Tag Archives: family

A Life In Retrospect

“Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care? If so I can’t imagine why. We’ve all got time enough… to cry.” —Robert Lamm


Wise words written nearly fifty years ago by a man in his long ago youth.

Yet in preparing for death, and in preparing for the loss of a loved one, there is never enough time.

Funerals are strange affairs. People attend them for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most popular reason is to pay one’s respects. Unlike Rodney Dangerfield, who never got any respect, apparently some people feel the dearly departed is deserving of a whole heap of it. I’m not sure what that means, paying ones’ respects. Did they pay them respect while they were alive, when it truly mattered? That, to me, is one of life’s great mysteries: why we withhold telling those who mean the most to us what they mean to us until it’s too late. Maybe we assume they know. That’s a travesty.

Others attend funerals in support of the family left behind, and that’s a fine sentiment. When someone loses a family member it provides much comfort to know that others share your grief.

And speaking of grief, yes, funerals are in large part about grief, the sharing of it. A burden is more easily carried by a multitude than by an individual. But more important than grief, funerals are—or should be—about a celebration of a life shared.

A man’s life should never amount to a few hundred words spoken after he’s gone. If a man’s life is measured by what he left behind, then John’s life is a fortune of the greatest value. He left behind two fine children who in turn became fine parents, giving to their daddy a chance to be a fine granddaddy. What greater gift could they give in return?

He also left behind a wife who adores him. He was the true definition of a biblical husband. He cherished you, Joan, and took care of you. In fact, he took care of you so well you had to call your son a few weeks ago, after John was admitted to the hospital for the last time, because you had no idea how to turn on the air conditioner.

By the number of people here today, I know he touched the lives of many others as well, mine included.

John was a simple man who enjoyed the simple things in life. Polish beer, watching a Wings game, time spent with family. A good card game. Especially a good card game. He enjoyed laughing, and enjoyed even more making people laugh. He took at least as much pleasure in giving a gift as the recipient received in its receipt.

John got it: life’s meaning. That he was here to give and not to receive. John received in the giving. He understood it’s not what you gather throughout a lifetime, but what you scatter that make up a memorable biography.

It’s okay to grieve loss, to shed a tear or three; but that’s not what John would want. He would want us to remember him the way he was in life, the way he lived his life. He would want us to remember that boyish grin, that mischievous glint in his eyes, his laughter. So grieve, and weep if we must for a man taken too soon. But he’d be taken too soon had he lived another twenty years. But smile, too. That should be our everlasting gift to him in return for all he gave us.

Yes, we lost one of the good ones. One of a kind, sui generis. And so today we mourn our lost John. But lost isn’t the right word. Lost is what happens to pennies when you can’t find them, or a sock. And then you do, between the cushions of the sofa or in the dryer. Nothing is ever really lost. You just need to find it.

But take joy in that there surely must be much dancing on the other side of the Great Divide over John’s arrival. Indeed, in addition to his heart of gold, Heaven has received:

  • a mischief maker
  • a rascal
  • a rogue
  • a scalawag
  • and one of one the luckiest card players I’ve ever met.

Yes, John, our debate is over: you have to be lucky in order to be good. God, I suspect, has met His match at the euchre table.

Long life to you, John. The Red Solo Cup that contained your essence may have broken, but who you were in life, who you are, lives on. Just as you live on in the memories of your children and grandchildren, your Joan, and all who already miss you. We are all better for knowing you.

Thanks, John, for all the cherished memories. Keep a seat open at the euchre table for me, will you?

God keep you.

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Twenty Years a Fatherless Son

Dad: It’s been nearly twenty years since you went away, and this is my twentieth Father’s Day spent without you to share it. I sit this morning writing these words with a heavy heart, even as the chipmunks run, chasing each other around, going about their chipmunk lives. The cigar I wish I could share with you brings little comfort to me.

Today is a day to honor you, to share with you, and sadly this is the best I can do: a few words, not nearly enough—words I hope you care enough to read, looking over my shoulder to read them as I type them.

My memories of you are pleasant, yes, even the not so good ones. I’ve forgiven you for much, understanding you were handicapped in many ways, and that as a father, you did the best you could.

I, too, have done the best I can, handicapped in my own way, falling short often, always seeking, striving to find understanding, while failing to achieve my many dreams. At times I’ve considered giving them up, knowing my race is drawing to a close and losing my drive. If you’ve been following my life, I know I’ve disappointed you, perhaps more than many other sons.

Still, I’ve found a measure of happiness, marrying a wonderful woman, but pained that you never met her. I know you would love her. I continue to endeavor to make my final dream come true. I think you know what that dream is.

I’ve written nine novels, and aspects of you appear in nearly all of them. Not always did I depict you in a favorable light, but hey, it makes for good reading. Still, I always showed you with redeeming traits, a sympathetic character. In one of my books I wrote you as the father I always wished you could’ve been. I hope that doesn’t bring you pain.

Know on this day that you are missed, as you are every day. I feel no less an orphan than I did the day you left. My world has been much colder without you.

I hope these words bring you some measure of comfort, more than they bring me, because writing them reminds me how much I miss you. (By the way, I’ve kept your watch running since you left it to me. Wearing it brings me comfort.)

Happy Father’s Day, Dad, with love and understanding,

Your son, Joseph Conrad

babyjoey

Dad, with J. Conrad, circa 1957

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Doesn’t Seem Like Twenty Years

“It was twenty years ago today
Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play
They’ve been going in and out of style
But they’re guaranteed to raise a smile
So may I introduce to you…”
—Lennon and McCartney


It was twenty years ago yesterday, Mom, that you departed this world for a safer, happier, healthier place, and my world became much colder. The last shred of my boyhood innocence was gone.

kitchen-sink-bath

A Happy Mother

So much has happened over those twenty years—some good, some not so good. But I still remember the night you went away as if it happened last Sunday and not a Sunday two decades removed.

You passed easily, deservedly so. No death’s rattle for you: you simply took one last breath, and never let it out.

I grieved your loss from me then, but was happy for you that your suffering was at last at an end. Nearly a score of years battling Parkinson’s disease, a relentless foe, a battle you could not win. But in my eyes you were valiant until the very end.

I’ve kept you alive in my fiction and non-fiction, perhaps seeking a reason for your affliction, an answer to your own question: “Why me?” Perhaps one day I’ll find it. Maybe, having become a writer, I already have.

It’s been said that our lives are made up of a series of rooms. If that’s so then I was blessed to share a room with you for a time far too short.

I miss you, Mom, and I will until my memory abandons me or I take my own final breath. I hope you’ll be waiting for me—your little boy.

Until then, to “she who bears the sweetest name, and adds a luster to the same; long life to her, for there’s no other who takes the place of my dear mother.”

destined-to-become-my-mother

Sweet Sixteen: Destined to Become My Mother

 

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A Day to Look Back

Well, Dad, nineteen years ago today you left this world for bluer skies. I’d ask where have the years gone but I know the answer: into the past. Gone but not forgotten.

babyjoey

Dad, with J. Conrad, circa 1957

Did you ever think I’d live to be sixty, ever imagine what I might look like? I didn’t. It’s not that I have a death wish, but I wonder if anyone ever views themselves as old. Inside me there is a twenty-five-year-old wondering, “What happened?”

I think about you every day. And as I sit here sipping a White Russian—one of your favorite cocktails—I hope you don’t mind that I’ve written about you often, in memoirs mostly; but aspects of who you were in life appear in my novels, too. My way of keeping you alive, I guess, and of tipping my hat to you because I feel you were a better man than me. Your firstborn doesn’t approve that I write about you and Mom, but what the hell, she never liked me anyway.

We had our differences, you and I: days and sometimes weeks when we didn’t speak. But in retrospect I can honestly say I never felt unloved or unwanted.

Still, you weren’t very nurturing to me in my youth (I forgave you for that long ago). Whether that’s good only you can know. Perhaps one day I’ll find out. It would be nice if I learned the answer before I step over to your side of the Great Divide. That’s been a problem for me as I age: expecting that every question has an answer. Some just don’t and never will, not while I live and breathe at least. Probably the greatest unfairness in life, that we must die in order to learn some of life’s great mysteries.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes and have my share of regrets. You once told me no one gets out of life without a few. Sometimes it feels as if I have more than most. Maybe that’s a sign I’m getting old. In my defense, being introspective and reflective, I find it difficult not to look back at the past, especially since there are far more years behind me than ahead of me. You once told me it’s okay to look at the past, because we learn from it. But I suspect I tend to stare too long. Do that too often and you miss what’s in front of you.

Yet I’ve found a measure of happiness, having gotten remarried nearly three years ago. You and Mom would love her. Her name is Colleen and she’s part Polish, which should please you, and I can honestly say she’s getting my best.

Say hello to Mom for me, will you? And tell her your baby boy misses you both.

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