Memorial Day is a holiday that was originally created to honor deceased soldiers, but has largely grown over the years to honor all deceased people. As a way of commemorating this day, I usually spend some time thinking about what some of the people in my life that have passed on have taught me, and this year, I decided to share five of them with you.
I could easily expand this list with more people – and I might just do it in future years. However, remembering these five and the gifts they gave me in their life and in their passing has filled me with enough emotion to last a month.
I hope that something I do in my life leaves others with something positive in their lives that outlives me. If I’ve done that, then I’ve lived a life worth living.
My grandfather, Johnnie Grandpa passed away when I was seven years old. During the last year of his life, he was very ill and he lived with us for several months near the end of his life. One of my fondest memories of him was watching the 1985 World Series with him in our living room.
I remember how he bore the many pains that the end of his life held for him with grace and dignity. I remember seeing him a few times and knowing that he was in pain, yet he was always able to grab my hand and smile at me with that gently crooked smile of his. I remember that, without fail, he’d save the comics in the newspaper for me, not for anyone else, and he remembered this even through the trials he faced near the end of his life.
He showed me how to face pain and adversity with dignity and grace, something that I’ve tried to do in my own life many times.
My great uncle, Virgil Virgil attacked life with humor and a lust for simply living. He was the type of person who would often stick real truths into the middle of a humorous comment and thus get away with saying things that others wouldn’t or couldn’t.
Virgil was the first person in my life who convinced me that I would actually do something with my life that was different than what my parents had done. Yes, I had the childish dreams of doing things like being an astronaut or a fireman, but it was Virgil that really made me believe I could tread my own path through life.
He showed me that my path wasn’t set in stone and that I could define my own way.
My first cousin, Donnie Donnie was almost exactly my age. We played together quite a lot when we were young and I have several very nice childhood memories that Donnie is a part of.
At age 16, Donnie committed suicide. I remember going to his funeral, almost stunned that someone who had been my age and shared many moments of my childhood with me could just be gone, just like that. It made me realize how mortal I really was.
Perhaps more importantly, it also showed me how your actions can echo through the lives of those you care about. When you hurt yourself or hurt someone else, that action affects a lot of people. It brings them grief and sadness. When you hurt a human being, you almost always hurt a lot of people at once, whether you see it or not.
My great grandmother, Elva All of my memories of this lady come from the final twenty or so years of her life, when she lived alone in a house well into her upper eighties. She was stubbornly independent and absolutely insisted on doing things for herself, often pushing herself to complete exhaustion in an effort to just do it herself.
I remember often wondering how this little old lady managed to keep her home clean, feed herself and keep food in the refrigerator, send an endless supply of letters to friends and family members, keep up with the hockey season (she was a Wisconsin girl and liked hockey her whole life), and all of the other things she did. She seemed so small and frail until you talked to her and watched her take care of things.
Her bravery and desire for independence was infectious, to say the least.
My uncle, Kenny Kenny passed away from a liver condition several years ago. More than anyone else, Kenny showed me that it’s okay to be whoever you are, no matter the seeming consequences.
Kenny’s life rejected so many of the expectations people had for him, from beginning to end. He truly did things his own way and he realized that the people that really mattered would stick with him throughout it.
It was because of Kenny that I’m not really ashamed of anything I do. I am who I am, and take me for that. The people that matter in my life certainly do take me for who I am.