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Friday, April 25, 2014

It's Been A Year

Been thinking about this day for awhile and now it's here. 1 year ago today my mom died. 3 weeks ago today my dad died. It's surreal and OK all at the same time. I don't feel as sad today as I did when either of them first passed away. It's hard to be in this world without parents but it's not as hard as I imagined it would be. There is grace. There is peace. And while my immediate sorrow in my dad's passing was the deepest pain I'd ever felt, I have moved through the intensity of the loss a little quicker than with my mom's passing. I am at peace with this season in my life. I feel so deeply blessed and honored to have had the parents I did. I am so thankful that we shared a deep and abiding connection with one another, took time to have hard conversations and to overturn stones that needed upending. They left this earth with no regrets. They left this earth with me knowing how deeply I was loved and with them knowing how deeply they were loved.
The sweetness in knowing that they don't have to live on this earth without one another is something that really sustains me. I only feel joy that my parents enjoyed a 55 year love much so that my father couldn't even last a year without his beloved by his side. 
In these few weeks following my dad's passing, I think I have realized a bit more deeply how my mom's extended illness had taken its toll not only on my father but also on me. When my father first got sick, I remember praying, "Lord, please do not make me go through another period of trying to care for a critically ill parent while living so far away." Little did I know that God would answer that prayer by taking my father swiftly into His arms, but honestly, I am so grateful that my father is not suffering, languishing in some in between place, alive but not living, breathing but not thriving. What you do want are the young, vibrant, funny, clever, wise, loving and compassionate people that Ted and Rose Ann were for all of their lives. You do want them back...but you never want them back sick. And that means eventually accepting that at some point, you will have to let them go.
My folks and I when I graduated from Seminary
Of course, adjusting to life on earth without parents is a rite of passage that most children face, some at a much earlier age than others. I enjoyed my parent's presence in my life for over 50 years. We enjoyed traveling in Sweden along with trips to Norway, Ireland, Italy, France, Finland, and Latvia.
Being silly in Ireland
We took cruises to Mexico and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on the Adriatic sea.
Outside the old city of Ephesus, Turkey
The trip to Ephesus was a clear highlight for my mom and what joy it was to see how dad delighted in seeing Rome and Florence! I feel blessed by that.

Ancient toilets in Ephesus

I so dreaded my father's passing after my mom died last year and now I have faced that and survived that as well. Both of Doug's folks are still with us, but we know that eventually we will face that passage as well. It's hard. It's loss. There is sorrow. There is grief. There is sadness that our shared experiences are finished and now it is only our memories that linger. But we have some great memories and for that I am very thankful.
This last year of my life was one that I will never forget. It was a hard year in many ways but also a year that is filled with deep blessing and appreciation for who my parents were as people. Their deaths brought me back into contact with long time friends and that is a treasure to me even today. I was privileged to write and share tributes for both of them at their funerals and while that task was tough, it was also an amazing gift and also incredibly easy to reflect on their lives and speak highly of them. Our common faith binds our hearts in future hope and one day, we'll celebrate anew the joy that it has been to call ourselves family. Peace to their memory. I do miss you, my beloved mom and dad but I am so thankful that you are at peace and at rest in the presence of God and one another. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Celebrating Dad

As I woke up the morning after my dad's memorial service, I must admit that there were may different feelings swirling around in my mind and heart. The service itself was great and I am so pleased with how it all turned out.
The photo we used during the service, taken by my cousin Mike moments after his first Championship win!
Many former players attended and it was a great reunion of old friends. Several of the coaches who coached with Ted were in attendance and it was just a very special gathering of friends and loved ones.
The flowers from the Mullen Family in Illinois that adorned the altar
The flowers that friends and family sent were just beautiful and the spray sent by Immanuel International was particularly touching.
The wonderful flowers sent by our church, Immanuel International, in Stockholm, Sweden
The American Women's Club in Stockholm also sent a gorgeous arrangement.
The lovely bouquet from the AWC in Stockholm
Special to have my world across the pond tie into this significant event.
I was really pleased with how the service turned out and loved the music. We sang How Great Thou Art, Come To Jesus, and dad's favorite hymn, Because He Lives.
The gorgeous flower arrangements and dad's favorite hymn on the screens
The worship team also sang John Rutter's For the Beauty of the Earth, which we also had at our wedding and it all all very lovely and appropriate. Doug read scripture and prayed a beautiful prayer and Pastor Mike did a great job with the overall service. His message, taken from I Corinthians 9.24-27, was very good and very reflective of what Ted was all about: Family, Faith, Focus and Faithfulness.
The way the church looked as we started the service.
I was privileged to write a tribute and share it and it was really a joy to do that. I only broke up a couple of times and included enough humor that it helped me get through it all! Several of my friends from high school were there and it was a special point of connection for me.

Here is the text of my Tribute to Dad
I would like to start by thanking all of you for coming today, especially on behalf of Ted because let's face it, if any of you had died and scheduled your memorial for Saturday afternoon on the weekend of the Masters, Ted would've been complaining about having to attend your memorial during the Masters until Kingdom come. Can't you just hear him, c'mon, what kind of a clown would schedule a service right in the middle of the Masters golf tournament?
Well it is really hard to believe that just 11 months after I stood before you sharing about my mom, we've landed in the same place with my dad. This time around has been profoundly different for me as it was so unexpected. When my husband and I were here in February, we had a great visit with Ted and left feeling confident that he was back in good physical form after some difficulties and actually coping pretty well with his unwelcome status as a widower. We had even convinced him that the prison of an economy seat on a jumbo jet airliner for the hours it took to get from California to Stockholm was worth it given the absolutely fabulous time we had together last summer and had purchased a ticket for a July reunion on the other side of the pond once again. But none of this was to be when the complications of a twisted colon and two emergency surgeries proved to be too much for his body. This has been a shocking and difficult time for me because I thought I was coming back to the US to be his head cheerleader, providing him with the help and encouragement he needed to beat yet another health setback. However, there were things that were different this time around. He was so weak that he just couldn't envision how he would get back to a more functional life. He said it's the worst pain he's ever felt and he couldn't eat or drink without feeling severely ill. As he was wheeled away for the second surgery, we were able to affirm what we've always known...that we love and respect one another deeply and have been blessed to share in our unique and special father/daughter relationship, no matter how the next hours or days would unfold. He was never fully conscious again. He was able to shake his head to hearing my voice and his final words to me were, “Let me go.” Hard as it was, as usual, Coach Moon had made his final wishes clear and I knew I needed to honor that.
In the aftermath of his death, I have realized that while he was giving living without my mom Rose Ann a fighting chance, he wasn't enjoying it at all. He was committed to gutting it out but there was a deep loneliness that he could not escape. Understanding that he lived 55 years with his soul mate, it is not that surprising that he could not endure even 1 year without her. My parents love for one another, their bond in life, their shared faith in Christ, their partnership has sustained me as I have had to cope with losing both of them in less than a year's time. Two recent conversations about my parents have left a deep impression on me...I was speaking with woman who has a very troubled relationship with her mom and when asking what it's been like for her she said, “Well Jodi, you know, not everyone has parents like you do.” And another dear friend said to me in the aftermath of dad's passing, “Jodi, you know, you really hit the parent jackpot.” I'm not sure I ever fully grasped how unique it was for me to have such amazing parents. I guess because it's what I grew up with, I assumed that most everyone experienced something similar. As difficult as these years have been through Bill's death 8 years ago, my mom's 7 year fight with cancer and now my dad's passing, the gift in all of those difficulties has been my ability to see how deeply loved and respected my folks really are. I am continually blown away by the number of people who consistently relay to me that my father was the single most influential person in their lives. It is a testament to that to see guys from our football family gathered here who first met Ted more than 40 years ago. There is no one in my past who I feel even remotely that connected to and it brings me great comfort to know what a special history both Ted and Rose Ann shared with so many people.
As close as dad and I were, we did not always see eye to eye. Most notable was the Title IX Education amendment passed into law in 1972. I was 11. Title IX is best known for breaking down barriers in sports for women and girls. At the time, most men were opposed to the amendment and there were no stronger opponents than one Coach Moon Mullen. I would guess that at least 3 times a week throughout high school, my dad and I went at it over this amendment around the dinner table. There were times when my mom finally had to shout, “Enough you two. We're sick of this argument.” Oh how my blood would boil when he would claim that equality for women would only hurt his football program...too bad he didn't realize that better sports for women could have actually led to a college scholarship for his daughter! But in those days, anything that hurt his football program was to be soundly shot down. He could not have been surprised however by my voracious counter attacks as he was the one who taught me how to stand my ground, formulate an opinion and go after what I thought was right. So in the end, he only had himself to blame for my strong opinions even though I didn't always share his perspective. As life continued to unfold, and as my views deviated from his on more than one occasion, several of his friends used to ask him how he tolerated my politics (yes, I'm a left leaning liberal...I live in Sweden for goodness sake!) and his answer was always gracious and generous. He'd say, “hmmmm, let's see...Jodi is passionate, engaged, smart, articulate and a free thinker...remind me what I'm supposed to be upset about regarding those qualities?” He always understood that character was the most important quality, not a particular point of view and truth be told, Ted also possessed a pretty generous bleeding heart at times! He was like an M&M...hard on the outside, soft on the inside.
For the most part I genuinely enjoyed going to the same high school where he taught and coached. I would say the only awkward part about that was when it came to dating. I remember early on in my first year at his school, I was sitting on the school benches before school started talking to a boy who I was beginning to like a little and it seemed that the feeling was mutual. I needed money (a great reason to have your dad at your school) for lunch so I said, “Well, I gotta run. I need to catch my dad before school starts.” And my friend says to me, “Uh, why is your dad on campus this early.” And I thought, “uh-oh. He hasn't made the connection yet.” So with fear and trepidation I said, “My dad is Coach Mullen.” Fortunately he was only a sophomore so not yet interacting with Moon on the football field. Another memorable moment came when I was a Jr. and had foolishly decided to date another football player. This relationship ended during the football season. I was pretty bummed about it and through the tears of a jilted 16 year old, told my dad that this boy had broken up with me. And in Ted's sensitive and caring manner, his only comment was, “Well, I hope this doesn't screw up his concentration for the game tomorrow.” Seriously dad? Even my mom thought that was a bit much! After that, I gave up dating boys from Villa Park and ended up dating a track guy from Orange High School.
Another one of Ted's pet peeves was his beloved practice field and in particular, the evils of playing soccer on his precious field. I always knew that he felt soccer was a communist plot to overtake the world but I found something in Ted's file recently that just cracked me up. Back in 1978 he wrote a letter to several school administrators that said the following: “It has come to my attention that Villa Park will be required to field a team in Soccer which will be competing on the CIF level of competition. I believe that this activity (note: not sport) should be started on a club level initially, to better determine the capabilities and true interest in this activity.” Gee dad, it's too bad that the activity called soccer never has caught on! I suppose this makes it even more ironic that I ended up marrying a soccer player from Minnesota! But to Ted's credit, between my husband's influence and his Latino friends, he did manage to start watching Soccer during the World Cup but he never could fully adjust to the lack of scoring and wins determined by shoot out!
A brief word about my dear husband Doug is in order. Doug slid seamlessly into our family almost 20 years go and was dearly loved by my parents in spite of his love for The Minnesota Twins and Vikings. My dad often said how grateful he was that Doug was my husband and how much fun it was to have him as his son-in-law. He especially appreciated that Doug never came across as someone who took himself overly serious and genuinely cared about other people. We quickly developed the habit of engaging in a Cribbage derby every time we were together with my folks. Of course, the bringing together of 4 fiercely competitive people created quite an atmosphere of fun and engagement and even though they beat us most all the time, we will greatly miss gathering around the table to play cards with them. Doug has been a faithful companion to me through these years of family stress. While we love our life in Sweden, living overseas has definitely created some challenges when it comes to being nearby loved ones when crises emerge. Doug never hesitated in helping me make travel arrangements, re-arrange my schedule and get to California as fast I could whenever I felt like I needed to. Because we work together, my departure meant a doubling of Doug's workload both at home and at church. But he always embraced these challenges with ease and always understood when I needed to be near my parents. He loved my mom and dad and that is apparent through the ways in which he so beautifully loves me. I'm so thankful for him in my life, especially now since my family of origin is no longer part of this world. I could not have faced the magnitude of losing Ted at this time had it not been for his unwavering love and support.
We know that those of us gathered here today really loved Ted and while we all know and must accept that his time had come, his passing leaves a huge void in our lives. Dad and I have always been pretty close but the years since Bill's death and our journey together through my mom's illness really sealed the deal between us. We just understood one another and were able to be totally frank with one another while giving expression to the deep love and respect we had for one another. What I saw emerge in dad in these past years was a desire to give back to mom all that she had given him. Gone was the early chauvinism and selfish concern for what he wanted and instead a spirit of total generosity and care prevailed. We all know that he cared for mom in remarkable ways and he was also so clearly proud and supportive of me, often taking time to write a note of appreciation or admiration, always signing it, love always, dad. Always the teacher, I would like to highlight some of the lessons I most deeply treasure having learned from dad. First, be competitive but be a good sport. I love having a competitive spirit and I am so grateful for the love of sport my folks have passed onto me. When I am playing golf or tennis I feel their presence surrounding me as they were my teachers in these games. I love the thrill of winning but equally important I love that dad taught me that the win is even sweeter when we can be gracious and humble in victory, but also in defeat. Second, be generous. My folks never had much money but that never stopped them from giving generously to others. When I first started getting a dollar for allowance, dad gave me 10 dimes. He had three envelopes and he'd say, one dime goes in savings. One dime goes to the church. And you get to spend 8 dimes however you'd like. And he practiced this principle of giving throughout his whole life. He loaned people money knowing that it was more of a gift than a loan. He was quick to buy lunch for someone, take another out for a milk shake, and gave to countless ministries. It was never the amount that mattered, but the faithful, consistent, generous support of others that is his legacy. Third, while he was a champion, he taught me to love the underdog. His care and concern for those with less in life has always been evident. He loved mentoring young men who lacked a strong role model in their lives. He has taken many a young man under his wing to help him get started or get straightened out in life. He has fought for the rights of those he feels have been mistreated and he has done it out of his concern for showing others his love and compassion. He always knew there was no one too small to merit attention and care. Finally, he taught me to laugh and to enjoy life. His sense of humor is legendary and we just loved sharing a good joke with one another. He was such a fun, camping, playing cards, going to Disneyland and Angel games, sharing a joke, laughing at a film. We shared it all and I will miss him. I will miss calling him to commiserate about a sporting event, Skyping with him when he got up during my afternoon, having him as my anchor back here in the US. I will miss him so very much.
It is still a little surreal for me to understand that dad is no longer with us. He was truly a giant of a man with the heart of a giant. He so selflessly made himself available to us as we established our own home in the desert a few years back and never ceased to express his love and admiration for our work and our lives. He was so generous toward us, with his time, his money and his love. I have to figure out how to live in a world without Ted as do all of the rest of you. The only solace I have in this thought is that Ted no longer has to live in a world without Rose Ann and I know that that is the greatest gift we can give him now. They are now re-united, alongside of Jesus, the one they both served so faithfully in their life. Dad's legacy will live on in our lives if we embrace the challenges in life with the same vigor that he did, if we exhibit a generosity of spirit with those less fortunate in life, and love well those who are entrusted to us. He loved me well, he loved you well. Let's all strive to love one another a little more well.
My only regret in life is that I was never privileged to play for a coach like Moon or be a part of a championship team. But I feel no greater joy than that of having been his daughter, living the day in day out with him, knowing that I was special, seeing how he loved me, enjoying his presence in my life in every possible way. Dad was a true champion, a man who carried within him a deep and quiet faith, and exhibited integrity in everything he did. While many here today think of Ted as a father-figure, I am the lucky one who knew him as dad, the loving, generous, giving, caring, funny and protective daddy that we all long for in this world. For that I am deeply grateful.
Coach and Mrs. Moon are back together...may their legacy continue through the things we have learned from them. Peace to their memory, until we see them once again. Amen.

Many laughs were shared at the references to the Masters and Title IX, especially by those who know us so well.
Afterwards the women of the church provided a lovely lunch spread and because dad loved candy so much, we put out bowls of Hershey miniatures...Mr. Goodbar was his favorite. During the reception we had an open sharing time during which several players, one of the coaches and folks from the church where I grew up shared stories and spoke of the impact that Ted had had on them. Doug also shared some beautiful words about him, my family and our marriage. We are blessed to have one another. There are countless stories of Ted and I hope to share several of them over the course the coming weeks. He was kind of a larger than life character, that's for sure.
I was really happy with the day and touched and moved by seeing old friends once again. The sobering reality for me is that this may be the last time I see several of these folk. Because we live in Sweden, I won't be around for other life events that may occur that I would want to attend. So the reunions that family deaths and football gatherings have provided for us will no longer take place. In spite of the sadness that this creates in my spirit, I am also so thankful for the incredibly rich life that my parents have provided for me. That they were so loved assures me that I am deeply loved. Our pasts mean something to us and I suppose it is not surprising that in my parent's death, I have a renewed interest in our family history. I have files to go through and letters to read and I look forward to the joy and laughter that I will experience as I gain more and more insight into my father's illustrative career.
So today, the day after my dad's memorial service, I am grateful. I am sad. I am at peace. I am blessed. Thank you God, for welcoming my dad into your kingdom with open arms and for reuniting my folks in paradise. Thank you for my husband here on earth, with whom I hope to have many, many more years, before we join the faithful alongside of you in our eternal home. 
Today is Palm Sunday. Holy Week unfolds. The death of Christ and his resurrection will likely never again be so meaningful for me. 
And so to you all who read this blog and have followed the Caring Bridge, I say thank you. God bless and keep you as well as you continue on the journey of grief and healing on the road ahead.