Archive for the ‘Story’ category

Dad’s Things

February 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 19, 2018

                                             

It’s a small apartment located at the end of the first floor in the Wyngate Senior Living Complex. Dad has lived there for about the last three years, making new friends and acquaintances with other travelers of life’s final chapters.

Later on today and tomorrow my sister and I will spend some time over there going through some of his possessions, and breathing in the memories.

Dad passed from this life to the next on February 15 at the age of 89 years and 8 months. His was a life well-lived!

His apartment is a testimony to who he was and what had become entwined in his life.

There are the oxygen tanks that testify to his health limitations. Like a changing autumn landscape, I had noticed the changing interior of his apartment when I would come for one of my visits to southern Ohio from Colorado. Medications, the medical supplies a diabetic would need, blood pressure monitor, and (Sorry, Dad!) a good supply of adult diapers, his apartment spoke about that winter season of life that most of us will arrive at.

Scattered through the living room, bedroom, and closet are numerous items with the initials “U.K.” on them. Dad graduated from The University of Kentucky. He was proud of his Wildcats, suffering through many a football season and much happier most basketball seasons. There are UK shirts, hats, mugs, plates, flags, and the 1951 UK Yearbook. He had attended Kentucky after getting out of the Navy, but it wasn’t easy. He had married Mom, welcomed Child #1, our brother, Charlie, and provided for his growing family as he wore the hats labeled student, employee, husband, and father. Things were not easy during his UK years, and yet those years shaped him with the elements of resolve, perseverance, and organization.

Come to think of it, using the word “scattered” to begin that last paragraph would be the antithesis of who Dad was. His apartment is organized. His papers are organized. His cupboards are organized. By golly, his dresser drawers are organized!

There are Rotary remembrances. The service club had been a part of Dad’s life for close to forty years, joining the Ironton, Ohio chapter not long after our family moved to the town in 1969. Service defined Pops! He fit well in the organization that was sewed into the community’s fabric. But he also served the church, served his neighbors, and served our mother in their sixty-five years of marriage. He served as her caregiver in the last few years of her life, and at Wyngate he did those little acts of service. I remember my sister telling me that Dad tutored a woman who lived in the apartment next to him on how to give herself an insulin shot. She was scared to death, but Dad was able to bring down her anxiety about being poked and help her jump over that hurdle.

Pictures and pictures! Photo albums filled with pictures…framed pictures…pictures attached to his refrigerator…pictures with meaning and memories. The pictures give “snapshots” of his journey…family, church, laughter, friendships.

Going through Dad’s things, I realize, is important for my walk of grief. It’s ointment for my aching soul as I cry out for my father to come and sit beside me. Most of the things in his  apartment will end up going to Goodwill or to someone else who needs furniture or dishes, but for now I need to be amongst “his things”. It’s a part of letting go and finding peace.

The Hand Grasp of My Father

February 16, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                February 16, 2018

                             

“Dad, look who’s here to see you!”

I entered his hospital room and caught sight of the elderly man, withered and worn out. His dinner tray, that he hadn’t the least bit interest in, was in front go him. Perhaps a six year old should be made to eat his peas and carrots but not an 89 year old man in his last hours.

He mumbled a few words when he caught sight of me. I think he said, “Well, hi, son!”

And he grasped my hand with firmness and purpose.

That hand had grasped me a number of times over the course of my life. Sometimes it conveyed discipline and disappointment, and at other times it told me of a father’s pride in his son’s accomplishments and decisions.

I remember that hand on the back of the bicycle I was learning to ride. I’d be wobbling like a Saturday night drunk riding it down the sidewalk. Dad would be jogging along behind me keeping me propped up, firmly grasping the back of the seat. From the front it must have looked like a car in serious need of the wheels being aligned, but from the back it was a view of the youngest child taking another step in the long ride of growing up.

“Dad, I can’t get the lawnmower started.”

Dad came out to the garage where I was struggling with the machine. His hand firmly grasped the handle on the end of the pull cord and he pulled. On the second pull the motor took off and he looked at me with a slight smile that non-verbally communicated “You’ve got to put a little muscle behind it.”

“Thanks!” I sheepishly replied.

I remember the grasp of the hand at the end of my ordination service on June 24, 1979. I had just been given the charge to ministry, been prayed over, and congratulated…and then there was Dad’s hand grasp telling me how proud he was of me, but also the importance of the calling.

Last summer we stood in a side classroom of Beulah Baptist Church. The worship service had ended a few minutes before that and there was a woman who had requested that the deacons pray for her. A serious medical condition had been discovered. They invited me to join them in the prayer circle around the lady. I stood next to my father, Deacon Emeritus of the church, grasped his hand, and then listened to him and others pray for the woman. His hand hold was firm, just as his faith in the power of prayer was strong.

Within an hour we held each other’s hands around the dinner table as he prayed for the blessings of God upon our meal and family.

When I would come from Colorado to visit him in the past few years he would reach his hand towards me at meal time, grasp it with care, and pray the dinner grace.

After several minutes in the hospital room he finally releases his grip and allows my sister to feed him the chocolate pudding from his tray. Unlike the peas and carrots he eats all of the pudding. It’s the last food he will partake of, a taste of sweetness that describes the effect of his life on so many others.

Less than a day later he passes on…and it’s okay! Like his hand grasp, he is a man who had a firm grasp on what is important in life.

That last grasp of the hand. I’m extremely thankful that God allowed me to have it. In my memories of Pops i’ll hold on to that moment for a long, long time.

Going To See Dad…Probably for the Last Time!

February 14, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          February 14, 2018

                       

I’m sitting in the Denver airport waiting for an early morning plane that will jet me across the country, hurry me off it in order to find another plane that will then come part of the way back in the other direction. It’s a hard trip, not because of the stress of flying, but rather because of the reason for the journey.

Dad is failing. It’s not unexpected. His second home this past year has been St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia. He’s inching towards his 90th birthday. Each week seems to bring a new health concern. Last week my sister was by his side for a consultation with a hospice counselor.

Today’s flight is punctuated with memories and uncertainty.

I remember how my dad stood by my mom’s side in her final days as the Parkinson’s gradually took away her ability to use her hands and legs, and her ability to speak. It was a painful journey.

I remember his journey to Colorado to attend our youngest daughter’s wedding. While there he brought Lizi to tears with the gift of a special piece of jewelry that had been my mom’s.

Since I didn’t eat breakfast this morning, I’m remembering my dad’s hamburgers. Honestly, I have never tasted another hamburger that rivaled his. Even though I got the recipe and instructions from him I could never come close to the distinctive flavor. When you ate two of Dad’s burgers you were sorry that you couldn’t handle a third!

I remember the sadness we experienced when he couldn’t attend our oldest daughter’s wedding because Mom’s health was not good, but I also cherish the memories of his visit about four years ago and how he bonded with our granddaughter Reagan, who was three at the time. I remember her coming into the house one morning and yelling, “Papaw, Papaw!” She paused for a moment and then she said to me, “I know he’s here. I can smell him!” (His after shave announced his presence.)

As the plane flies through the clouds I can’t see anything around me or below me. It’s a metaphor for Dad’s situation. There is not a clear picture of what is and what will be. Somewhere in front of us the clouds will part and the picture will be seen.

My emotions are close to the surface. A few times this morning the potential for tears was heightened, and yet they haven’t erupted as I expect they will. My father’s best emotion was laughter-laced joy. I can hear the echo of his chuckle as we fly over Kansas. I can see his body shaking in rhythm with the laughter. If it was a story that he was telling for the hundredth time he’d close the tale with his hand slapping his knee in total appreciation for the memory.

Death is not a fear of Pops. He’s prepared himself for it. A number of times over the past four and a half years since Mom passed he has taken the hour and a half drive over to Johnson County, Kentucky to visit her grave. His name is already etched on the grave marker beside her. A few feet away are the resting places of my aunts and uncles, and a wee bit further is where his mom, Grace Wolfe, has long since been lowered into the ground. Dad is ready to once again be laying next to my mother. There is sweetness and love in the known destination, just as there is a mixture of grief and peace within me as I consider what is to come.

Being Deacon Emeritus of his church, Beulah Baptist, death is simply a part of the faith journey. Dad looks forward to the reunion of the saints, and the glory of the Eternal Gathering.

“How’s it going, Pops?” That has been my Sunday night greeting to him for the past several years. “Well, hi, son!”

And we’d talk about this, that, and the other…the ladies at Wyngate (his senior independent living complex where he has resided for three years) who have been giving him the eye and considering the possibilities; the Kentucky Wildcats (he being a UK grad in the early 50’s); the latest fire alarm at Wyngate set off by one of the residents who wanted to cook up some bacon on a Friday night in his apartment; how his friend, Bill Ball, was doing (Bill passed away last August); and the weather.

I’ll miss the way we could make each other laugh, and at the thought of it I can sense the rumblings of the tears rising up.

Last weekend thousands of people attended a funeral in Colorado Springs for Micah Flick, a Sheriff’s deputy who was killed in the line of duty. A father, he leaves behind a wife and twin toddlers. It is a story about the cruelty of life, a senseless shooting by a man who did not value the life of someone else. Micah, in fact, took a bullet to save someone else’s life. He will always be remembered as a hero, even in the midst of tragedy.

My dad’s journey gets placed on the other end of the spectrum, a life that has been longer than anyone expected, a life that will be celebrated with tears of thankfulness and the smiles of many.

Things will not be the same, and that’s okay!

Cutting Kids

February 11, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       February 9, 2018

                                            

Yesterday I posted “the list”! The list is the 13 seventh grade boys who have been invited to be a part of the Timberview Middle School interscholastic basketball team. It’s a list of celebration that had 13 signs of relief breathed upon it.

Not on the list are the 28 others who I had to say “Sorry!” to. Telling seventy percent of the boys that they were cut is worse than a couple of hemorrhoids living side by side…okay, maybe not that bad!

“Cutting kids” is also a life lesson. In every aspect of life there are those who are left off the list. Last spring I applied for a head coaching position for basketball at a local high school. About a week later I received an email informing me that I was not one of the finalists. There was a moment of indignation, but I got over it. Two weeks later I interviewed for another position and was a finalist, but was still not the final pick. In both cases I was not the one. It’s how life works.

For each of the students who tried out for the seventh grade team I did an evaluation that I will willingly share with any of them who ask me. I made the point to those who were not chosen that if they work on specific skills their chances of making next year’s team will improve. Some will make attempts, and others will find other things that may be more of a passion than basketball.

Parents don’t like kids to be cut. In fact, we use softer language as I did in the first paragraph. We “invite” a few students to be on the interscholastic team. If you hear the students talk, however, they will usually use one of two terms. They “made the team”, or they “got cut.”

Some day these same kids will apply for college or submit a resume for a job. When they are rejected I wonder if their parents will correct them and say, “No, honey! You just weren’t invited to take the position!”

Pain and disappointment lead to self-discovery. “I’m sorry to inform you” letters cause adolescents to realize that the world does not spin on their personal axis. If someone is never disappointed he/she will seldom reach for something that is still beyond their reach.

One boy came to me Friday afternoon. He’s a good-sized kid, who I thought would be one of the 13, but his skill deficiencies rose to the surface in the four days of tryouts. “Coach, I was really disappointed when I saw that I didn’t make the team, but I’m okay with it now.” He’s a good kid who I will have in class Monday and Tuesday for the teacher I’ll be subbing for. I told him I’d share my evaluation with him so he can work on a few things. He appreciated that. In the course of a few hours he went from taking it personally to knowing that I care about him. In regards to him, disappointment will make him stronger and cause him to work even harder.

Cutting kids is the hardest thing I do as a coach, and yet one of the most important things I do.

On Monday morning I’ll convince 13 other seventh grade boys that the world does not revolve around them either!

Icing My Shooter

February 6, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              February 6, 2018

                                        

The freshmen boy’s basketball team I coach at The Classical Academy (TCA) In Colorado Springs has been abysmal in their free throw shooting this basketball season. Three of our five losses came in games where we shot under 50% from the foul line.

Before we had played any games way back in November I had challenged one of my players (I’ll just refer to him as “Verle”!) to improve his shooting. Each day in practice we’d do two or three rounds where each player shoots ten free throws and reports their results.

Verle would tell me, “Coach, I made 2 out of 10.”

“Coach, I was 3 for 10!”

Once in a great while it would be, “Coach, I was 5 for 10!”

Finally, one day I said to him, “Verle, if you shoot 90% for the season I’ll shave my head!”

His eyes lit up!

“Really!”

“Really!”

His eyes squinted together, his way of telling me that he was up to the challenge. In my opinion, his look of determination did not change the fact that he was a master bricklayer as a free throw shooter. Quickly he informed all of his teammates of the coach-player bet. They whooped and hollered about it.

Last night we played our 15th game of the season. Verle had not yet shot a free throw all season. In the fourth quarter of a game where we had a comfortable lead it happened. He got hacked!

The one stat that each of my players were aware of was that Verle had not shot a free throw all season. He was zero for zero! There was instant excitement on the bench of what might happen. The junior varsity players waiting behind our bench knew also and they were intently watching.

He stepped to the line, received the basketball, bounced it twice, and then launched. With minimum rotation the ball headed towards the rim. It hit the front of the rim, bounced and hit the back of the rim, and then fell through the basket. My bench erupted. The JV players joined them in the celebration. Verle looked over at me on the bench with the same squinted eyes look.

I called time out!

In basketball a coaching ploy that is often used is called “icing the shooter.” It’s the idea of making the free throw shooter have to think about the difficulty of the shot he/she is about to attempt. If someone makes the first of two shots it’s the idea of getting him away from the spot that feels comfortable for a few moments before he attempts the second shot.

This, however, might be the first time a coach has called time out to “ice” his own shooter. The players gathered around me, and someone told Verle why I had called time out.

“Coach, are you trying to ice me? Coach, I’ve got ice in my veins!”

“Great! Maybe you’ll freeze up on your shot!”

The bench was excited. The JV players were yelling. Verle walked over to the free throw line, cast one more look of determination at me, and readied himself. Behind me on the bench a couple of players were making buzzing sounds to mimic an electric razor.

He shot! Time stood still! The ball hit nothing but net! I put my head in my hands!

The whole bench, plus the JV team all launched into a symphony of electric razor buzzing. Verle gave me the squinted eye look one more time.

Now I must try to get him into another free throw shooting situation in the final four games, but considering it took fifteen games before he attempted his first one that is going to be a tough task. He may come down with a two week flu, or fake a sprained ankle.

I walked into the locker room to the sound of the whole team “buzzing!”

My hair is toast!

Temporary Disfigurement

February 5, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 February 5, 2018

                              

My wife and I went to see the movie Wonder a few weeks ago. We found ourselves shedding a few tears during the film, which followed the story of a fifth grade boy named “Auggie” who had Treacher Collins syndrome. Because of his condition Auggie would wear an astronaut’s helmet around whenever he was in public. He dreamed of being an astronaut because in space no one sees the faces of others.

Ten and eleven year old kids can be cruel, but they can also be compassionate. Auggie experiences both ends of the pendulum as it swung from classmate to classmate.

I was deeply moved by watching the film and pondering its messages. Weeks later I’m still thinking about it!

And then Saturday morning I woke up with a rash on the side of my face that made me want to put on an astronaut’s helmet…or paper bag. By Saturday afternoon I looked like I had a huge chaw of chewing tobacco between my left cheek and gum (Not that I’ve ever done that, but I was born in Kentucky! Half the barns in the state used to have “Chew Mail Pouch” painted on one side!).

The past two days I’ve had a few “Auggie moments”. That is, I’m very self-conscious of my face and I assume that everyone I see is looking at me. There’s a sense of embarrassment tied into it. I don’t feel normal, and normal is what all of us want to be unless we’re doing something that our culture thinks is extraordinary.

Lessons are learned in the abnormal moments of life.

This afternoon middle school boy’s basketball tryouts begin. It’s my seventeenth season coaching at Timberview Middle School, and it’s the seventeenth time I will see the uncertainty of seventh and eighth grade boys as they deal with the uncomfortableness of being watched by coaches and other boys who they feel inferior to. Perhaps God gave me this rash to help me empathize with the pressures of being a twelve year old.

Actually, there’s that hint of uncertainty and inadequacy in any middle school child. With some it just might be a little deeper below the surface, but it’s there. Much of the time he or she simply stays out of situations where it has the potential to rise to the surface.

I can relate. In my few trips out in public the last three days I’ve tried to stay to the left so the left side of my face is away from people. Three months from today I’ll turn 64 and I’m still sensitive to my insufficiencies!

I’m simply a self-conscious adolescent in an elderly shell!

Dressing Like A Lollipop To Fight Cancer

February 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 3, 2018

                         

Cancer has taken a number of my friends. Mike Wilcoxen sat beside me in “home room” my senior year off high school. The next year I went off to college, but Mike succumbed to cancer at the age of 18.

Jim Sweeney, Steve Shaffer, Gary Gowler, Professor Ted Hsieh…my list of cancer victims is far longer than my list of cancer survivors.

And then about fifteen months ago my friend, Greg Davis, 41 years old, passed after a six year struggle with a form of brain cancer.

And so yesterday I taught an eighth grade language arts class at the school where Greg taught social studies for fifteen years, and I wore a pink shirt with the words “Slam Dunk Cancer” on the front of it. In the midst of each class I told Greg’s story, his victories and his struggles. Each class was graciously attentive. It’s interesting that in my second class I got a bit emotional. It suddenly came upon me like a wave of emotional memories and I had to stop for a moment.

Last night at The Classical Academy (TCA) I wore that same pink shirt, but switched to a pair of blue Docker’s, and sparkling white tennis shoes. My basketball team got a kick out of it! There was a sea of pink in the bleachers last night as TCA raised funds to send the kids of cancer victims and survivors to a special camp in the summertime.

We won our freshmen boys game! In the locker room celebration afterwards I told the boys, “This is the last time I come to a game dressed by a lollipop!”

Correct that! I would do it every game if it could help someone struggling with cancer or families that are living with heightened anxiety each and every day. I miss my friend Greg. As I told my classes yesterday, I wore the pink shirt to honor him and to remember him.

Thank God no one came up to me last night and tried to lick me!