Friday, July 27, 2012

Sweet Home Alabama

I recently lost one of my "Stars in the Sky". Cancer took our stepdad away from us six days ago. His name was Russell R. Johnson, he was only 68 years young. He was married to our mom for almost 25 years and he's been involved in our lives in all that time. He was around in almost all of our milestones and cheered us on all accomplishments, no matter how small. He walked my sister down the aisle when she got married. He was there when I graduated college and for the birth of my daughter. He was with us in many special occasions and always happy to share each and every one of them. We made him a proud dad and we were his family.

As we were going through the stacks of old photos a few nights ago, I was so touched to find so many pictures of my children with him; most especially my son's. He gave my son priceless childhood memories only a devoted grandfather could give him. He took my son fishing, camping, bowling and spent countless of hours hanging-out with him. They sincerely enjoyed each other's company. I must confess that I didn't fully appreciate his presence in my life until I witnessed how much he adored my son. I was already 18 when he came into my life, so I felt he was more my mother's husband than my dad. Having such teenage parents to begin with, my grandparents raised me and not having them in my life any longer is a void that at times cause me ache I cannot explain. So, I've always hoped for my children to grow up knowing what it's like to have grandparents who will love them and will want to spend time with them. I got that wish through my mom and Russell and since then I loved Russell more and more. My son is now 18 and will be starting college in a month. He was a well-rounded boy growing-up and evidently turning out to be a wonderful young man. I know in my heart that his grandpa had something to do with it and for that, I am eternally grateful.

I did not only lose a parent last July 22, children lost a wonderful grandfather and I grieve more for them than for myself. Family does not mean being blood-related at all. Looking back now, perhaps the "step" in stepdad meant he stepped-in to our lives by choice which made it more of a gift than an obligation. Often, the people who stay in your life are the ones you least expect to. We've all heard it before that, "the best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother." Russell loved our mom, they were partners in life and his absence will be felt by all of us immensely. As I cried with my mom while we said goodbye to our stepdad, I couldn't help imagine the pain and agony it must feel to lose someone you've been married to for 25 years... to lose a confidante and the friendship. Was it selfish of me that in the midst of my grief and sadness, I felt an overwhelming feeling of longing for my husband who's in California? I cannot wait to come home to his arms.

While I have been helping my mom sort out all the paperwork and important financial documents my stepdad left behind, I understood that no one can ever really be prepared for death. He knew he was ill for months and he did his best to put everything in order...he still ran out of time. Knowing him, I am sure he would have given anything for a little bit more time. He left behind many wonderful memories and friendships that will last. I am honored to say that my two younger sisters and I are his legacy and isn't that what life really is all about? In the end...the family one leaves behind and the difference one makes in other people's lives are the things that truly matter. He made a difference in our lives and we promise to always make him proud. Rest in Peace, dear Daddy Russell. I hope you knew how much you meant to me. Our hearts are broken because you are no longer here with us, but remembering all the good times and knowing you are no longer in pain give us strength and comfort. We will someday have a drink up in heaven.

BTW, I am typing this post in Alabama. It has been twenty years since we were last here. It's too bad that it has taken that long since we last visited. I have completely forgotten the hospitality and good-fellowship that can only be found in the south. Here, my sister and I, though in our early 40's...we are still referred to as girls, and it's not offensive at all. I find it sweet and endearing. We have not cooked for almost a week. Neighbors and friends came by nonstop to bring us food and to offer their condolences and to ask if there was anything they could do to help. Hugs are not optional. I have forgotten how much I loved the sweet tea here and I'm also surprised I don't have fried chicken coming out of my ears yet. Smile. It's such a beautiful town and the lands are abundant and green. It is so peaceful. I have not heard a fire truck, police car or ambulance drive by since Sunday. Oh well, I am sorry I don't have a card to share with you today. As soon as I get back to California I will have to make special thank you cards for everybody who supported our family during this difficult time. Tomorrow, we are going to Hobby Lobby and I am looking forward to it.

That's all for sweet iced tea awaits.


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