My Dad’s Final View – Cliffs in Ireland

So, I went to Ireland the other day.

Yes, it was amazing. Yes, it was a dream come true. But… it was something else.

It was a trip that I was supposed to do with my dad. Well, at least until he passed away in a motorcycle accident a year and a half ago.

The trip was amazing though and my dad would have thoroughly enjoyed every single last bit of it… except the driving part. He would have definitely hated that. But… other than that it would have been a perfect trip for him. 

My wife and I decided to do something a little different. We took him with us on the trip.

Not in his angelic form… because he looks ridiculous in a diaper and he doesn’t know how to play the harp.

Not in the ashes form… because he is laying down next to my mom in a grave in Ohio right now.

No… we took his picture. A subtle reminder of the trip we weren’t able to do the way that we had planned. But… one that he was with us anyways.

The final day we went to the Cliffs of Moher. I believe that it would have been the highlight for my dad. Six straight days from Dublin to County Clare went by like a flash, but the Cliffs get stuck in your brain. They are spectacular… and I know that my dad would have loved them.

So, we dropped him off. 

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You know… losing your dad is never easy. I have lost both my mom and dad now and sometimes feel like an orphan. However, I know that I am not alone and my parents did the best job they could with me. I am who I am because of what they did in my life. 

So, my dad deserved someplace special. Yes… it was sad… and has been sad the last year and a half… 

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But, we smile. Sometimes we hide tears behind glasses and sadness behind smiles. But, we move on. We continue the journey of life and take what has been given and do the best that we can with it.

For my dad, he left me looking at a beautiful life that I can only have because he never stopped loving me and believing in me. I have been unlovable many times, but he never gave up and I won’t ever stop striving to live the best life I can to bring glory to God and the memory of my parents. 

Today, my dad is smiling upon one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

Want to see what he’s looking at? Enjoy a little bit of his view…

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Slainte Dad… I will always love you!

GP

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Sitting Shiva… Bulldogs and Bullet Shells

So, I led my dad’s funeral service… again.

If one time wasn’t hard enough, I did it twice. This time, however, I wasn’t alone. The flesh that had housed my father for over 60 years was nestled in the corner… in a box… that has become his final resting place. He laid there void of soul… yet, I sought to bring him back to life.

With words, I sought to speak his soul back into existence. With my voice, I tried to create his presence one last time…

I don’t know if anyone else felt that… but I did. I felt him there. Not the man in the corner, but the spirit in our hearts and the memories in our minds. He was there with us. He was there.

The funeral director was a blessing… quirky and kind. He did everything he could to give us all that we needed to make the ceremony perfect… but couldn’t deliver when it came to technology. I looked at him and said… 

“So, what kind of technology do you have.”

He looked confidently back into my eyes and said, “We have a CD player.”

Long awkward pause as I looked at him… No, I was looking through him.

He smiled. 

“Uh… yeah. What else? Do you have a TV?”

“Nope. We have a CD player.”

The 21st century just collided with the 20th century and I remembered that I was back in Ohio. 

Needless to say, I went shopping. After purchasing cords and a projector and some speakers… we were ready to go.

The day of the service came and there is nothing that I have ever HAD to do that I looked forward to LESS than this. I dragged my feet… I took an extra long shower… I buttoned my shirt slowly… I finally fell in the car seat and made the drive. As I pull into the parking lot, I see that people are waiting for me.

I am nearly 40 minutes early and people are waiting for me. 

I get out of the car and say “Hello”. I grabbed my bags and turn towards the funeral home. The door opens and my quirky friend’s assistant is there to greet me. I walk in the foyer and look at the closed door that leads to the actual room.

I look at the door again. It’s closed. I want it to stay closed. I want to turn and run away. But… I don’t. 

He opens the door. I know what is waiting for me on the other side of the door. I move through the opening and speak in a hushed tone. 

“Don’t let anyone else in until I say so.” 

“Of course.” He closes the door behind my family and I while he stands like a British soldier guarding the Palace. 

I look at the corner. There he is. Open casket. Flowers perched on his bottom half… hands tucked beneath covers… mouth wired shut – flat and emotionless. Just like how I thought I should feel… but, I didn’t feel that way. I look to my son. 

“You ready?”

We walk as a unit, my wife and son and I. We stand there staring down at the open box. I talk to my son about finality. I ask him how he is doing. My wife watches as a tear falls down her face. We stand there. I glance at the flowers and then over at the flag and then at my dad’s face. It is… was… his body. He has moved on. He wasn’t with me anymore and this box is not how I wanted to remember him… so my eyes dart. But, this box was part of the process… so we stood there and paid our final respects.

I look at the bulldog guard who is perched by the door. “It’s time”. I mouth it with a quick upward shake on my head. The doors open and people begin to come in. Fifteen minutes before the official viewing is open and people are already shuffling in.

Some drove from Kentucky… others Tennessee… others from right down the street. There were cousins and brothers and friends and neighbors. There were young and old, but they were all impacted by my dad. We even had a Lieutenant Colonel from the Pentagon… (yeah… I didn’t see that one coming either). 

All in all… my dad touched a lot of people’s lives and they were going to take advantage of this moment to honor him. And… in honoring him, they truly honored me.

I spoke. We laughed. We cried. Friends and family shared their memories and stories and it was truly a time of healing. I was able to meet a man who saw my grandfather die and he recounted all the details with me. (If you want to know more, read this post). I heard about my grandpa… the hero.

With a flag laid over his coffin, myself and 5 other special men carried my dad’s body to the hearse. It was:

Herb Kenter (my dad’s best friend)

Chuck Kenter (a close family friend for many years)

Shawn Kenter (another close family friend for many years)

Roger Smith (my best friend growing up)

David Hintz (my dad’s brother)

At the gravesite, there were many people waiting for me. Dressed in uniforms with rifles shining… they waited for us. A long line of cars pulled into the graveyard and worked their way to the tent where we stood. I helped bring my dad’s body out of that hearse and we laid him down under the tent. I took a few steps back as the people gathered and I let the soldiers take over.

I can’t explain in words right now what this ceremony meant to me… but I may in a future post. Let me simply say that it was the most powerful and honoring thing that I have ever been a part of. They spoke. They gave him a 21 gun salute. They played taps. They folded his flag and placed it into my arms. The commander saluted me and I returned it. I was then given the bullet casings from the 21 gun salute. I cherish them as much as I do the flag.

Those bullet casings mean something. They were filled with something at one point. They were filled with energy and have accomplished their purpose on earth. They are but a shell today… but a shell that reminds me of the most powerful moment of my life. A reminder of something far deeper than the actual metal casing… a reminder of my hero. 

Life is sort of like that… isn’t it. Each of us will be a spent casing one day. Each of us  will have accomplished our purposes on this earth and we will be done. However, we would have given each person who was part of our life a memory… or a casing… to remember. These memories point back to the purpose of our lives and live on far longer than we do. 

I want to leave casings… like my dad did. I want to leave memories… like my dad did. I want to touch lives and be able to say that my purpose was accomplished. Not only in what was given in the moment, but in the casings that lay scattered on the floors of those that I know and love.

My life is littered with the casings of others. People, who even in this season of my life, have changed me. Those who have loved me. Those who have stepped up to help carry the burden in these long days. I simply want to thank you and ask you to keep pulling that trigger in my life and I will commit to pull the trigger in yours. Together… we can make an incredible difference and leave casings littering the floors of each other. 

Thank you for Sitting Shiva with me.

GP 

Sitting Shiva… Heroes, Folding Flags and a 21 Gun Salute

So, I guess I get a flag.

At least that is what I’ve been told. I hear that is what happens when a “hero” dies.

They use the word “hero” because my dad fought for his country and I am glad that they will honor him in his death. They will send out men with guns and shoot fake bullets into the air. They will salute and they will hand me a flag. And… I know that my dad will be smiling down. He was always very patriotic and was proud to have served his country.

Sometimes, on holidays like Memorial Day, he would sneak away to a cemetery and visit the graves of the vets. He would look at the flags by their graves and bow his head and pray with moving lips before their headstones. He would finish his prayer and look at the name one last time and mouth these words… “Thank You”.

That was who he was. He was very sentimental and traditional and was a man of honor. I understand why he deserves a flagBut, it is not only because of what he did on a far away shore… but for how he lived his life and the example he set for me.

He was a hero in his marriage.

He was in love with my mom since she was 15 years old. When she was only 17 my dad was drafted into the Vietnam War and was shipped across an ocean where he served his country in the 101st Airborne – Artillery Division. However, while he was there fighting, he was given a short leave… a small window to escape the jungle and the turmoil that raged around him to find solace in the arms of the one he loved. The only problem is that she was not yet 18, her mom didn’t like him, and she was still planted firmly in the United States of America.

But… as my dad would often quote from one of his favorite shows… “The A-Team”.

“I love it when a plan comes together.”

The plan was simple. My mom would run away from home days before her 18th birthday with my dad’s brother. They would hop on a plane to Hawaii where my dad would be there waiting. My mom would turn 18 in Hawaii and then… in a Catholic Church in Waikiki… they would tie the knot.

I don’t know how they did it… but they pulled it off. My mom made it to Hawaii… but was chased by her mom (my grandma) and her sister (my aunt). They searched all over Hawaii trying to find her… but never did. Instead, Ms. Janice Elaine Stock became Mrs. Janice E. Hintz and the rest was history.

I couldn’t blame my grandma for wanting to stop it. My dad was fighting a war. Her daughter had just turned 18. Statistically… it would never work. But, somehow it did. My parents were happily married until the day my mom breathed her last breath on earth. And… if you knew my dad… you would know that their marriage lasted long past my mother’s death. People come to me now and make statements like…

“Your father sure loved your mom.”

“Your dad still talks about your mom all the time.”

“I watched some of your home movies with your mom in them.”

I would try to coach him to not talk about my mom so much, but it didn’t matter. My mom was with him and part of him and there was nothing that I was ever going to say that was going to change that. I stopped trying.

I now smile when I think of how deep my dad’s love was for my mom. He had something that was so special that many never have the opportunity to experience today. It was true love. It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t always pretty. They had many mountaintop moments and they also shared time in the valley together. There was the moment when my dad was downsized and lost his job and they had to reinvent what life looked like. There was the moment my mom was diagnosed with lymphoma and they had to balance the “good days” with the “bad”. There was the moment they had to say “Goodbye”. My mom from heaven and my dad pressing hard against the earth. But, through it all, I saw a grace and love that I long to emulate in my life.

I saw my hero.

I look back to the moment when his idiot 16 year old son (Yeah… ME) ran away from home and ended up going to Florida from Ohio. I remember getting stranded on a freeway in South Carolina and I remember the long Greyhound Bus ride back to Ohio. I remember getting off a bus… broken and lost with a chip on my shoulder… and I remember who was waiting for me. It was him. In spite of all that I had done. In spite of all the lies and the manipulation and the shame that I had brought upon my family’s name… he stood there waiting for me. Why? To bring me home. I didn’t know it at the time, but when I saw his face as I looked through the bus’s side window…

I saw my hero.

You see, that’s what a hero is. Some believe that a hero is someone who does something for themselves… but that is not a hero. A hero is someone who looks beyond themselves for the sake of another. One who puts the needs of another above their own. One who chooses to sacrifice their wants for the sake of another human being.

My dad did that in the jungles of Vietnam… He did that through the journey of life with my mom… And he did it in a punk kid like myself. He gave of himself for the sake of another. 

I have pictures scattered all over my house. Some are black and white and some are tattered… some are yellowed out and some are crisp as can be. And, as I look at each one of them I realize the similarity that each one of them has. In each of them…

I see my hero.

His name was Al to many of you, but to me… his name is DAD. It always was and it always will be.

He is my hero because of the example he set. He is my hero for the memories he left me. He is my hero because he chose to live his life for something more than just himself… he chose to live for me.

I know that this may sound selfish, but I know that it’s true. When he went to work each day… he did it for his family. When he said yes to the opportunities and no to the temptations that surrounded him each day… he did it for his family. When he looked to the future, he never looked to it solely for himself… he looked for his family.

Now, I look away from the photos and I look in the mirror and I ask what he left behind. I look through the tears to see a mind that has been formed and a soul that has been touched by a hero. I know that many seeds have been planted in my heart over the last 38 years and I know that it is now my job to cultivate the soil of my soul and produce a harvest. To look back and remember the lessons that have been modeled for me… by my hero.

I look forward to receiving a flag and placing it on my mantle for the world to see. I will set it right next to another flag… the flag that my grandfather… my father’s father…  received for being a hero. I will look at both of these flags differently after today. I will see them for what they are… one man’s attempt to honor another. But, I will also see them for what they mean to me. A legacy of heroes passing down the mantle from generation to generation.

With my father’s last breath he passed the baton to me. I am now running the race for my family. I am striving to become a hero. Not for the sake of 21 gun salutes or pats on the back… but for the possibility that my kids will look at a ragged old picture of me one day and honestly say…

I see my hero.

Thanks for Sitting Shiva with me again today.

Blessings,

GP

Start the journey with me from Day 1 or go to Day 5