Why I’m loved the most…the letter

Five years ago this weekend, in the early morning hours of Sunday, my father passed from his life of pain into Heaven.  It was expected.  He’d been under Hospice care for a week, at a nursing home.  He couldn’t communicate very well, if at all.  Struggling to be comfortable.  Struggling to breath.  Struggling to live.  The call came in around 2 in the morning.  “Your Dad is dying”.  I didn’t make it there in time to say good-bye.  At peace…finally.

By the time I came along in 1966 (I was an “oops baby”) he and Mom had two sons ahead of me.  The closest in age is Brian, seven years my senior while Dan’s at the top of the batting order being eleven years older than me.  By the summer of 1977 I was pretty much an only child.  Just me, Dad and Mom.  I got spoiled. (if you couldn’t tell that already…)  I didn’t wear my brothers hand-me-downs like my next closest brother did.  It was Dad who told me repeatedly “You should be a comedian!!”  He was always telling us boys how proud he was of us, our wives, our children and how much he loved us and Mom.

Dad was ahead of his time.  He communicated really well.  Part Archie Bunker, part Mister Rogers, Dad could let you know exactly how he felt.  Sometimes bluntly (that guy is as worthless as tits on a boar) or softly when I was old enough to drive myself to parties where prior to leaving for the night he’d square up with me, look me in the eyes and tell me “If you need a ride home tonight…call us.  WE LOVE YOU.”  I took that seriously.  I had a reputation as being a “mama’s boy” in high school.  When you’ve got parents as cool as mine…YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT. 

Sometime in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s all of us were at Mom and Dad’s for Christmas.  All three sons and their families at the same time.  Dad and Mom were loving this day.  In the tree there were three envelopes.  One for each son, a letter in each.  I started to read mine, but really didn’t READ it until a day or two later.  It was nice.  I filed it away in my dresser drawer.  I might want it someday.

As we approached the day leading up to Dad’s visitation and funeral I had a strong feeling that I should share the letter that he had given me many Christmas’ ago.   I put a copy of it in my pocket and went off to his visitation.  I ran into his Pastor, a lady who farmed with her husband in a nearby community.  “They’re good people” Dad used to say of them.  I gave her the letter and said something along the lines of “if you think this will apply to tomorrows sermon…feel free to use it.”  She took it without looking at it, or commenting.

At Dad’s funeral the next day things were progressing along as well as could be expected when the Pastor pulled out Dad’s letter and read it aloud.  While I’m glad that I shared it, it was extremely hard to hear it being read and not become emotional.  Here it is:

THOUGHTS AND MEMORYS OF THE THREE

GUYS THAT MEAN THE MOST TO ME

Dear Daniel…I’ve loved you the most because you were our first born.  You were the beginning of a marriage, a fulfillment of our Love for each other.  You held us together through our first years, the first apartment in Furth Germany, our first mode of transportation, FEET.  You were new, BOY, we were too.  You were the prototype model.  You are one of a kind, and you are OURS.

Dear Brian…I’ve loved you the most because you were the center of our family, a tough position.  I believe you’re stronger because of it.  Your clothes were someone else’s, as were most things.  You were the one we started to realize that you were not made of eggs and had a personality of your own.  You came at a time of life style change and marriage routine.  You were the love of our ambitious years.  Our Love for you is SPECIAL.

Dear Richard…I’ve loved you the most because while your Mother and I have grown more experienced we’ve found that things in the beginning thought to be important aren’t necessarily so.  Generally endings are sad, but we are not sad, you give us much happiness.  You are our link with the past; dates, girls, ballgames, cars, beer, and troubles, and our hope of the future.  You’ve quickened our step, lightened our heart and straightened our shoulders and given us a humor that maturity doesn’t provide.  You are our Love of Life.

We miss Dad dearly.  If there’s a lesson, a take-a-way, from his letter its that you should let your loved ones know how you feel about them. Whether in spoken word, a letter that gets stashed away in a dresser drawer or some other means.  Say it.  Write it down.  Whatever.  Do it.  They’ll want to hear it.  If not today…eventually.

Dad and Mom Ripley

Dad and Mom Ripley

God bless.

R

 

Dear Dad….

…its been four and a half years since you passed.  Where has the time gone?  Regardless, I’ll catch you up on what’s been going on:

  • Holy crap!!  You’ll never believe who we have to choose from for Presidential candidates. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dumb.  Is it any wonder that I dislike politics so much.
  • Moms doing great.  Full of vinegar, good health & lively spirit.  She’s going to stay with your sister for a bit in July.
  • Jordan’s in Costa Rica tonight.  She’s a flight attendant.  We’re real proud of her.
  • Karalee graduated from the U of Iowa this past May.  She’s going to JAPAN in July to teach English to Japanese kids (that’s 5300 miles away from us).  She’ll be gone for at least a year.  Even though we’re real proud of her we’re anxious and concerned about not being close to her.
  • Macy left the U of Iowa this spring after her sophomore year.  They dropped her program so she’s opted to be a nanny in Germany for a year then go to a university in Berlin.  It’s a free education, she speaks German and at twenty years of age…quite independent.  We’re proud of her too…but Germany is 4541 miles from us.  Good Lord Dad…the furthest that us three sons went is five hours away from you and Mom!!  We’re a little worried about her as well.
  • Connie is doing great.  I love her a lot.  She moved out of the classroom and into a mentor-type position with a local educational center.  She enjoys the change.
  • Dan and Brian are doing well.  Dan’s close to retirement, while Brian’s getting closer.  Both are relishing their roles as grandparents.

father days 001

  • Me…well…I’m doing all right.  I think of you often.  I wonder if you spend time with your parents and in-laws.  Does Grandma Ripley still make her pies with that killer meringue?  What are the Wagners’ doing…playing cards?  Has Grandpa Ripley finally caught a fish bigger than Grandma’s? (I doubt it…).  I wonder if you’re in the bleachers watching me work a game?  I wonder if you watch over Jordan as she’s taking care of passengers on a flight?  I wonder if you’re sitting with Mom watching her watch TV at night….wondering when she’s coming home to join you?  I wonder if you’re with us or even given that option.  I wonder a lot.  I wonder if you know how much we miss you?  How much I miss you?

Its been said that “distance makes the heart grow fonder”. They were right about that, though its a sad and lonely fonder.  Take care Dad.  We still love you, and we miss you.

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Finally home….

Next week it will have been a year since Dad has passed.  It’s remarkable how quickly time flies.  This time last year we were planning Dad’s funeral as he had just been admitted into Hospice care and wasn’t given much time to live…but they couldn’t be sure.  Nothing is certain.  Death is God’s domain and He’ll allow it in His time, not at our convenience.

On the day Dad died I received a phone call from Mom around 2:30 in the morning, he didn’t have much longer to live.  The day before he was really struggling to breathe…it was awful watching him battle for air and comfort.  I got up and made it to the nursing home within a short time, but by the time that I got there he had passed.  I entered his softly lit room.  He looked…at ease.  Damn…I wish that I could have been there at that last moment…just to be with him.

Moments later my brother, his wife and Mom arrived.  Not much was said, I won’t attempt to guess what others were thinking or feeling.  It was a surreal moment that was calm and, I’d say, a relief.  Dad was in Heaven, let’s meet later and get the ball rolling on the visitation and funeral.  It was the beginning of a whirlwind week.

In the months since Dad’s death I’ve found myself thinking less about Dad at the end of his life and more and more about the ‘whole’ of his life…in his prime.  To be sure…I loved Dad throughout his life…though the last two years were definitely unchartered waters for all of us.  Dad had Alzheimer’s and a variety of other ailments that inhibited his ability to get around.  Still…he was Dad.

I’d finish my day at the store and drive to the nursing home to visit him.  I’d walk into his room, he’d wake up and we’d visit.  The conversations were short; Dad’s memory was “back on the farm” that he and Mom raised us boys.  It was a good place for him “to be” in my opinion.  Here are a couple of excerpts that I wrote down of our conversations:

Rich: How are you doing Dad?

Dad: Fine.  I’ve been bustin’ my ass around here.

Rich: Doing what?

Dad: Getting ready for a trip your Mother has planned.

Rich:  Where are you going?

Dad: (shrugs his shoulders)

Dad: Did you see your Mother downstairs?

Rich: Yep.

Dad: How are your girls?

Rich:  They’re good, Dad.  Ornery.  But good.  I love them to death.

Dad:  I’ll bet.  Girls can be ornery….your Mother can be ornery, sometimes.

Or another time that Dad wanted to get out of his wheelchair, but couldn’t.

Rich:  Dad…you can’t walk anymore.

Dad:  Since when?!

Rich:  For a couple of months now…it’s the disease.

Dad:  Well that’s a bitch.

Rich:  Yes Dad.  Yes it is.

As I said before…death is God’s domain.  He teaches, loves and gives us enough to get through it, though we may not feel like it at the time.  He puts angels along our path to lift us up as we falter, to comfort us as we mourn, a Savior who hung on the cross for us with a rock solid promise of redemption, salvation and an eternal life thereafter where we’ll meet again with our loved ones.

I choose now to think about Dad as the man who helped raise us boys, with Mom.  I choose to remember Dad as a loving husband to our Mother, loving and fun Father to his sons and their families.  A happy, family oriented man who the Good Lord put into our lives.  I choose to believe, to remember and be thankful.

One last lesson…thank you.

Father’s Day is rapidly approaching, or so says many of the advertisements that I’ve seen on TV. I’ve never been one to put much into the whole “I should receive a gift for Father’s Day since I’m a father” thing. I’m pretty blessed with things the way it is, and having what I have I feel no great anticipation for Father’s Day Sunday. All those advertisements did was remind me that this will be my first “fatherless” Father’s Day, my Dad passed away this past January. I know that Dad’s in Heaven and he’s probably having a great time, (I’ll bet that they serve pie for dessert in Heaven…every day) but we miss him nonetheless.

A quick range of emotions passed through my mind. I wondered if I should feel sad, melancholy or depressed? None of those really stuck out, well maybe a little melancholy, because I had such a great father (and Mom’s still with us). I thought of the many things that Dad taught and shared with me and how I carry those things with me to this day. I remember him talking to people back when I was growing up, and thinking then “Wow…he talks and jokes around a lot” and then, BOOM!! Thirty years later here I am and I talk a lot too.

Dad taught me right up to the last week that he was with us. He was in the hospital, it was pretty serious, we were finding out that there wasn’t much that could be done except to make him as comfortable as possible. He drifted in and out of consciousness. He didn’t talk. In the hospital room it was Dad, Mom, us three sons and our wives. It was grim. In situations like that, conversation is tough to come by…this was no exception. The end was coming….but when? Days? Weeks? Maybe a month? Grim.

I don’t know how it came up, but we started talking about Mom and Dad’s “stash” of liquor that they had under the kitchen sink back on the farm, when we were growing up. It wasn’t a forbidden thing, Dad and Mom both enjoyed a cold beer (especially on those hot Iowa summer nights with no air conditioning on our main floor), but they rarely drank the “hard stuff” which consisted of a bottle of vodka, some peppermint schnapps and bottle of Seagram’s V.O. Canadian Whiskey. I don’t even know why we had it; honestly, I just never saw them drink from the “stash”.

I used to get horrible sore throats when I was in junior high. Bad, like swallowing broken glass, sore throats. Probably two or three times a winter, don’t know why, but I did. Nothing touched the pain and I was probably whining about it to Mom one day when she said (mind you…this is back in the late 1970’s) “go get some of your father’s whiskey and gargle with it.” So I did. As I got to the bottom of that juice glass with probably a half cups worth of Seagram’s V.O. left in it I thought to myself “If cowboys can drink a shot of whiskey, so can I” and without hesitation I gulped down the rest of that whiskey. OH. MY. GOSH!! It felt like I was breathing fire for the next couplea minutes. My throat went numb. My belly warmed right up, and my head started to spin. I promptly went upstairs and took a nice nap. Seagram’s V.O.

I told that story in Dad’s hospital room and it took everyone’s mind off of the current situation for a moment or two and was good for a few laughs. A few minutes later a nurse came into the room and was attending to Dad, without anything coming from Dad in the way of talking or such. The nurse asked Dad “Charlie…can I get you anything to drink?” and Dad opened his eyes for just a bit and said “V.O.”. The nurse didn’t know what to make of that and honestly we were real surprised that he was still listening and wanted to chime in with a jokebut he was still there; making us laugh. For me….it was a learning moment, probably the last one from Dad…showing me some strong-willed character when he was near the end of his earthly life; still talking and joking with his wife, sons and their families.

I’ve been blessed. I am blessed, and God-willing…I’ll be a blessing to my wife, our children and our families that Mom and Dad have been to ours. As Father’s Day approaches in the coming week or so be mindful of the many positive influences that the male mentors in your life have had on you, whether they be your father or not.

Happy Father’s Day to you and yours in the coming week.

God Bless.

Rich Ripley

Mom & Dad…still full of it.

A week of grace

My Dad passed away a week ago today.  It’s been the toughest week of my life, made easier by the prayers, kind deeds and thoughtful words of many, many folks. You were an angel of sorts, sent to lift us…to walk with us through this valley of sadness and loss. Though I might not mention you by name, your act of loving kindness isn’t forgotten or overlooked.

 

  • Thank you to all of our family, friends and old neighbors who drove from as far away as Florida, South Carolina, Colorado and Illinois to help shoulder our loss.

 

  • Thank you to my co-workers who drove an hour out to Tipton then an hour back just to express their condolences.  To my co-managers who took on my responsibilities, as well as their own, so I could minister to my Mother and grieve on my own.  I may not have any biological sisters, but I have several gals at work who’ve adopted me as their “little brother”.  They don’t know what they’ve gotten themselves into.

 

  • Thank you to all of me and my brother’s old high school friends stopping by and visiting with us.  We haven’t seen some in a long, long time.  I introduced myself to one of my brothers friends and told him “I always wanted to ride in one of your cool muscle cars back in ’76 Chuck, but I was always too young.”  The guy gave me a quizzical look, then literally a couplea minutes later turned to me, pointed his finger and announced “YOU’RE DICK RIPLEY AREN’T YOU?!”  Yes, Chuck…yes I am.

 

  • Thank you to Pastor Barb.  You did a great job at Dad’s visitation and service.  I understand now why Dad and Mom hold you in such high esteem.

 

  • Thank you to the American Legion Honor Guard sending Dad off with a U.S. flag draped coffin, the playing of Taps, and gun salute.  So honorable, so cool, so very, very touching & moving.  It was a privilege being with you that day.

 

 

  • Thank you to David Fry Funeral Home.  Your professionalism, courtesy, kindness and thoughtfulness of you and your staff blew us away. 

 

 

  • Thank you to the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary putting on a fine lunch after the service.  Small towns do themselves proud

 

  • Thank you to the cemetery caretaker hand digging a grave in January, in a lonesome, windswept country cemetery surrounded by barren fields. I swear I could smell fresh cut hay on the wind out there.  It’ll be pretty come spring out there, and as weird as it sounds…I’m looking forward to visiting.  In a word it will be peaceful.

 

  • Thank you to all who’ve commented on “Thanks Dad…”.  Your kind thoughts are appreciated.

 

It’s time now to get back to a normal routine….and I’m looking forward to it.

Thanks Dad…

 

My dad recently passed away.  He was a good man. A good husband to our mother. A good family man.  A Christian.  I’ve been compiling a list for the past couplea weeks, that even though it’s not entirely complete, I’m posting now. I’d like to take a moment to thank him, in no particular order, for the following:

  • For his love of our family.

 

  • For teaching us to honor our parents and elders by watching him honor his.

 

  • For wrasslin’ us boys in the middle of the living room floor, then years later…wrasslin’ his grandsons and granddaughters in that same living room.

 

  • For leading us in prayer before meals.  You and Mom taught us to pray.

 

  • For playing catch with me until your arm dropped off. Then showing up at our ball games to watch us play, or ride the pine…either way…you and Mom were there if you could be.  For teaching me your “running jump shot” while cutting through the lane.

 

  • For teaching me (and my two brothers) to drive…on gravel roads with a manual transmission no less.  For teaching us to counter-steer when we started to fishtail, and teaching us that if we accelerated then popped the clutch we could peel out.  (maybe he didn’t teach us that….but he didn’t discourage it either).

 

  • For buying me my first car, so I could have something to drive to school and take to college.  It wasn’t Camero or Mustang, but it sure beat walking.

 

  • For letting me use your cologne when I started dating.  Cedar & Scott counties women were never the same after that.

 

  • For providing for our family, both with your city job and on the farm.

 

  • For teaching me and my two brothers how to pick out a woman as a wife; to love, cherish and respect her.  Dad and Mom were married for 55 years.  He adored Mom.  He backed Mom’s decisions (at least in front of us boys).  He and Mom were a team.  Teams sometimes have disagreements…but at the end of the day….they were still a team and they still loved each other.  I remember a time when Mom left for a week to help with the care of one of our newborn nephews.  Upon her return to our farm Dad had made a big banner that said something like “Welcome Home Marcy!! I love you!”  I was a teenager at the time and thought to myself “Jeez…the old guy still has it going on for Mom.”

 

  • For welcoming our fiancées into the family as genuine daughters that he and Mom never had.  Both Mom and Dad made our wives feel accepted and loved, because they were.  It’s a true testament of that loved returned when I saw my sister-in-laws & my wife sitting with Mom at Dad’s bedside at the hospital and at the nursing home.  When the chips are down, love shows up and waits it out.  Love.

 

  • For taking time to listen to me, and encourage me when the situation called for it.

 

  • For letting us know that being “disciplined” is a form of love.

 

  • For teaching your sons a strong work ethic.  One’s a captain on the fire department with 30+ years of service and a medal for valor in the line of service.  The middle son travels the world for the company that he works for, and has several patents in his name and has worked  20+ years for that company.  And me…I’ve worked 22 years for the company that I’m employed by.  I may not have the technical brilliance or book smarts of many others, who surround me, but the good Lord gave me a quick wit and enough commonsense to stay out of trouble….and that’s been enough up to this point.

 

  • For saying to an eight year old Rich Ripley “sure you can try my snuff!  Take some!”  For anyone who hasn’t tried snuff…it’s horrible tasting finely cut tobacco that burns your mouth and gets into every crevice, makes your nose run and your eyes water.  I couldn’t wash it out of my mouth fast enough at the barn water hydrant!  I haven’t touched the stuff since. Lesson learned Dad.

 

  • For allowing me to try alcohol at home.  I found out that it, too, was nasty tasting stuff.  And when I was old enough to drive he’d square up with me, look me in the eye and tell me “if you’re going to drink tonight, call us….we’ll come get you.  We love you.”  I doubt that it was reverse psychology…my parents never made any bones about telling you what was on their mind and what they expected out of you, but when Dad said that, I was usually home, sober, by ten at night. 

 

  • For being a super Grandpa…dollhouses and toy farms built for our kids.  For wagon rides behind the lawnmower for our kids. 

 

  • For Dad and Mom showing up and helping out at countless moving in’s and moving out’s at colleges, first apartments, first homes and second homes. 

 

  • For the free technical advice/service on home and car repairs. 

 

  • For loaning, sharing or just giving us whatever Dad and Mom had that we needed at that moment.  Whether it was a hug, advice, a loan or some kind of tool….if you two had it….we could use it.

 

  • The interest-free loans in college and life from Mom and Dad.

 

  • For the advice…whether we wanted it or appreciated it at the time.  It was given out of love and concern.   I know that now.

 

  • For the love of hitting the road early when leaving on vacation.  I don’t remember how many times we’d leave on vacation in total darkness.  Mom and Dad in the front seat, my brothers and I piled into the back seat.  One of my fondest memories is waking up, a couplea hours later, the sun rising, smelling coffee that Mom was pouring from the Thermos for her and Dad to drink.  I don’t necessarily like to travel far for vacation, I didn’t inherit this from my parents….I don’t know how as my two brothers love the open road.  In my childhood Mom and Dad drove us to Disneyland in California, then four years later drove us to Disney World in Florida (from Iowa) There were other trips too, though I was too young to remember, but old timey super eight movies prove that I was present…a scowling tow headed toddler that looked none to pleased to be away from his dog and cats on the farm.  Mom and Dad drove us to places far and wide in either a pick up truck camper or in a ’72 Ford LTD with Aristocrat trailer in tow.  Lots of miles behind the wheel for his wife and boys.  I’d go back to school in the fall and tell the other kids where I’d been and what I’d seen only to find out that they hadn’t gone anywhere.  I realized at a young age that I was blessed to have these parents.

 

  • For serving our country during the occupation of Germany after World War II.  His love of our country was wide and deep.

 

  • For letting me know how proud Mom and he were of their sons and their families.  Some people never hear those words come from their parents, but I heard it just about every time I saw them. 

 

  • For comforting me as I tried to comfort him in his final days.  Try as I might….I couldn’t not cry as I told him “it’s okay to go Dad.  We’ll take care of Mom.  You’re work is done here.  You and Mom did a great job of raising us boys.”  He’d look up at me, hold my hand and whisper, “I know.  I know.”

 

  • What gives me great comfort is a conversation that we had a couplea years ago.  I was taking him for a drive one morning, out in the country.  We weren’t talking much; just me driving, him looking out the window at the snowdrift covered farm fields.  I asked him “how are you doing spiritually Dad?”  He replied, “Jesus is my Savior.”  That’s what gave me comfort then.  It’s what gives me comfort now. Thanks for showing us the way Dad.  We’ll see you later.

Love,

Richard