Thursday, May 21, 2009


Last weekend was, in its way, Memorial Day for me and my family. We spent the weekend remembering Dad, in three different, but appropriate ways.


We got up early Saturday (early for Emily, at least) and packed Mom, my sister Bobbi, and my niece Emily into the van and took a road trip to Maryland. Not normally the kind of thing we'd do (I like sleeping in as much as the next person), but this was a little bit special. We were headed down to the Hilltop Fruit Market. Nothing fancy about it, just a roadside market, but it was a place Dad used to take Mom (and Bobbi and Emily from time to time) as an excuse to take a nice leisurely drive through some wonderful country. It was about the journey, not the destination. I'd known they used to take drives down to this place, but had never gone with them, so I didn't know where it was or how to get there. Mom couldn't remember the name of the place, but gave a really good description of it. I found out through a friend where it was, then found some directions for it. Instead of taking those, I took a look at a map and asked myself, "Which way would Dad go?" Well, knowing him, there were probably at least 3 different ways to go, with another 5 in reserve. I picked the most obvious one, and off we went.

I wasn't sure what the drive would be like, especially for Mom. Would it be sad for her? Bittersweet? As we drove down, I imagine all of our thoughts drifted to thoughts of Dad from time to time- 'what would it have been like to come with them?' 'I remember the last time we came down' 'I remember the first time we saw that place, all those years ago'... but it never felt like those thoughts were oppressing, or taking the enjoyment out of the trip. Instead, it felt like he was there with us, or maybe in the next car over. We talked about things they'd seen on different trips with Dad down there, about the scenery, the towns, or whatever- it was just another family trip. Partway down, they talked about seeing Nemacolin, a fancypants resort, one time. I was pretty sure we wouldn't see it; I felt bad, since I wanted to take them the way Dad would, I wanted it to be like when he drove.

I shouldn't have worried; sure enough we passed Nemacolin about 20 minutes later. The rest of the day was a lot of fun. We passed a horse and wagon train- I don't know what else to call it; it was in celebration of Pike Days or something like that. Plenty of people on horseback and in horse-drawn carts, some of them authentic, some of them looking like giant-sized Radio Flyers. We got to the Hilltop Fruit Market (after asking directions from a nice kid who essentially pointed and said 'look that way') and loaded up on an insane amount of bulk candy (my sweet tooth is genetic, thank you) and some veggies and sundry other stuff. We stopped for lunch at that quintessentially American site, McDonalds. And we took a drive through Nemacolin on the way back (though I drove through kind of fast before they could figure out the Dodge Caravan didn't fit in with the Hummers and BMWs...). It was a great time, fun and relaxing, spent with the family.


Saturday was about our family remembering Dad and what he did for us. Sunday was about remembering and honoring what he did for others, and for his country.

After chuch, we drove over to Harmarville for a memorial service hosted by CORE. CORE is the Center for Organ Recovery & Education- they are a non-profit group dedicated to helping promote organ donation and transplants. They get involved whenever someone needs a transplant- they help find donors for those in need, and help make people aware of the tremendous good that can come from signing up to be a donor.

We first learned about CORE shortly after Dad passed. Someone from their offices contacted us to let us know that they might be able to use some organs or tissue from Dad's body, and would we be willing to make that donation? Mom and Bobbi didn't even hesitate: "If your Dad can still help someone, then he will." We were surprised they even contacted us, actually; Dad was 78 years old, and in very poor shape.

Days passed, and we would occasionally wonder what had come of that phone call. Had they just decided they couldn't do anything, and didn't want to tell us? What had happened? About a week or so later, we received a letter in the mail: CORE had in fact been able to use tissue from Dad's body. It made perfect sense. Why would something like Death stop him from helping someone?

And so, almost a year later, we found ourselves at 'A Special Place' Ceremony. It's not so much a Memorial as a Celebration, for all those donors and their families, whose tragedies were instead turned into triumphs for so many others.

I wasn't sure what to expect; I figured maybe a couple hundred people would be there. Instead, what seemed like thousands were there- I had no idea so many would attend. And I learned that it wasn't just the donor's families who'd showed up; there were many recipients who'd also shown up. There were speeches from CORE members, thanking the families for the donations, for giving that gift to save lives. There was a speech from a man who looked through the grief of losing his only child to help others, and from a man who, thanks to two donors, was able to see again. Finally, two people spoke about the impact donation had on their lives: a woman's sister died in a fall, and her liver was donated to save the life of a man. Some years later, the families decided they wanted to meet because, as the woman put it, "she just wanted to make sure he was okay."

At the end of the ceremony, there was a balloon release, one balloon for each of the donors:

The next picture was a few seconds later. The circle you see towards the top of the picture is a circular rainbow; it was around the sun for almost the entire time of the ceremony:

As we were sitting, waiting for the crowds to thin, a woman walked up to us and said "Thank you for your donation. Because of someone like you, I got a kidney transplant. That was 21 years ago." That simple statement made me so thankful, and so proud.

Our next trip was to the local American Legion, Post 980. They have a Memorial Day service every year, to honor those Legion members lost in the past year. They have it a week before Memorial Day because, as they said "We want people to remember the reason for Memorial Day." It was a great service, as I would expect nothing less from these men- they were there for Dad to pay tribute at the funeral home and at the cemetery. One of the men at the service read the names of those who'd died in the past year- sadly, it took all too long. Near the end of the ceremony, the honor guard fired a salute:

I looked around at these old men, and the young men and women, and listened to what they had to say, about duty, and honor, and America, and comradeship, and love. I was filled with such pride- not just for Dad, and his humble sacrifice- but for all of these people, who gave so much not only for their families and friends, but for their entire country. To know that, even in these cynical and jaded times, there are those who will stand and fight for our country- for the ideals our country represents, for the flaws in our country, for the hope that we can rise above those flaws-

It was an honor to be in the company of such people. It is an honor to know my Father was such a person.

That was Sunday.

This weekend, as you kick back and enjoy the idea of not working, eating hot dogs, and the idea of the Penguins continuing their winning ways, please take a moment or two to think about those who serve- not just in the military, but all those people who serve others, by teaching, by protecting, by healing, by parenting, by supporting, and those who serve, and save, even though they're gone.

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