Duty-Honor-Country: Remembering my Dad

Perhaps Easter with its underlying themes of life, death, rebirth, and immortality is an appropriate time to post a remembrance of my father. As with my mother who died just a year and 4 days before Dad, I am sharing the eulogy I gave at his funeral. While consumed by practical matters after Dad’s death and even with the support of my wonderful siblings, I have still felt emotionally stalled unable to take interest in things such as reading, photography, or writing anything. Mom’s last years were marked by the unfortunate progression into dementia and Alzheimer’s. Dad, on the other hand, was very much himself to the last, and this is part of what has made it more difficult. And, so I miss his company, generous nature, and just manner of being much more profoundly. I thought he’d have more time to be himself after losing Mom.

I have used a sort of metaphor lately, an image I can’t seem to dismiss from my thinking, that I feel “root pruned.” I remember when our two large Sea Grape Trees were root pruned for transplant to another location. They cut the larger supporting roots which extend out beyond the arms of the branches to encourage the growth of more of the smaller feeder roots at the root ball itself. For an older tree the shock of this procedure can kill it, but properly done the tree will survive in its new location beautifully. As an army brat, we moved a lot and so I never put down roots at a particular place. The ground my roots were imbedded in was the people in my life, my family. That was my constant and my support. Although, death is as natural as birth and a good death should be treasured and special, still for the living there is a big void. Just about every older relative that was part of my memories of childhood and integral sense of self are gone now…grandparents, favourite aunts and uncles, a favourite cousin, and now my mother and father. It feels like the last, biggest and strongest supporting roots have been severed. Sure, the tree will survive and other supporting roots will become even stronger, and new feeder roots will give life new vitality. Still, I don’t like the sense of disconnect from such well loved parts of myself, but I don’t want to forget either and regret no tear spent in the process. I am lucky to feel this way. I love my roots.

As we seek renewal through Christ today, may we not be severed either from his love and support, by forgetting all He suffered on our behalf.

 

eulogy for Dad

John Darby Howard -  West Point Cadet

 

Almost exactly a year ago, I stood here delivering my mother’s eulogy, and found it one last chance to say thank you to someone you love. In that spirit, my eulogy to my father is a thank you letter.

Dear Dad;

It is so difficult for me to accept that your time with us in this earthly realm has ended. If I hadn’t been there at your bedside when you drew your last breath, I might yet think you were just working in your office or sitting in the next room. Yet, we had you here for 93 well lived years and how can I complain about that!

And what a 93 years they were. You served in three wars and saw the Berlin Wall come down. You’ve seen the advent of TV, the personal computer, man touching foot on the surface of the moon, and the Space Shuttle rumble into orbit from your back yard in Merritt Island.

They say that life’s only constant is change and I am sure the future holds many more technological achievements. But, Space Age to Digital Age the one thing that never changed was your personal dedication to God, Country and Family. Considering we moved every couple of years growing up, it was this sense of constancy and stability that gave us a secure childhood despite having had many addresses.

The hallmarks of my upbringing included your unflagging optimism and joy in life and that great gift you have in seeing the good in people. Being raised by a person who believes in the inherent goodness of man to balance out the negatives out there in the world gave all of us kids a positive platform from which to build our lives. That this would come from a soldier who has seen the face of war, is to me especially unusual. Perhaps we can blame it on Abou Ben Adhem’s angel who let us know that love of God blesses the one who loves his fellow man.

Of your 93 years, I am grateful for the years your parents spent helping mold you into the person you were and for the influence of forbears such as your grandfather, James Marion Howard, who exhibited a great work ethic and a problem solving attitude to life, including surviving the Civil War. And, for the influence of your own father Willis T. Howard, Methodist Minister and Military Chaplain who put God first and allowed that individuals must find a personal relationship with their Creator first and foremost above denominational concerns.

I am most grateful for the years you, along with Mom’s love and support, spent molding me into the person I am and thank you sincerely for a wonderful, supportive childhood. A childhood filled with both important as well as silly memories. Like remembering you laboring to help me understand Geometry with my tears of frustration dripping all over my theorems, or that short-lived enterprise of trying to get us kids take a spoonful of vinegar daily for health, or instilling a love of poetry…well with a few coins for the memorizing…always brings a smile…. did I really memorize Poe’s The Raven for a quarter??  Those poems so wisely chosen were probably part of the molding too…from Henry Leigh Hunts’ Abou Ben Adhem to William Ernest Henley’s Invictus to Edward Sill’s A Fool’s Prayer and so many others which spoke to the better instincts of man. And, on the more serious side remembering losing little Susan Leigh so soon and the lessons of Viet Nam learned while we lived in the Philippines. Even the difficult things were handled with grace and we kids were instilled with an appreciation for how precious life truly is.

Tripping down memory lane is certainly a fun ride of family camaraderie during so many wonderful road trips traveling from one army base to another. So many things, but whether the Grand Tetons, The Painted Desert, Yosemite, Yellowstone, or some lesser known side trip… it was always an adventure. Hawaii was one of my favourites from being there to witness statehood, to seeing Mauna Loa after it erupted and feeling the heat still present in the rock beneath our feet and steam visible from fissures as we walked on the hardened lava. Far too many adventures and anecdotes to recite here, but all part of my sense of life and inevitable curiosity of what comes next.

Even in retirement, you never slowed your pace and continued to serve your fellow man in so many ways. A position with the State Job service helped people gain employment. You took a Program Director position with Brevard Correctional to give others a chance to turn things around through education. And, most notably and most dear to your heart you led a campaign to bring veterans together in remembrance of all they gave for our freedoms and to aid their families in making the Merritt Island Veteran’s Center and Museum a reality. Duty – Honor – Country was never just a Motto for you; it was your sense of self. You not only followed the guidance of father and family, but also that of our founding fathers who looked to God as the source of Life and Freedom.

Even in your last days you thought of others first with thank you s for everyone and every helpful service provided. Your grateful spirit was undimmed even as you struggled for breath from failing lungs. When Darby and Ginger flew in to see you in the hospital with Lynda and me, you thanked US for ‘backing you up’, you who had our backs from day one.

I am so deeply blessed you were my father and thank you for your guidance in my life,

In conclusion, I’d like to share the poem Abou Ben Adhem by James Henry Leigh Hunt alluded to in the letter. If we are at all defined by the things we love, then it is easy to see why he loved this poem.

 

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)

Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,

And saw, within the moonlight in his room,

Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,

An angel writing in a book of gold:—

Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,

And to the presence in the room he said,

“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head,

And with a look made of all sweet accord,

Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”

“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”

Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,

But cheerly still; and said, “I pray thee, then,

Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night

It came again with a great wakening light,

And showed the names whom love of God had blest,

And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.

 

 

 Heaps of Love Dad, Heaps of Love

 

Dad in front of the Merritt Island Veteran's Center
and Museum he helped found and worked tirelessly
to make happen.

 

These soldier boots on display at the Merritt Island
 Veteran's Center are a haunting reminder of those who
served and the sacrifices they made.

For those who may wish to support the Merritt Island Veteran’s Memorial Center and Museum and its mission to help veterans you will find a donate button on their website.

Happy Easter Everyone,

Judy

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~ by Judy on April 1, 2018.

17 Responses to “Duty-Honor-Country: Remembering my Dad”

  1. Judy, this is simply beautiful. John Darby Howard – West Point Cadet, he must be a very proud father, for your words of eloquence and the love and honor you see in yourself that came from him and your mother. I’ve always noticed dedications to people who made certain pieces of memories or places possible, such as your father working to make the Merritt Island Veteran’s Center and Museum happen. These are the most valuable people around. Great tribute.

    • Much as we would like or I would like to leave something behind of some permanence, I don’t think everyone achieves that. Dad really did. But, he did it with only a desire to fix things or help people not to go down in history. Just one of the really good guys and that’s not just an every daughter thinks that thing!!

      I am most appreciative of your comments!! Thank you so much.

  2. Judy, Wonderful remembrance. Sure your father would be very proud. Jack Hardy

  3. Judy, such a moving eulogy! I am glad that I was able to learn a little bit about your Dad, and that little bit is already so impressive. I think you take after him and he must be very happy with such a talented person like you being his daughter.

    • Well I look like his side of the family and always hope to emulate his generous nature. My sister Ginger once wrote that she thought I had Dad’s heart. No greater compliment in my view.

  4. Even after the death of Dixie Rose, I had a couple of weeks of that feeling of being dislocated, or uprooted, or simply detached from the everyday life going on around me. In some ways, it was worse than when my mother died. I suspect that’s partly because my mother’s decline was long, and gradual, and everyone –including her — the end would be coming. With Dixie, the loss was sudden and unexpected: at noon she was here, and by four in the afternoon she was gone. So, what you say about your Dad’s sudden death makes sense to me.

    Your tribute is lovely, and his photo is just wonderful. My first response on seeing it was, “I’d like to know that man.” That isn’t possible now, but I can know him through you — a wonderful gift all its own.

    Happy Easter!

    • You would have liked him for certain. He was full of stories about his time in the wars and also of his grandparents and times on the farm in Alabama and of his parents and times in Japan and China when he was a young boy. Many things. You could write an essay on his experiences as an army brat too.

      Sorry about Dixie Rose. Loss is just plain hard.

  5. It’s good to see you’ve got it out there. It helps towards that sense of closure that everyone needs when encountering a loss.

    • True and while a certain amount of sorrow will fade slowly, life does assert itself and interests resume. And beta reading!!! 🙂

      • And I’ve just passed a landmark step in mourning my mother this day, as I’ve just agreed to the sale price for her house. Another tie to be severed. Sigh. My heart’s out to you, Judy.

      • Ditto that Brian!! I know it is not easy and loaded with memories and feelings that flood out with the sight of familiar things. The relationships will always be with us though and when you don’t think too hard about it, could just feel like its been a long time since a visit. No spontaneous phone calls though! Big Sigh!! Glad the house is sold though; that is a big step. In my family my sister is keeping Mom and Dads house and so perhaps it will remain a family hub with plenty of reminders of our parent despite a planned renovation or two.

      • Great to hear from you again

  6. A truly beautiful tribute to your father!

  7. What a great and loving tribute, complete with images that capture his essence. I am so sorry, you must miss him so much, as you had him for many amazing years.

    Sending love, Lisa

    • Thanks Lisa, I appreciate it! I was very lucky to have had Dad for such a full long life. But, I guess the missing is here to stay.

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