Updated: Sep 12, 2021
As I was visiting my wife's family in Massachusetts due to a death in the family winter of 2017, I was awaken to a true story of long love and family values. These people were just like me and you but they made a extraordinary life. HBO never met them. CNN never interviewed them but for generations to come they will be remembered in their families. Similar to a solider giving his life for his country these people made a life and legacy of family.
Some of the greatest people in the world are your neighbors. They are ordinary but they have extraordinary lives. Maybe they don't have a Cadillac Escalade but they have their valuables else where. Most of the time people’s investments are unseen. The valuables they have are in their heart, filled with memories of friends, families, and neighbors.
The greatest gift you have to impact someone is your story.
When we attended my wife’s grandmother‘s viewing I watched people pouring in to pay their respects. These people walked with Josie week after week, year after year. There were many hours spent together. I have heard it said it takes 160 hours to get to know someone. I’m sure that is a small estimate on invested time.
Today you are making history. Building a story before people's eyes. What will be your past?
What will people remember about you? As I was in the funeral procession I thought man we work hard doing a lot of things daily but we will all have a funeral procession one day. It won't matter the numbers of cars, the length of the procession, all that will matter is if you truly lived. If you truly loved. Whether you left your imprint on earth.
I want to open a story to you about a couple named Josie and Perry, my wife’s grandparents.
Josie (grandmother) didn't give Perry (grandfather) a chance at first but Perry continued on. As they grew together they built their life on family. They had 6 kids together and they would walk together daily holding hands In their neighborhood. I’m sure this was their heart to heart time to enjoy each other outside of their responsibilities as parents. In the 63 years of marriage they were both placed in the same nursing home together. Perry actually was able to hold his wife's hand in her last passing days.
One of the kids said growing up we didn't have the best of everything but what we did have, was the best.
The value of family was born in this house. Holidays and events the family would gather to spend time with what was important. Everyone sacrificing to be together. Some flying hundreds of miles, some taking off work to value family. As everyone gathers an awakening happens with each person. They awaken to the true meaning of life which is loving one another in the midst of your differences.
Each person begins to see life is all about family, making memories together, celebrating one another. They realize life isn't about my social media account, my 401k, or my jaguar. When you feel the spirit of family you are never the same. Nothing can fill that space. You begin to prioritize it. Doing this makes you healthy, your family healthy, etc. Life isn't about being rich, being finically independent, or having a 9-5 job. All the things I mentioned are not bad but then in the wrong order is bad. Life is about being in a family forever through it all.
Let’s get back to our story, Perry took care of business at work while Josie was taking care of the home. They went to church regularly together.
Josie was a fiery little one. She would tell you her thoughts quickly. She enjoy playing botce. Guests were always welcome at her house. She would cook and clean at the same time. As she was serving the food she would be cleaning too. She never sat down. Josie had a servant mindset and heart about her. She was a Italian born resident. Every Sunday was the classic Italian spaghetti brewing in that home.
Perry was a man of skilled hands. He worked for General Motors for his Career where he retired with honors. During his career he built by hand the house his kids grew up in. The house he built back in the 50's is still in prime shape today. This couple to me represented “hometown hero’s.”
The thing that sticks out to me today is they were married for 63 years and they passed 62 days away from each other. If I were to look forward at my life I would strive to leave the large shoes they left behind.
I ran across another American love story that would resemble what Perry would have loved to said out loud to his wife at her funeral.
April yurcevic Sheppard writes in her positive outlooks blog:
Today I saw a man, a broken man, standing vigil over his most prized possession. Here was love personified.
When he walked into the room his steps were faulty, but his determination was undaunted. His eyes were fixed upon his destination at the front of the room. A steel grey casket sat under the colored lights. Half of its lid was propped open; the closed half held a spray of vivid, mix-matched flowers adorned with ribbons which read the words “wife” and “mother.”
Upon approaching and without pause, he leaned down and kissed her painted lips, his frail body trembling to keep upright.
So gentle and soft came his words to her. Surely these words were spoken innumerable times, but this time it was shrouded in finality.
“I know you can’t hear me,” he whispered. “But, I love you.”
And his tears fell.
Family visitation was not scheduled for another hour or so, but he had come early. He wouldn’t squander these last few hours. For over 60 years she had been by his side, but it still wasn’t enough. Not near enough.
So, he pulled up a chair and they sat.
A cane on his right side, his deceased wife on his left, he sat sidled up to the casket for nearly an hour. He rubbed her arms and patted her hands. It was if he was comforting her, but the truth was, he was comforting himself.
It didn’t seem to bother him that her skin was cold, her body stiff and rigid; nor did it bother him that she didn’t respond to the words he whispered. Strange as it seemed, this could have been a normal scene from any given evening within their home. Except for the plethora of lavish flora and small gifts sent by sympathetic friends, this scenario seemed completely normal.
When family began to trickle in, he was still sitting there, holding her hand, stroking her hair.
“She looks good, doesn’t she?” he asked when his children approached. Everyone agreed. And they cried.
For nearly five hours he stayed nearby, exhausted, spent, until his body demanded he retire and his mind pleaded for respite.
This man, this devoted man, had shown more grace in his time of grief than many do in times of plenty. I stood by in awe, watching faithfulness on display.
Never had I seen a man so broken, robbed of his happiness by the curse of death. I wondered as I watched him, what would he do tomorrow and the day after that? Today was the easy part. Today she was still here, lying beside him, able to be touched or seen or kissed. Tomorrow, after she is laid deep in the ground, and he returns to their home, what then?
Her things will still be there – the smell of her skin, scribbled grocery lists, her favorite chair, leftovers in the fridge, their bed. Their bed. How does one sleep alone after 59 years of lying next to your best friend? I can’t imagine ever sleeping again.
Today, I witnessed a story of love. And I shall witness it again tomorrow when the story finally ends, and the stage is empty, and the lights go dark.
These couple of stories majorly stole my heart. They reminded me of the brevity of life. I want to be a husband like these men were. I hope as you read this you like myself are challenged to look at life at a new angle. Look at your family at a new angle. Maybe even extend some grace to each other that’s probably long overdue. Reset the internal compass on what really matters. We need each other and at the end of our lives we will deeply miss the good times we had together.