A few weeks ago, my beloved had me pick him up from the car repair shop as his vehicle was having a "check engine" light issue. When he got in my car, he asked if we could swing by his brother's house for a bit because he HAD TO meet him at 2:15PM.
His brother - the oldest of 10 - is quite a big wig in the Air Force. A little over a year ago, he retired from the NYS Air National Guard as THE person in charge of over 5,000 service members in the state, which is the nation's largest ANG. His retirement ceremony and the celebration that followed had top enlisted men and women from all over the place, all there to pat "Chief" on the back, celebrate the military accomplishments he had amassed in his almost 38-year career and wish him well in his retirement. At about six feet tall, he looked quite daper in his dress blues with medals and ribbons gleaming and his gig line tight.
But when we arrived at the house, my beloved, Chief's wife and I had to help him get out of the car, up the few stairs in the foyer and into his favorite recliner because he couldn't walk. 2:15PM, I found, was the time he usually arrived home from radiation treatments for a tumor on his spine that was causing the inability to move his legs.
Not that long ago, Chief had had chemo for lymphoma. Although I'm not sure if he ever really went into a remission, you'd never know it from his demeanor. Lovingly stern, he was the anchor of the family and the one all the siblings went to for advice or to share news, both good and bad. His was the voice I heard on the other end of the phone the night he called to tell us that their father passed away. He was also the one who had put together the specifics for a family cruise this October, setting up the travel agency handling the arrangements and emailing his family members information on what to do to reserve their spots. Vibrant and full of life, he went from military fit to walking with a cane, then walking with two canes, needing a walker and finally a wheel chair - all in about a month.
Last week, my beloved and Chief's son moved his bed, wardrobe and recliner down stairs so he could get to them without having to tackle the stairs of his split-level ranch home. It was becoming more difficult for him to assist with his arms when he was being helped from one part of the house to another. So all the while I was pouting about being unable to train for karate because of an achy achilles, Chief and his immediate family were dealing with that.
Monday night, my beloved called to let me know he was going to be late for dinner because he was en route to the hospital. Seems Chief had had some difficulty breathing and they were heading to the emergency room via ambulance to see what was going on. By the time they got there, Chief was in a lot of pain. They gave him morphine to help ease it. He passed away not long after.
Only 61, he had a lot of life left to live. A husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend to so many, he left quite a mark during the time he was here. As I helped his wife, son and my beloved put together his obituary for the newspaper, that was the thing that stood out the most.
We looked through dozens of military pictures to find just the right one for his funeral service program. Not one for smiling when he was seated in front of the flag in his uniform, he always told the photographer that he needed to take at least one with his pearly whites showing so his wife wouldn't be upset. The one above was chosen because of the serene look into the camera with only the slightest hint of a smile. It seemed to fit.
Yesterday, his wife showed us a picture the two of them had taken together on a recent vacation. Chief wore a pair of shades and a hat to sheild his head from the beach sun. He was hugging his wife and had the absolute biggest smile on his face. That seemed to fit, too.
I'm sure he's smiling now - and will be tomorrow as his family and friends gather to remember his life and be with others who will miss him greatly. Perhaps it will be as celebratory as his retirement gathering last year was. Hopefully, after the tears have subsided a bit, we'll be smiling as well, remembering Chief's life and how vibrantly he lived it.
Rest in peace, Chief...