Sunday, June 20, 2010

With These Hands

In late June of 2008, my beloved Father-In-Law died unexpectedly. He, at nearly 92, while trying to aid someone in need, fell and broke his hip. He later had surgery and died several days later. I believe that he died as he lived, serving others and giving his all with no thought of whether it was prudent or not. He was entirely focused on serving others along the way.

We got the call in the middle of the night that he was in respiratory failure. By the time we reached the hospital, he was gone from this world and in the presence of Jesus. We, my husband Mike, his sister Christine and I went to break the news to my Mother-In-Law, Edith at her home. When we told the caregivers there that Mike was gone, many of them burst into tears of shock and sorrow. He had been a vibrant, active man, and that he was gone was beyond comprehension to those who had so lovingly cared for him. The outopouring of love and compassion was a testimony to the impact he had on so many.

The family had lost their patriarch, a husband, a father, a grandfather and a friend. There were services to plan, legalities to be attended to, a house to sell , financial considerations to be made and Edith to be cared for and comforted. All of that threatened to overwhelm us even months later. The sorrow was still new, the wounds still fresh. We are still learning to live on earth without his presence. He is sorely missed and still in our thoughts daily.

Mike was a strong man with an infectious smile, a twinkle in his eye and enormous hands. With those hands, he spent his life serving others. He provided for his family by working whatever jobs necessary to be certain that their needs were met. He worked in a glass factory, enlisted not once, but twice, in the military during war time and traveled the world as a result. He delivered milk at the crack of dawn on the icy roads of Pennsylvania and, later, dry cleaning, on the freeways of Southern California. He once had a failed business venture with his brother, but, bounced back by creating opportunities where there weren't any to be found. He ended his full time work life selling furniture at Sears until he retired and took on a new, self-made career, that of a handyman. His focus was never on personal satisfactin but instead on doing whatever it took to provide for his family.

He worked for years into his retirement, hanging doors, painting walls, installing windows and putting up wall paper--you name it, he did it, Some jobs he got compensated for and others he just did to help someone who needed a hand. For many years, he went to the home of a sick friend to cut his hair. He also served in his church, ushering on Sunday mornings and taking care of the social hall, cleaning and even providing music for special events. He regularly gave of himself with acts of service and kindness. He was known as one who could be relied upon.

He loved music and passed that love on to his four children; Mike, Dan, Gene and Christine. In his latter years, he raved about his Bose CD player and spent hours enjoying music and sharing it with anyone else he could convince to listen. He made me tapes of music he thought I'd enjoy as a way of thanking me for small favors. Music and dancing were life long pleasures for he and Edith. They met at a dance and through the years, many a family gathering ended with the two of them dancing in the living room to favorite tunes as we all looked on with delight.

He, along with his precious Edith, raised four children who in turn produced nine grandchildren and, to date, five great grandchildren. The two of them worked together through good times and bad, to build a legacy. Our family endures today largely because of the sacrifices they made, the generosity of heart they lived out and the wisdom they shared. Together they modeled faith and faithfulness, kindness and compassion and finally, perseverance. That is Mike's lasting inheritance to all who knew and loved him. He was somewhat obsessed with leaving an inheritance to his wife and children when he was gone, and he accomplished that, but the inheritance was not merely financial. What he taught us and modeled for us is the inheritance that will endure for eternity.

With his hands, Mike served us, blessed us and built a home, a family and a life well lived. Now, his hand seems small, placed in the bigger hand of his loving, heavenly father, in his eternal home. We've received our inheritance and he has his.

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