Goodbye Doesn’t Mean Forever

I wrote this post 3 years ago, in February of 2013.  David and I had been married that December and were especially thrilled that David’s dad, Dave, was able to stand beside him in the ceremony as Best Man.  We lost Dave on January 28th, barely a month later, to his battle with cancer.  

He was a great man, and the Dave-shaped-abyss he left in our worlds is enormous.  I’d like to share my tribute to him, one more time, today – the day that would have been his 82nd birthday.  He is so very greatly missed.

Re-posting from February 4, 2013

Last week, my father-in-law, Dave, passed away.

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He valiantly fought third-stage, non-small cell lung cancer for fourteen months, holding his ground through a debilitating regime of radiation and chemotherapy.

Ultimately, damage to his lungs from COPD did him in; snatching him from us with little warning and brutal speed. There was barely time to make the calls.

The whole family flew in from California, Michigan and Florida. They surrounded his bed and held his hands as he crossed over. Although he never fully woke from the heavy sedation, I know he knew they were there, and I know that made him happy. He was all about his wonderful family and each and every one of them is a living testimonial to him: in looks (I have determined there are no adopted Strohmans), personality and character.

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I was privileged to know him only a brief time, but it didn’t take me long to realize the person he was.

He was a man of high integrity and great spirit, with a story for every occasion. A man of wit and a jubilant jokester, he delivered a punchline with rapier grace.

A thoughtful and thinking man, he remembered the names of all who touched his life, no matter how briefly.

A decorated Air Force veteran, he traveled the world from Africa to China and beyond, parlaying his military experience into a career building nuclear power plants and submarines. He was so in demand for his skills and expertise that the company he worked for, Bechtel, lured him twice out of his well-earned retirement to construct or refurbish critical plants.

His greatest pride was his family: Linda, his beautiful wife of fifty-seven years; his five children, eleven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren: all to whom he was a living legend, a loving patriarch, the font of most knowledge, and the best friend and dad in the world.

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He didn’t give a fig for the socially prescribed rites: the somber funeral; the weepy, graveside service. Instead, he wanted a huge party, with everyone wearing crazy hats from his vast collection of brims, bonnets and chapeaus; telling tall tales and remembering him with joy.

His lifelong motto was adamantly (and famously), “No Whining,” and he was determined to go out the way he lived, with humor and grace.

We decided to honor him with a celebration of life at the family home in Augusta, so everyone could come together to venerate his legacy. In the days leading up, as people poured in from all parts, each contributed in their own way.

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The grandchildren, cousins and sons-in-law set up the tent, dragging out chairs and tables, hanging twinkle lights, draping everything with colorful vintage linens and filling the room with all the flowers and plants sent by loved ones. Vicky, Debbie and Cindy, David’s three sisters, cooked and baked for days, making pies, brownies and a massive chili bar with every kind of topping and condiment imaginable.

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Aunt Kathi, Cousin Christa and I spent hours going through my mother-in-law Linda’s enormous archive of photographs. We plucked digital memories like a bouquet of blossoms, savoring the brightest and sweetest, printing them for decorations and assembling clips and pictures for my husband, David; who composed a brillant video tribute to his father, full of images, favorite songs and soundbites from years of family movies.

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Moment arrived and all gathered, fighting tears and hugging each other close, we revered his memory, acknowledging the enormous Dave-shaped hole in our homes and hearts and lives. With food and drink, laughter and song, jokes and stories, we poured out our love to him and each other.

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Linda is a member of the Red Hats, an organization of ladies dedicated to living their lives to the fullest. In an amazing gesture of  loyalty, that day at 3 p.m., hundreds of Red Hats from all over the country raised a glass of Vodka and Diet Sprite, Dave’s favorite drink, and released balloons into the heavens.

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We, too, set loose balloons and toasted Dave. Each of us bid him adieu in their own fashion: a final salute to husband, dad, father-in-law, uncle, grandfather, neighbor and friend.

As the colorful globes soared into the vast blue sky, I remembered a line from a favorite book, Richard Bach’s Illusions.

“Don’t be dismayed by goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.”

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It might be goodbye, but that doesn’t mean forever. Farewell and fare well, dear friend, until we meet again. Our love travels with you.

I Carry Your Heart with Me

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go)
– E.E. Cummings

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March 3, 2009: my friend Nykoyen Ekpoudom passed away from a venous thromboembolism, a blood clot in major vein in her leg that broke loose and traveled to her lungs.  It was unheralded and lightning fast – she lost consciousness and fell walking out of her office building in Manhattan. She never woke up.
I never got to say goodbye.

2758_81508697560_3302354_n I can’t believe it’s been six years.

I think about her a lot.

It stuns me that she never got to meet one of the other most important people in my life; my husband, David. She would have approved and having her approval was a big deal.

She would have a lot to say about my current career ambiguity (probably unsolicited.)  She would want to know about the plan I should be working on.

Were she here, she would read every single blog that I write.  She would give thoughtful feedback.

She would covet my new black boots.

She was the kind of friend you just talked to.  About anything.  Goofy or funny or crazy or scary or serious. Good or bad.  And yeah, if you were being an idiot, you could count on Nyk to gently bring that to your attention, but in a “get your *#%^ together – you’re better than that” kind of way. 10400076_68006197560_4408826_n copy Friends serve so many roles in your life – each one is unique and has a different place in your heart.

Nyk was unabashedly my Partner-in-Crime.  We were “sisters from another mister” – almost always up to something. Flirting with some hot boy, crashing a happenin’ party and commanding the room; shopping for completely unnecessary footwear, tossing down a Cosmopolitan or two three.

Off on some crazy adventure in Texas or California or New York.

Sometimes, there was karaoke. 2758_81508712560_1429340_n She was an brilliant business woman, strategically on-point for a stellar international career. Her goal was to always honor her family and her heritage.  She wanted to bring change to her corner of the world.

She would have.

She liked to grab all her girls, weave through the crowds in whatever bar and dance like a dervish in front of the band. She had a thing for drummers.

She had a razor sharp brain, an appreciation for happiness and a deeply kind and generous nature.  She saw the best in people – their true potential. She possessed a rich and rare sense of humor.

2758_81518087560_4352294_n When she traveled, she always packed too many shoes.

She dazzled like a diamond in a sun beam, illuminating every room she walked into.

She would order the craziest combinations of food.  Baked plantains, pickles, french fries and sweet and sour meatballs.  Chili-covered “death” dogs, topped with peppers and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers, drowned with diet coke.

She always had my back.

She was my friend.

My life moves on, skirting a Nkoyen-shaped hole in the world.

I miss her. nyk I carry her in my heart.

Toast Masters

Last Sunday would have been my father-in-law’s Dave’s 81st birthday. He was a wickedly funny, mischievous, brilliant, vibrant, joyous, jovial gentleman and his loss has left a huge hole in our lives.

While it can’t make up for him not being here with us, each year we’ve tried to come up with a special way to celebrate his day and his memory.

For this February, we decided on a nationwide international coffee (or beverage of your choice) toast with friends and family.

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David and I were in Augusta, visiting his mom, Linda, so we started the morning with our java tribute to Dave with special mugs depicting the logo from one of his favorite submarines, the Haddock. We all have official Bechtel mugs from the company where he worked, but we forgot to bring them, so we printed out submarine logos and taped them to plain white mugs.

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Over in Birmingham, my sister, her husband and my niece Livvy, made a toast with slushies!

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Over in Chelsea, my parents chimed in with a jug of vino!
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In California, my husband’s sister, Debbie and her husband Joe raised a coffee salute:

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along with Debbie’s son (Dave’s grandson) Joey and his wife Jessica!
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And across the pond in England, Debbie’s daughter Alison hoisted a cuppa!

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Sister-cousin Patti proffered the coff in Huntsville, Alabama.

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And in Michigan, sister-cousin Christa re-branded Dave’s favorite beverage, in a toast that was a tonic to her feelings.

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So here’s to Dave: best husband, Dad, G’Pa, uncle, father-in-law and friend:  We miss you but you are always part of us. And there is no whining.  We promise.

We love you.

Salute!