The Passing of the Torch
In honor of Dad, John F. Walker Sr. A humble and distinguished man who lived his life honestly, demonstrating integrity, character and love – He showed us the way through life with his torch light. He’s passed his torch, I try to follow his example in my life – Love and miss you everyday.
I recently read a post of a eulogy for a man who recently lost his father. My own father passed away a number of years ago but it is still an emotional touch stone. An old friend just lost his Dad, we spoke about it the other night.
We spoke of course of his Dad and memories of days gone by, his general manner, style. We spoke of the nature of this particular loss, the loss felt over a parent, especially the loss a son feels when his father passes.
There are seminal moments in every man’s life that etch themselves indelibly into your memory. You can see this clearly in any person with Alzheimer’s Disease. People with this disease will recount days past as clearly as if they’re happening that very moment, they perceive people who left a mark on their consciousness so vividly.
My own aunt had this terrible disease and often asked her long time spouse when her Dad and brother would arrive. They had both died many years earlier but she could still recall the memory so vividly that she would tell stories about them and laugh as if it happened days before. She was confused, why had they chosen not to come? During her life interaction with her beloved family etched itself so deeply into her mind, even this awful illness could not erase.
The special relationship shared with parents is different than others, their passing is acute, the burden of this grief can be very difficult
This terrible event (A parent’s passing) is ushered in with doctors and lawyers usually, signing paperwork and putting things in order you never even knew existed to certify the next steps. There are legal papers needed to be filed to prove, without any question, your loved one has indeed died. Then every single person, your beloved owes so much as a nickle, quickly forms a line to get it.
After such time the appointed person or agency presiding over this matter decides all the debts are paid you get what your parent or parents worked for their whole lives. Not so fast says Uncle Sam, you owe me your inheritance tax, surprised you comply and pay Uncle Sam. Thinking now your troubles are over and you can get on with your mourning. Not so fast, Uncle Sam exclaims again, you have to pay tax on the income you received from that money I just took the other tax from, last time we talked.
You agree (again) and pay more taxes. Your now free to grieve, and mourn or are you? Not so fast says a realtor, you need the sell your childhood home or keep paying the mortgage, to do that, you need to go through all the boxes full of cards and letters, family vacations, gifts you made in grade school and get rid of what’s not important. Then take away what’s valuable, you make decisions – who gets what – if you have siblings. Then you grieve right? Not so fast says, some family member, Dad said he would give me that or I’m attached to that, etc…
During times like these the world conspires against you, as if no one wants to give you space to breath, take in the enormity of the tasks at hand and make the mental adjustments.
you’re now the standard bearer for your family, you’ve been handed the torch – now “Man of the House” – you’re the parent now not the child. You feel a sense of dread in this moment, knowing someday your children will have to go through this too, when you pass the torch.
I can say without hesitation, in my case, I did not have a difficult time with regrets or angry siblings fighting over a chair or table. Oddly we separated all the material things without any disagreement at all very quickly and sold my parent’s house in two weeks. The hard part was the letting go. Every scrap of paper I threw away felt like a betrayal against my parent’s. It must have been important to them because they saved it for some reason in this box or on that shelf.
Every Christmas card and letter felt like a sacred text that came down from the mountain, etched in stone by the hand of the divine maker himself. For me it was so daunting, I just could not deal with it and rented a large storage unit, literally put it off for three years. Up until the time of this article writing there are still boxes in my basement I could not empty.
Stages of grief in psych 101, turn out to be very real
After you get through many difficult tasks and copious paperwork and administration, you’re allowed to celebrate the life of this person and honor them. Usually in the majority of my friends this happens with some ceremony or funeral rights.
Now you’re really in for it, this is when it all becomes real. All those photos you so treasured, from those boxes you emptied, your life on display. These are going on display for your fiends and family, maybe in a multi-media slide show or apple movie! This fills your heart with a lot of those emotions from the moments you cherished and shared and the certain knowledge that you will not share any more. For me these days were like a symphony with every member playing in his own key. The feelings and mixed emotions come in waves. The strange thing is you fear this day and dread it’s coming but when it arrives it is the best part of this process. There are usually many people you know and love to offer consolation and most importantly to show just how valid this feeling of loss and longing is. How beloved and missed your family member will be to them. Its a testament to the life they lived and it really makes you feel better. You feel that love and take it in and it washes over you and soothes your soul.
If you have a father that was a veteran, the roller coaster of emotions you feel during military honors is indescribably heart rendering. Your heart melts with pride, and as the coronet player sounds taps with that horn the loss hits your heart like a hammer ringing a bell.
“On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Navy and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”
When these words are spoken they have a profound, lasting effect on you. A military funeral, as ceremonies go, is about as simple and direct an affair as you could ask for. But every movement has been perfected by the unfortunate practice having been repeated so many times in our history. Every moment of the ceremony is poignant. It’s an honor that fills you with pride and a remarkable spectacle – impossible to capture with words.
You recognize at once the solemnity of this ritual and the profound nature of every word and deed. The sounding of taps is haunting, even today, many years after my dad’s passing I’m transported back in time to the sailor who stood at the door of the chapel to play taps for my Dad. When I look at his warriors heart contained in the folded flag, on display in my home, I think of him – proud of his selfless service.
Getting back to the roller coaster of feelings, the heart swell of this ceremony and heartfelt love you feel at the wake and funeral passes away, in short order. You’re left sorting and sifting through your lives in the form of possessions and memories and when you’re alone you feel the loss most. At least, in my case, I did. It was the moments no one was around, when I would break down. This loss felt exceptional, unlike anything else I had ever experienced, it would creep in when least expected.
In my case my father died when my children were both very young. I felt like my wife was so busy raising our kids, she had a full-plate, my kids were too young to understand what was wrong. I would push down these feelings. I would go out to my car to drive to work, I would make it around the corner and sometimes, stop, just out of sight of my family, to dry tears that would momentarily make it impossible to drive the car. The feelings would flood in waves, torrents all at once that could not be controlled, like water from a broken water main. It was not a drip, drip, drip it was a gusher.
During this stage, the “depression stage” was deeply rooted and heart felt grief and a sense of loss was so profound it felt like any time I allowed myself the luxury of a joyful memory from good days gone by, the well-spring of emotions would surly follow – it would take me away. in my mind, like a tornado picking up Dorothy’s house in The Wizard of Oz.
I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto!
What should I do now? Was a frequent inside voice question asked
Strangely in a similar way to the events in that movie the day does come when the sky clears and somehow life some makes sense again – you figure out how to go on and move forward. Now the joyful stories come forth and you smile and laugh. You feel the loss but experience joy at the same time.
You pull back the curtain … to receive insights into courage
Somehow the madness and tears, confusion and depression clear away and the clouds part and you begin again. Your the parent now, the torch bearer, the family standard holder. If feels strange at first. It does not feel correct, its like new shoes. You were measured, you know they fit in your mind but they take some breaking in to feel like you own them. This new found courage feels about the same, you know you own it and you paid for it but it takes a bit of breaking in.
You have the courage and move ahead, but sadly there’s no medal
Take my word for this, when and if this day comes. You will find a way, you will have the courage, there’s no place like home. There is no man behind any curtain, coming with medals but you will see the rainbow and ride the damn thing to the other side of grief and there will be joy in your heart again. This day will comes, and you feel the earth shift under your feet when you realize it has. You’re the man of the house now and that is OK. You are the parent now and you hold the standard for the family instead of your dad and you earned this honor. I personally like to think, somewhere, there is a divine creator an architect of the universe who knows my heart and planned my life, for better or worse. I needed to take heart, move forward, and become the torch bearer and light for myself and my family.
It’s hard to do but the rainbow is coming – I promise you, when you find the courage in your heart that moves you forward, the rainbow will be there waiting.
While you tell all the stories to your family and friends of wonderful days gone by you once shared with the previous lamp of wisdom in your life. You will laugh again at these stories and they will laugh with you and under a clearing sky – you will again see the rainbow.
***…let us arise and go up to Bethel, I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”
There is one thing I know for certain, none of us get out of here alive. Savor the days you get to share with your family. Time conquers all and will conquer you too.
There is no substitute for saying “I love you, I missed you, I’m proud of you, I’m sorry, I’m glad you’re here”. Don’t wait to say these things, don’t think some thing of value or delight replaces the words and deeds that show you care. Tomorrow is not the best time to say it, today is, right now!
A cynic will promise two things, death and taxes. Have courage because the architect of the universe is waiting to pin that invisible medal for courage on your heart, when he does you will be free to enjoy what ever is over the rainbow. Death if final, but your memories last forever, at least for you they do. Don’t wait to work things out with the ones you love. Things won’t “work themselves out” if you leave well enough alone.
If you want rainbows, you need courage, invisible courage medals are pinned on for merit by universal architects, not for showing up. Show-up, suit-up, shut-up and be brave.
Get through the messy parts of accepting the torch. Grief is as messy process, not a simple one happening on your schedule. It’s a process, with a beginning, middle and end and one that offers beauty and joy over the metaphorical rainbow and what’s better than that?
My friend, I promise, there is a rainbow! Until you get there, remember the heaviest burdens are drawn by teams for a reason. Each member of your team wears their yoke and pulls some of your load, the team is arranged in a determined order – the course is charted to avoid pitfalls and perils. Have faith in the power of your team to pull you through in times of greatest need – that’s what your team is there for. Don’t be downcast the hoop you need to jump through is larger than you think.
Somewhere over the rainbow… this will all make sense. Have faith – it will all work according to plan. All my love to friends and foes alike – we’re in this life together, I don’t want to wait for tomorrow to say I love you and appreciate you all, today.
***POST SCRIPT: The Bethel mentioned in the above bible passage has no relationship to my old buddy, Col. David Bethel – I had to put this disclaimer in or he might think God wrote him into the bible to illustrate the greatness of the Marine Corps. God Blessed the USMC with Col. Bethel who selflessly serves our nation and the Marine Corps – I appreciate your service buddy.
By Andrew Walker – If you liked this article please “like and share” it.
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