The trouble is, you think you have time. -Jack Kornfield
I have never professed to be a good housekeeper. Indeed I am far from it. But I am trying. Part of that is working on the process of decluttering. I could talk all day about that process. And I may… but on a different day.
A few weeks ago, while going through a box of “where in the world does this stuff belong”, I came upon a letter written by me in 2013. A letter written to my father-in-law. If you’ve been following my blog for a while then you may remember that his passing away on February 9, 2013 was the major catalyst for us seeking a move to Virginia. I touched on this somewhat last year in this post.
My father-in-law joined the Navy as a fresh out of high school, 18 year old. He and my mother-in-law were high school sweethearts and would marry in 1952 when he came home on leave. He would spend 20 years in the Navy, starting as an enlisted man, and working his way to Warrant Officer and then as a Lieutenant, serving as a Nuclear Weapons Officer on the USS Saratoga. He would then go on to become a teacher of elementary and middle schoolers, eventually getting his Master’s and becoming a school counselor. He would work with children for 20 years before retiring.
When I met my future father-in-law, I was 20 years old and he was already retired from two careers. I would celebrate my 21st birthday during that first trip to Virginia. We would sit on the back porch every morning drinking coffee.
On that trip, we took in a football game at my husband’s alma mater and where the first born grandbaby (my niece) was cheering.
He would be my husband’s best man at our wedding. Making everyone laugh during his speech with his request that we give him some more grandbaby’s (to add to the four he already had).
And we fulfilled that request.
Later, he would end up having leukemia. He had it for years. I usually spent two weeks every summer at their home, driving up with the kids and then my husband flying up for the second week. We often visited over Christmas Break as well. The Christmas of 2012, he was not feeling well. We opted not to go up because he was sick enough that all the germs we would bring would not be good. They said it was now lymphoma. He was not getting better. A few weeks later my husband would be traveling up to help his brothers and mother set up hospice. At that point, I knew that I would never see him again. And so I wrote him a letter. I had hoped he’d be able to have it read to him.
That did not end up being possible.
In my college English class, I read the poem Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas. I can’t even begin to explain why that poem struck me so deeply. I was a 17 year old girl who had not even begun to taste the sting of death. And yet, that poem became my favorite poem.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
My father-in-law did not go gentle into that good night. The end was not easy. He asked to speak to me once on the phone. There was closure for me in that he remembered me in those moments.
So today I share the words that he was never able to hear (abbreviations have been used in place of some names).
In Case I Never Told You
In case I never told you I wanted you to know:
That I noticed when you made sure to spend time with each of the kids separately- whether it was teaching H to drive, teaching D about the mighty power or taking S to feed the neighbor’s pets, amongst all the other things. I appreciated the fact that you took the time to make them feel special and create memories.
That I admire the fact that you taught for 20 years. My patience level is low and you have always been so calm with my kids. I imagine all those students felt special.
That I think it’s great that you love science so much because I find science fascinating. Your innate curiosity about all the wonders of the world is inspiring because I feel like I can never get all the information I want to gain.
That I love your library. In it, I discovered Ludlum, that there is more than one Oz book, and a plethora of other great books. Because of our mutual love, one of my kids’ favorite place is a bookstore and they love the smell of a library.
That I’m glad that you passed on to M what he calls the “Smith family curse”. The one that makes you repair everything yourself. I can’t imagine being married to a man who couldn’t fix things.
That I’ve loved our talks by the pool- watching the kids swim. You always added a fresh perspective on my struggles in raising children.
That I thank you for serving our country. I don’t come from a military family so that was all foreign to me, but how amazing to share such tradition.
That even though some of the jokes you tell make us groan, they are you. And when M tells one that makes us groan, we say that sounds like a joke your dad would tell. And when our kids tell one, they are like M and so on and on it goes. What a privilege to witness not just a physical passing down, but also personality.
That I love you for accepting me wholeheartedly into your family. You have given me such a blessing just by knowing you, but also in raising a man that is a man who takes his vows seriously because that was modeled by you.
I have done my part in evolution.
I have evolved from the 21 year old that you first met, but a lot has stayed the same and one of those things is that I have a tremendous amount of respect for you even when our views differ.
I will help out with the survival of the fittest though because I think M and I have produced some pretty amazing kids.
Keep Strong and I love you.
There isn’t anything earth-shattering in those words. We did communicate regularly over the years and he knew that I loved and respected him. I share them because they are still things that I wish I had said.
Don’t wait until it is too late to say those things you want to say to people you care about. Don’t hold on to grudges that you might later regret. Tomorrow is never promised. I leave you with my father-in-law’s words, written 18 years before he would leave this earth.
Let your light shine!