him.

Dad always tried not to let his feelings worry his mother. I’m sure that is what every soldier has to do. Still, I can’t help tearing up when I think of his feelings. I have always thought of my dad as such a strong man, who always knew what to do, and he was when I knew him, but there was a time that he was, as every soldier is in war time, a scared kid, trying to be brave and not let anyone know what they are feeling, and most of all a kid, wanting to go…Home again.

I have been reading some of my dad’s letters that were written to his family while he was in the Army Air Force during World War II. They were written from places as familiar to me as Salt Lake City and as unfamiliar as Great Ashfield, Suffolk, England. He told of all the new experiences he was having, such as flying in the B-17 Bomber, and just checking out the area where he was stationed. And he told of attending church services quite often…something that didn’t change throughout his entire life, and for that I’m thankful. That one thing brings me so much peace of mind…knowing that I will see my dad again.

But, as I read his letters, there was some sadness in his tone. The life he knew was changing every day, and he was too far away, and powerless to stop it. He was always concerned about his mother and sister living so far out of town on the farm, and even asked his brother to rent them a house in town so life would be easier on them, but then when it seemed that they would not be going back to the farm, it was hard to think of coming home to an unfamiliar house. Then, his brother was thinking about getting married (which he didn’t do at that time or to that girl), and moving to Mexico to work for a time, and it looks like he would not be there for his only brother’s wedding. Suddenly it occurs to my dad that so often, life changes when you least expect it, and you find yourself not ready for those changes. I suppose this is a common feeling with military personnel, in that they have little say about where they are stationed, how long they are there, and when they might get leave.

Life changes are hard anyway, and I suppose that being thousands of miles from home would make them seem so much more unbelievable and unsettling. For me, knowing that my mom still lives in the home I grew up in gives a strong sense of stability, but knowing that my dad is no longer here, is very unsettling. In his letters, dad wondered about men he knew from back home, and asked about their whereabouts often. He was praying for their safety, as I am sure they were for his. I have wondered about those men too. So far, in my reading, he has received no answers about those men, so I wonder if he ever heard news of them. I may never find out.

I don’t like change much myself…at least not the kind that brings with it the sadness of loss. Whether it is loss of childhood days, or loss of life, all loss is painful. I know that the service our military men do for their country and its citizens is necessary, and those who serve are honorable men who deserve our deepest thanks, but I have to mourn with them the loss of parts of their lives that must be sacrificed so others can have the freedoms we so enjoy.

As for my dad, I know that the life he returned to after the war was vastly different than the one he left behind, and I feel a deep sorrow for him in that he must have felt that loss deeply. Dad never talked much about the war, and in fact any information we got had to be pried out of him. Maybe some memories are too painful to relive, and are best left alone. Still, Dad’s letters have shown me a side of my dad that I didn’t exactly know existed…or maybe I did. Dad was always a very caring man, who was extremely loyal to his family…be it his mother, dad, sisters and brother, or my mom, my sisters and me. I suppose that all of life’s changes mold us into the people we are, and so they must be.

My Uncle Larry went home to be with the Lord yesterday. His passing was quick and unexpected and we are very saddened by it. We will all miss him greatly. Uncle Larry was my mom’s older brother and someone she looked up to as a child. They, along with mom’s younger brother, my Uncle Wayne, were…shall we say, partners in crime…or at least the mischief that the three of them could manage to get into together. Mom tells me of the time that Uncle Larry was in big trouble with my grandma, and she was giving him a good spanking for his wrong doing. My mom decided to step up and defend the brother she thought could do no wrong. So she began chewing her mom out for the horrible injustice that Grandma was inflicting on her brother, Larry. It was a decision that would get my mom a spanking too, and one she would not repeat. I’m quite certain that Grandma and Uncle Larry are laughing about that in Heaven, right now.

Uncle Larry loved a good joke and told a great many. He also liked to tease people and make them laugh. His had an infectious laugh, and he used it to bring joy and laughter to many people.  But he also had a soft side to him. Once when my Aunt Delores said that she liked a set of dishes, he made a promise to her that when he could get the money together, he was going to buy her those dishes. I don’t know if he ever bought her those dishes, but he sure wanted to. It was just the way he was. Loving and giving.

Another time, Uncle Larry, Uncle Wayne and my mom were at the store, when my mom saw a set of salt and pepper shakers she liked. She has always liked salt and pepper shakers, and in fact, has a collection of them. At that time, she was a young girl, and she didn’t have the money for the salt and pepper shakers, so when she wasn’t looking, her brothers put their money together and bought that set for my mom. It was such a sweet thing for them to have done, and it touched my mom deeply.

Uncle Larry always tried to help people, but even he had to draw the line somewhere. When my mom was learning to drive, she had gone through several people as teachers. No one wanted to teach her after a time, because she just couldn’t seem to wrap her mind around how the gears worked…something many people have trouble with. So her brother Larry decided to give it a shot. They ended up in the middle of the street with the car jerking along, and the cars around them honking their horns and trying to get around them. I’m sure it was a comical site to those around it, but it made Uncle Larry very nervous. He kept trying to get her to do the proper procedure. Finally in desperation, he couldn’t take any more. He told my mom to switch places with him…he would drive. I don’t think he ever gave her another lesson.

Uncle Larry was a son, brother, husband, father, uncle, grandfather, and great grandfather. He meant so much to so many people, and I can’t help but feel that a good many people are going to miss him very much. We will see you again someday. We love you very much. You were a blessing to all who knew you. We love you Uncle Larry.

The closer we get to Christmas, the more my mind begins to reflect on the Christmases of my childhood…My Christmas Past. In those early years, an artificial tree was unheard of. We would go to the tree lots and get a tree, usually shortly after Thanksgiving. Dad would bring the tree in and decide how much would need to be trimmed off. Then he would begin to cut on the trunk of the tree. The smell of pine was everywhere.

Once the tree was set, the decorating would begin. We would sing Christmas carols as we decorated the tree, and we would have candy and hot chocolate or some other treats to munch on while we worked. Soon the tree was finished and the house was filled with festive, twinkling lights. I couldn’t wait for evening to come each day, so the tree lights could be turned on again. It was my favorite time of year.

It was the time of year for buying gifts for my sisters and my parents, hopefully without disclosing what I bought. A time to try our best to keep the secrets for the days and weeks until Christmas finally arrived. Gifts were hidden around the house or better yet wrapped right away so they could not be found, but that brought it’s own set of problems. As kids, it is so hard not to peek. We would shake and squeeze our packages hoping to be able to figure out what we were getting, and stopping short of opening the packages and re-wrapping them…mostly because I would be sure to be caught.

Probably the most fun we had, however, was the shopping for our parents. As kids, we didn’t really have a lot of money, so the gifts we could get for our parents were usually small or even homemade, but as we got older, we schemed, scrimped, and saved so that we could buy them the kind of gift that would really knock their socks off. Those gifts brought the best memories. And there were a few times that our gifts were so surprising to them that it almost brought tears to their eyes…and usually did with my mom.

My Dad has been in Heaven now for the last 4 Christmases…this will be the 5th, and at times, I find myself…less than enthusiastic about the coming holiday. I miss him so much, but I know that he would want me to be excited about the holiday that he loved so much. So I’ll soon be ready, and the day will be great, but I think I’ll always wish we could, maybe just for a little while, relive…My Christmas Past.

It was 4 years ago today at exactly 12:00pm that my dad went home to be with the Lord. I still can’t believe that he has left us, much less that it has been 4 years ago. Somehow I never considered that I would live one day on Earth without my dad being here. I suppose that seems like an unreasonable idea, but he always seemed so healthy and strong that my mind never considered anything else. There was never a time that he seemed older than his 50’s to me, although he was 83 when he went home. He was a man who just had the ability to seem timeless.

Every day, I miss his playful ways. He loved to joke around with his kids and grandkids, and we always felt the love that he wrapped around each of us. He had a way of accepting each person for who they were, and tried to teach us to do the same. I can’t say that I have always been so accepting, so I guess I will have to work hard so I can begin to live up to who he was…not that I will ever be able to fully succeed. My dad was one of a kind.

I often noticed how he treated my mom, his daughters, and women in general, and the best way to put it…and the only way that fully describes how he was…is that he was the last of the Southern Gentlemen type. The head of the household, who led with kindness, calmness, and love. Few people can say they were raised that way, but that is exactly how I was raised. And even right up until he went home, if we had a problem, Dad had a solution, and it was always given with respect for everyone involved.

Dad seldom lost his temper…which is hard to believe with 5 daughters, but if he did, it was usually concerning some injustice done…whether it was against a member of his family, or someone else. He was a very fair man, and he taught that to his girls. Dad’s simply don’t come in a better form than my dad. I can’t say enough good things about him. He will forever be, the Greatest Dad Ever, in my mind, and I know, in the minds of my sisters too. We love you so much Daddy, and we can’t wait to see you again.

Thanksgiving is a time to remember all your blessings, and where they came from. As I looked at this picture of our family at Thanksgiving, so long ago, is occurs to me just how blessed we are. This picture shows a pretty small group, but the reality is that our family has exploded with growth since that time. Most families do grow and change over the years. Children grow up, get married and have children…the blessings continue to grow. We have so much to be thankful for. Most of us live in the area, and have had the chance to stay very close. Our children know each other, and their children do too. We go to church as a family…taking up 3 rows of chairs these days.

Yes, there are some who have gone home to be with the Lord…Dad, Alyssa, Laila, Nancy, Marlyce, as well as grandparents and some aunts, uncles and cousins, and we miss them very much, but we are thankful that we will see them again, and that the Lord comforts us concerning those have gone home, and gives us the strength to move forward, in spite of the pain. And, I am thankful that my mom and my in-laws are all doing well, and I pray that continues for a long, long time. And I’m thankful that the rest of the family is also in good health. We are so blessed in that way, and I thank God for that.

So often, we dwell on our problems or disappointments, and forget to notice our blessings. Today, I want to focus on all the positive things in my life, and all the loved ones I have been blessed with. I want to focus on the freedoms we have, simply because we live in a country that values those freedoms. I am thankful for the men who have fought and died to win those freedoms. And mostly, I am thankful for my savior, Jesus, who came and died for me so I could have eternal life.

We all have so much to be thankful for. It is my hope today, that all is well with you and yours, and that you never take your blessings for granted. I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving.

Bob and I walk 2 hours a day about 5 days a week. In the winter, we walk at the mall because it is too cold and windy outside. But in the summer, we walk on the trails around town…with our main weekday trail being the one we can access by walking a block down our street. Walking on that trail as often and as long as we do, we have had a chance to get to know the people that are on the trail daily like we are. We have built a friendship with them. If we don’t see them for a while, we wonder where they are, and even ask about them to others who also know them. When we were absent from the trail for a time, many people wondered about us too. One friend even drove by our house to see if we had moved or something. It is comforting to know that people notice your absence and try to check it out. The absences had always been simple to explain, and nothing serious…until now.

When Bob and I were at Walmart on Sunday doing our grocery shopping, we ran into a friend, Tina from the trail. She always walked the trail with her dog…Toby. When we told her we hadn’t seen her in a while, she told us that her Toby Dog had died, and she had not felt up to walking much without him. I couldn’t believe my ears. Her dog was so sweet. I felt such a loss…and Toby wasn’t even my dog, so what must she be feeling.

Toby was an old dog, and had been the victim of other dogs who wanted to attack him at times, so he was a little nervous around people he didn’t know…especially if they had a dog. We didn’t have a dog, and Tina is the girlfriend of a friend of Bob’s, so we would always stop and talk for a minute when we passed each other. The first time we saw her on the trail, she introduced us to Toby. We petted him and from that day forward, we were accepted by Toby as a friend. The minute Toby would see us on the trail, he would step up his pace a little in anticipation of the coveted petting he was going to receive.

It was just a minute or two several times a week, and yet finding out that I won’t see Toby again, made me very sad. Pets wiggle their way into the hearts of their owners every day, but it is unusual for someone else’s pet to find their way into the heart of someone he only saw for, maybe 15 minutes a week. Nevertheless, that is exactly what happened, and I will miss Tina’s Toby Dog very much.

It was one year ago today that Princess Laila entered our lives, but her time with us was not to be very long. She would leave us to live with Jesus 18 days later. With her passing, would begin a sad journey toward the healing of our broken hearts. Laila was the answer to her parents’ prayers. Jenny and Steve have three wonderful and healthy boys, and they wanted a girl to complete their family. Laila was to be that little princess…and a princess she was, beautiful in every way. She was and is loved by all who knew her, or awaited her arrival.

Laila’s time with us would be cut short due to Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, which means that the left ventrical of the heart is too small or is non-existent. The heart should have 4 chambers, and Laila’s 4th chamber was too small, and could not effectively pump blood to her body. The doctors tried surgery to repair Laila’s heart, but her little body was just not strong enough, and she went home to be with Jesus on November 22, 2010…and very sad day for all of her family.

It is so hard to believe that a year has come and gone since Princess Laila would change our lives forever with her sweet spirit. Today was to have been a day of celebration…her first birthday…a day to celebrate all those little firsts…first tooth, first word, first steps…but it was not to be. Instead, Princess Laila, we wish you Happy First Birthday in Heaven, where you are being held in the loving arms of Jesus, and where your heart is perfect and whole. I know that you, Grandpa, and Alyssa, along with all your other Heavenly family members are having the greatest first birthday celebration ever. We only wish we could all be there with you today as our baby girl turns one year old…but know that we are with you in spirit, as we know you are with us.

Jenny, Steve, Xander, Zachary, and Issac, I know that your hearts are very sad and lonely today. I know that as God’s Word says, He has sent you the Comforter to hold you is His arms, just as Sweet Princess Laila is being held in Jesus arms today. I know today will be very hard, and I am keeping you in prayer. The day is coming when we will all be together again, and I can’t wait to meet your precious Princess Laila. I love you all very much.

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