Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Sum of Who We Are....

I remember vividly at my Mom's funeral, the pastor talking about her "legacy".  It was a word I'd never applied to anyone that I loved before.  I remember when he said it, I looked around and I saw my family...her family....her sons, their wives, their children... her great grandchildren....and my own children.  Legacy.  More Mom's legacy.  And that word became much more beautiful to me.

A few years later, I sat with my Dad during the last eighteen days of his life.  I held his hand as he took his last breath.  I remember so many people paying their respects and each one had a different story as to who he was in their life.  "He was my Little League Coach"..."He and I were on a bowling team"..."He was my Fishing buddy"...."We went hunting together"..."He and I worked together"...."He helped me on my farm"...."We played Slo Pitch Softball on the same team"...and most recently and likely his largest claim to fame "He was The Hot Dog Guy".  Every Summer he helped run a hot dog stand in the parking lot of the convenience store where my Mom was manager.  Everybody knew...and loved my Dad.  I remember thinking then how he was so many things to so many people in his life.  The sum...of who he was...was so much more than just my Dad.

 I had that knowledge...and yet...never thought to apply it to those still in my life.

Like my husband.  I'm asking myself over these past two weeks....why couldn't I or didn't I see that in him before this.  Why did it take his passing...and people coming to pay their respects and tell me how he had affected their life in a positive way for me to see....and realize...the sum of who we are is just so much more than what's right in front of you today.  He was many many people.

Don was an incredibly hard worker and took his responsibilities very seriously...sometimes annoyingly so.  Me, a fly by the seat of my pants personality, would throw him a lot of curve balls at times that brought on that "deer in the headlights" look that I came to recognize as his fear of not being responsible.  Sometimes that trait....was hard to deal with...and we would clash.  It was deep rooted.  He...was deep rooted.  And I know he we all do...with feeling like we are "enough" some days.  He liked order....and schedules that didn't change once they were set....and there were times when he stood his ground and was unwilling to compromise his position.  It wasn't always fact some days were really hard.  But, it wasn't the total sum...of who he was.

He was a Physical Therapist who loved helping people.  Even though he was incredibly frustrated with the current state of our medical system...he was "old school" in that regard.  He believed that the care of the patient and what was best for the patient should always be the first and foremost consideration of their treatment.  Not what type of insurance they had...or had not.  And certainly not what some rule maker at Medicare decided was an appropriate amount of "minutes" for treatment. He firmly believed that in most cases, it wasn't just about treating an injury, or rebuilding strength in a muscle...but that listening to a patient...hearing them...was also a part of their treatment.  There were days he would come home and say " My schedule really sucked today.  But, this patient, who had no movement before, stood up on their own today...that was awesome. "  And so I knew he would go back the next day and do it all over again. 1) Because he was responsible 2) He loved seeing people get better because of his guidance.  Sometimes we would see people on the street or in a store who had been his patient and they would stop him and show him how well they could move...their shoulder...their knee.  Always struck me as funny.

In his role as Physical Therapy, he was a mentor.  To his co students who did rotations in his office.  He liked to challenge them.  He took pride in sharing what he knew.

He was a photographer.  He studied photography nearly every day.  He read books...he watched YouTube videos...constantly wanting to improve his skills.  He was a member of the Professional Photographers of Iowa and went to their annual Spring & Winter conferences.  Always looking for ways to improve his skill.  He truly felt like he just didn't have the "artistic eye" and strived to find that piece to add to his technical skill.

He used that skill to give back and would routinely set up a "Senior Photo" day at local nursing homes.  Combining his photography skill and his PT background, he knew just how to position each resident and it never mattered to him that their cognitive or physical abilities were compromised.  He photographed them with dignity and respect.  He gave them each their own 5x7 print.  Many times we would receive letters or phone calls from family members saying it was the last photo they had of their loved ones.

He loved his Photo Club.  He was a founding member and Board President.  Another role he took very seriously.  He would spend hours preparing lessons to share his knowledge of photography...or Photoshop...or Lightroom.  He taught...he was a mentor there as well.  I lost count at how many people shook my hand or hugged me at the visitation who were a part of that group and said how much he had helped them grow their skills.  He often spoke to me in a language of Fstops and apertures that I truly didn't understand, even though I wanted to...I just couldn't comprehend.  Sometimes I would be taking a photo and he would ask "what are the numbers when you look through the viewfinder"...and I would eyeroll and say "No clue"....and then he would eyeroll.

This photo of Don's won best pic in his photo clubs contest in July.
Taken high on a mountain in Killarney National Park in Ireland last June.

Over the years there were a multitude of hobbies...that came and went...all with the same sense of responsibility...the thought that if he was going to do it...he would do it right...he would give it his all to be the best at it that he could be.

He loved his family.  He struggled at times to "make sense" of  them/me and their/my decisions but in the end supported us all however he could.  He was proud of every one of our kids...and loved being a Grandpa. the end....Don was a donor.  He was unable to donate vital organs because of the nature of his own death, a dissecting aortic aneurysm.  He was, however, able to donate his eyes.  And even though he insisted his eyes had no "artistic" abilities....the gift of sight is a beautiful thing to think about.  He was able to donate bone and connective tissue.  The beautiful letter we received from the Iowa Donor Network says that this will benefit individuals with various orthopedic and neurosurgical conditions.  The very kind of patients he spent his career working with....  The letter states it could also help children with severe bone fractures and bone cancer.  He would love that.

Soapbox:  If you're not currently listed as a donor on your driver's license...please consider doing so.

The title of my post today...The Sum of Who We a reminder to myself and to you that the person sitting across from us...the person we see when we look in the so much more than what's in that one moment...that small glance.  Maybe the person who passed you on the wrong side of the road this morning on your way to work, that you swore at and decided was a total jerk...just got that phone call...the one that says "you need to get here".  Maybe the waitress you don't want to tip because she has just a bit too much attitude or isn't paying you enough attention...can't stop thinking about how she's going to pay her rent.. or feed her children.  Take a step back...try to see beyond what/who is before you. The bigger picture.....

The sum of who we just so much more.


  1. Penny, that was absolutely beautiful. Thanks for the reminder. My heart aches for you and your family. Praying for you all.

  2. Beautiful and extremely poignant. Thank you for the reminder. Perhaps the reason. ❤️

  3. Dear Penny, I believe there is an important reason why a person's legacy is not overtly revealed until after they are gone. We can only see it when we really need to. ❤️❤️

  4. Others open our eyes when we lose someone...that's how we can see their legacy. You too are one of Don's legacy's .. love to you my friend.

  5. wow... so thought provoking. Thank you Penny for sharing your thoughts and words and wisdom with the rest of us, I can't believe how terribly sad this is and at the same time I can't help but feel very grateful for the reminder to hold our loved ones close and appreciate the time we have with them... I just wish I could hug you and tell you face to face how much this post has meant to me. Thank you, and hugs- he wants you to be well too, so take care of you.

  6. Thanks for sharing....and reminding us to look deeper and be more understanding.

  7. You have done such a wonderful job putting the right words together in this. I don't know how you do it. Hugs, friend.

  8. This is a very beautiful post Penny and although I met you both at MQX for just a short amount of time, this really gave me a sense of who he was. This is truly a beautiful tribute to him.

  9. So beautiful. He truly was a remarkable man. Love <3

  10. I'm so touched by your post, Penny. I cannot imagine the dimension of your loss but your words resonate with me. You honor those you have lost with your beautiful words. Please know that there are so many of us who are thinking of you during this difficult time and we all send you our virtual hugs. I'll be up in Clear Lake again this fall and I hope to meet you if it is possible. Maybe we can meet for a cup of coffee...I would love to give you that hug in person.

  11. So very true, thanks for reminding us all that we are so much more. Love you!

  12. I don't know how I came upon your post this afternoon, perhaps in some cosmic way it was meant to be. My 27 year old daughter's boyfriend died in a tragic boat accident on Lake Michigan on Labor Day. His funeral was yesterday. We are all really struggling to come to terms with the loss of his presence in our lives. That he was a complex individual who touched so many lives in different ways has become very apparent over the last two weeks, and especially yesterday as we gathered for his funeral and to share stories afterward. I remember so many little things about him, but together they are a very big thing, and thus the gaping hole in our hearts. I struggle to wonder if I appreciated him enough, if he knew that we cared for him as if he were our son. You put to words a concept that was beyond my grasp. Thank you so much. And, I am so sorry for your loss.