Monthly Archives: May 2014

Things Can Change Quickly

In making a funeral plan, we generally consider funeral costs, determining whether burial or cremation services will be used, obituary writer and funeral clergy selection, and whether or not we need funeral insurance or some other funeral fund to help defray the costs which today can be quite high.  Finally, we also must review our probate and estate plan to insure that our loved ones can live reasonably well after we are gone.

The one thing we never think of when making plans, however, is the death of a child.  We always assume that our children will outlive us and generally that is a correct assumption.  But as we all well know, life doesn’t always work out the way we plan and death never takes a holiday.

Sadly, the warm weather which is here now and the activity of young people who naturally think they are immune from harm can combine to create a disastrous situation.  With school letting out and summer almost upon us, now is a good time to talk with your children, be they five or eighteen, about their need to act responsibly and safely in the many fun activities which summer brings.

Following is a true story which involves an acquaintance of my son while celebrating graduation from high school.  The names and location are changed to protect the privacy of the living relatives of the deceased and to respect his memory and peace.  I tell it not to frighten anyone but to make real for others the need to realize just how fleeting the gift of life can.  And since God has given us free will and with it the ability to make choices, poor choices can sometimes result in bad things happening to otherwise good people.

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Johnny was excited.  He was graduating from high school soon and was looking forward to going away to college in September.  He had a good summer job with a local hardware store and enjoyed helping the many customers who came by daily for needed supplies.  But he really looked forward to his free time in the summer since, living in a coastal town, fun in the sun at the beach or on the water was what he and his buddies would be enjoying.

Swimming, waterskiing and fishing were all in the game plan and, of course, whenever they were near the water there were also plenty of pretty girls.  Boys will be boys, but unfortunately they often do stupid things around pretty girls to hopefully impress them or at least gain their attention.  This would prove to be a big mistake for Johnny, one we’ll learn about shortly.

The final week of school went by and graduation was held outdoors at the school’s football stadium.  It was a great occasion and Johnny and his friends immediately left for the beach home of his best friend, Tom.  Tom’s father was well to do and had a beautiful beach home on the ocean about an hour’s drive from the school.  It was within walking distance of a marina, several nice restaurants and the shops and teen hangouts that are always found in beach towns.  A group of four of them had been invited to spend the weekend and relax and enjoy themselves.  Tom’s mom and dad would be in and out, but they trusted these boys they had known since they were children and it was a very close knit group.  Besides, they were warned that the party would abruptly end if any intemperate behavior was involved.

A considerable number of their friends were also spending the weekend at the beach and they made arrangements to meet after dinner the next night at the Rec Center, a group of businesses in a small shopping center beside the beach that catered to the weekend and vacationing set.  It included a fishing pier, ice skating rink, bowling alley and games center, a dance floor catering to teens and numerous eating establishments and shops. 

Linking up in the parking lot, they decided to check out the fishing pier and see if anything was biting.  They had brought their tackle with them and were dying to try their luck.  Besides, it was a beautiful moonlit night, and from the pier the moon shimmered in the water and looking back to shore the twinkling lights up and down the coast were clearly visible beneath the starry sky.

The girls who joined them really weren’t very keen on the fishing idea, so the boys promised if they didn’t have any luck within two hours they would take them dancing.  The girls smiled and were appeased and relented in their complaints.  After all, if they wanted to have a girls’ night out they would have been better off back home.

After an hour or so the boys were growing impatient.  They had only caught two fish and neither were “keepers”.  And this is when things went awry, for the boys started bragging about who could walk the railing from shore to the end and back the fastest.  Johnny’s friend, Tom went first and completed the circuit quickly with no problems. One of the other boys was next and then it was Johnny’s turn.

The railing was four feet high and it was eighteen feet above the water and while wide enough to navigate for someone with good balance, an occasional larger wave coming in would cause the pier to sway a small degree, enough to affect concentration.  Johnny took a deep breath, climbed up and gained his balance and composure and turned seaward.  Heading down the railing he looked strong and confident.  No one could tell he was nervous but he wasn’t about to “chicken out”.

As he made the turn at the end to return to complete his walk, one of the girls yelled that a big swell was coming.  As Johnny looked back and saw the six footer approach, large for an otherwise calm night, he began to lose balance and the passing wave delivered the finishing touch.  Johnny plunged the eighteen feet into the water and didn’t immediately surface.

Tom ran to the point where he fell, looked down, saw nothing and dove in to search for his friend.  It was pitch black in the water below the pier and Tom dove under several times, coming up empty handed and gasping for air before he finally found Johnny.  His body was limp and his head was at a funny tilt.  Using every ounce of strength that he had, he managed to swim with his lifeless friend toward shore, using the incoming waves to push him along.

Finally reaching the beach, he pulled Johnny out of the water and set him down in the damp sand.  One of the girls ran to the rec center to get help while Tom, a certified life guard with experience in CPR, worked on Johnny trying to get him to breathe.  His valiant attempts were unsuccessful and all he could do was wait helplessly for the rescue squad to arrive.

The arriving medic checked Johnny’s pulse and found none, and he noticed the angle of his head which indicated that his neck was broken.  There was nothing anyone could do.  Johnny’s unbalanced fall had resulted in his hitting the water at a bad angle, resulting in his immediate death.

Tom was devastated and blamed himself.  If only he hadn’t thought up the stupid challenge, everything would have been okay and Johnny would still be alive.  It took him the entire summer to return to any semblance of normalcy, despite Johnny’s parents telling him they knew it wasn’t his fault.  They knew the boys were subject to free will and, in this instance, they had made a bad decision and Johnny and Tom both paid the price. Johnny was dead and Tom would have to live with the memory of a horrible accident at a time when they both should have been enjoying their graduation celebration and a wonderful summer.

Death is unfortunately a fate that we all must face and we never know when it will come for each of us.  And I don’t tell this story to show the necessity of having a funeral plan made for someone in advance as young as Johnny, for even the best prepared of us is not likely to plan in advance for this type of occurrence.  But it is important for us to make arrangements much greater than a funeral plan for all of our loved ones, young and old, and it takes their buy in and their acceptance.

The plan I am talking about is one that can only come through individual faith. Having faith in God through His Son, who died for us, is the only way we can truly plan for our future.  For our ultimate future is not in this world, but rather an eternal one involving our life everlasting with the Father.  Teach your children wisely so that they have a plan in place whenever that fateful ending to life happens.  It is the only way to truly live.

God bless you all and have a safe and happy summer, but always put Him first. Your life depends on it.

James Dick

Hawthorne, Florida

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Book page: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark or

www.amazon.com/author/jamesdick

 

Memorial Day 2014: Remember the Fallen

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year of Our Lord 1918, the guns fell silent in France.  A truce signifying the end of the “War to End All Wars” brought with it an uneasy, yet peaceful serenity to the thousands of soldiers, Allied Forces and Germans, who hadn’t had quiet in their lives in years.  Tragically, life for the 116,000 dead Americans was ended in their early prime.

While it took a considerable period of time for the Articles of Peace to be formulated, the end result was good for soldiers but ultimately tragic for the world.  The proud German people were basically held responsible for all aspects of the war and treated accordingly.  And with the upcoming economic disaster known as the Great Depression, the world created the very seed for a much more expanded and even more bitter contest to unfold in a mere twenty years.

With the exception of the Civil War, where Americans fought against their own brothers and cousins, World War II by far had the highest death total, over 400,000.  And this number does not include those who were lost and never found in the swamps of Guadalcanal or in the snows of Bastogne.  Almost every family in America was touched by the tragedy of this war on two fronts and it was one that all hoped would never be repeated.

Sadly, since that time America has been involved in many conflicts, the most noteworthy being Vietnam (over 58,000 deaths), Korea (over 36,000), Iraq (4800) and Afghanistan (almost 3400 and still growing) plus a large number of smaller conflicts which also resulted in death.  Despite all of the death, and the heretofore unmentioned large number of maimed and wounded who survived and suffered through these conflicts, we today once again find the world filled with hatred and animosity and the prospect of further conflict ever present in our minds.

So I would urge every American to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for each of us and our fellow countrymen, for as long as man lives on this earth there will be conflicts for which we must maintain a standing force of brave men and women ready and willing to answer the call of duty.

What can you do to honor our dead?  Visit a military cemetery, participate in a Memorial Day service or event, fly your flag proudly, and thank those who have sacrificed for us.  Each of us has a neighbor or friend who has sacrificed their time and in many cases their physical well- being for our freedom and they deserve our sincere gratitude and respect. Don’t forget to tell them.

And there is one other thing we need to do.  We need to pray to our Lord for the care of those who have suffered, for their families and for the souls of those departed. Won’t you join me in prayer?

Dear Lord:  We thank you for always being available to talk with you and seek your guidance through prayer and we beseech you to help us find a way to end the pain and suffering that so many of our fine young men and women face due to never ending war.  Hatred, anger and bitterness, all of which are a waste of good energy and contrary to what you would have us do, is so prevalent today and we each must reach into our inner selves and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, find forgiveness and peace.

We know that you love those who died in support of their country and that war is not of your doing but just another of the sins that we mere mortals have created with the free will granted to us. But help us to be strong in searching within our conscience and ridding ourselves of the very traits that, on a societal level, allow for war to take place.

And please remember those living veterans who are suffering from war wounds, both physical and mental, and help our government officials to provide the care that they have been promised, not instead using their positions to further their own careers and fortune. Help them see the light and turn to you for the strength they need to listen to you and follow you in all that they do.

Finally, help our enemies to also find peace and tranquility and a willingness to come to solutions short of warfare, but help us to always be vigilant against those who do not seek peace honestly but instead use temporary periods of peace to plan for more and greater bloodshed.  Let us always stand strong and resolute against such action.

Lord keep all of our military safe, be with them in their good and bad times and enter their hearts and souls to guide them in the difficult tasks that they are called upon to do.  Be with them forever and with the rest of us as well.  We pray in your Holy name, Amen.

Never forget what our heroes have done for us and honor them always. Enjoy this special holiday with picnics and relaxation time with family and friends but always put those who did so much for us first in our hearts and minds on this day.  Happy Memorial Day 2014 to everyone and may Old Glory ever fly free as a symbol of what America truly means.

James Dick

Hawthorne, Florida

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Book page: www.amazon.com/author/jamesdick or

www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

Author: Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark

 

Do You Remember Armed Forces Day?

So as the family’s funeral representative, you did what was required for your loved one who is now gone.  You carried out funeral plans, insured that the eulogy writer prepared a wonderful written memorial and appreciated the wonderful service by the funeral clergy which was delivered before a backdrop of beautiful funeral flowers just as requested in the decedent’s written funeral plan.  After all was done, you directed the payment of all funeral expenses and closed out all remaining requirements of your duty for the family.

Three months later, you decide to go and visit the gravesite now that the marker and headstone are finally in place.  Standing in front of the impressive granite headstone, you suddenly realize that his funeral plot is so bare.  There are no flowers or other indication that anyone has been to visit.  And you realize just how quickly the dead are forgotten as the living must go forward with their lives.  It’s not that they mean to, it’s just that with life’s requirements and things to be done, the best laid plans for remembrance often fade like the sunset.

This coming Saturday is Armed Forces Day, a day when America traditionally celebrated the American military for all that they do to protect us and keep us safe.  It is not just for the dead or the wounded or even those who fought in wars for their country.  No, this is a day designed to honor the composite force of men and women and the military institutions themselves for what they mean to us. In many respects, it has been forgotten in recent generations.

In years gone by, Armed Forces Day was a really big deal.  Communities around the country held parades, usually on Saturday morning, and townspeople planning on shopping downtown timed their trips to first attend the parade and then shop.  Military units were invited to participate, local bands showed up dressed to the hilt and even the police and fire departments entered marching units in dress uniforms.  The reviewing stand for judging performance was decked out in red, white and blue bunting rivaling a Fourth of July parade and many in the crowd wore red, white and blue while sporting American flags.  Patriotic pride clearly filled the air.

I had the good fortune as a boy to personally participate in this wonderful parade of support for our military.  The first time, as a Cub Scout, I remember making sure my mom did a special pressing of my uniform as I wanted it to be perfect.  I stood tall and proud as our group, normally mischievous and active, stood at silent attention waiting to step out.  I think it was right then when I knew I wanted to be a soldier when I grew up.

Later, in the first year of high school before I became active in sports, I marched as a member of the marching band.  In our blue and gold uniforms with gleaming instruments, we all felt a chill go down our back as we stepped out on the avenue at the beginning of the parade route and saw the huge throngs of people watching our every step.  When we broke into a John Philip Sousa march the crowd cheered and we played as well and as loud as we ever performed.  At the end of the long parade, we were hot and tired but happy and we felt extremely proud to be Americans and to have our military to keep us free.

Aside from some American Legion functions and events in heavily military family communities, most of us no longer even know that this day is on the calendar.  And it’s sad to note that since the anti-war movement became so outspoken during the Vietnam conflict, those who give dearly of themselves, even up to and including death for their American brothers and sisters, fail to be recognized on this occasion.  I’m afraid it’s just a sad sign of the times and as fewer and fewer young Americans experience the privilege of serving in uniform it becomes easy to forget the cause which many no longer fully understand or appreciate.

We’re going to have another chance soon to celebrate and honor our military, but this next opportunity is for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, dying for their country and their countrymen.  Memorial Day is right around the corner and while it is positive that more tend to remember this day than any other military-related day, it is really sad that only after death do we as a nation seem to take real notice of all that our brave fighting men and women do.

So, on this Armed Forces Day I ask that each of you take a moment and say thanks to all of our fellow citizens for taking the time and sacrificing a portion of their lives so that we might remain free.  God bless them and God bless the United States of America. May her flag forever fly proudly over a land that remains free.

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Book page: www.amazon.com/author/jamesdick

Author of Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark, a Best Read for 2014 selection of American Pet Magazine

 

A Tribute to Mothers Everywhere

This Sunday we will celebrate Mother’s Day, a day which we set aside to honor those women who raised us, played a key role in establishing our moral values, and kept us safe and secure in the formative years so that we could develop into adults capable of supporting ourselves and continuing the ever changing cycle of creation of new life.  And while fathers are certainly also important traditionally as the leader of the household, it was our mother who was the one who usually filled the role of principal caretaker and day-to-day life support coach.

For many of us, today is a day when a big family gathering is scheduled where all grown children and their families gather together for a family meal after church.  For others, from less close knit families, it might be taking Mom out to dinner at a nice restaurant.  And for even others, those who no longer have Mom with us, it might be a visit to the cemetery with flowers of remembrance.  But whatever the activity might be, it is important for us to never forget the sacrifice that our mothers made for us so that we grew up happy and well-balanced.

Each of us has special memories of Mom.  I will just relay a few about my mom who is no longer with us as an example of how much I loved her.  I hope and trust that these words might awaken memories from your own past about your own mother and what she means to you.

Mom was a country girl, born in a small fishing village in the coastal Southeast.  She had a normal childhood: doing farm chores after school, tending to her little brother (she was one of nine kids) and from all reports she was quite the tomboy.  In high school she was a pretty good guard on the girls’ basketball team and sometimes it was quite painful.  It seems in those days they practiced for all games on an outdoor court which used clam shells for boundary markers.  In later years she would laugh talking about coming home with bloody knees which her mom would tend to.

Never having been to a large city, she embarked right out of high school for nursing school in New York City, where she met my dad, an intern, and they eventually married before returning to his native Virginia to live after training was done.  America was gripped by the Great Depression in those days and she talked of the good fortune of being given gratis tickets to New York sporting events since nurses were considered sister saints by residents of a struggling city.  She even had the opportunity to meet Babe Ruth in person.

I was the last of three children born to Mom in Virginia and she chose not to continue in nursing and instead took on raising us three children as a full time duty.  She also doubled as the neighborhood nurse for all of our friends when any of us suffered the normal bumps and bruises associated with childhood games in the 1950s and early ‘60s.  After all, we didn’t have knee and elbow pads and helmets and the quick answer was always Bismuth Violet, the purple antiseptic that was a badge of courage among little boys back then.

Graduating from high school, I went on to college and then the Army.  I didn’t see Mom nearly as much, of course, but I did write to her weekly and visited whenever I could get leave or during school breaks.  She always kept me abreast of things and I can remember how she would pull out the scrapbook for memories’ sake whenever I came home.  She kept clippings, stories and anything else she thought I might like.

As I reached middle age, Mom started to falter.  By then she was in her mid-80’s and except for one operation that I can remember, she was never sick or in the hospital.  It must have been that good old country living and exercise, and she religiously took a brisk daily walk for good health.  Despite her best effort, however, Mom started to fail.  It wasn’t failure in her ambulatory skills but mental. 

Mom developed Alzheimer’s and eventually could no longer take care of herself.  I offered to move her to Florida but she wouldn’t hear of it, saying she would rather be in assisted living in Virginia than to leave the place she had called home since 1938.

I traveled home to visit her at least once a year and, in 2004, I was preparing for another trip to see her when my sister called and said she had passed.  I was sad but didn’t cry; I guess I kind of expected it at any time and since she no longer could remember me she was a shell of her former self.  I will say this, though; Mom remembered things from her childhood and New York in detail even if she no longer recognized me.

It was a chilly late October day when we went to view her body at the funeral home the day before she was laid to rest.  The funeral director had done a splendid job of making her lifelike, yet as active as she had been in life that couldn’t be replaced.

Seeing her like that, it broke the ice and I cried like a baby.  I remembered childhood at home, the family holidays and food, the skinned knees, the discipline when I needed it, but most of all the love and encouragement that she gave to me and my siblings.  Not only was she the staying force in my early years, she was the staying force for our entire neighborhood.  Any neighbor could stop in at all times of day for a cup of coffee and a chat, and a neighborhood child could find the door open if they needed a place to stay until their parents got home.  It was a different time and place and Mom was a different kind of lady.

As we left the funeral, we decided to honor her by stopping for a cup of coffee and a chat before scattering on our separate ways.  And we laughed joyously together knowing that she was in a better place.  We also knew that she was probably watching us from afar a nodding in our choice of places to say our goodbyes to each other.

It’s now ten years later and I think of her often.  And Mom, I hope you are proud of me and what I’ve done with my life.  Oh, I’ve made my strikes and errors, but at least know this: I love you and look forward to sometime in the future seeing you again and talking with you over some of that strong coffee of yours because I know you are still drinking it.

I hope my comments here have helped rekindle those memories that each of you have about your mothers and what they did to get you ready for life.  Happy Mother’s Day to mothers everywhere.

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Book site: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

Author of Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark, my story of life with animals in rural America

 

The Best Legacy Left Behind is the Way You Live Today

We’ve talked over the last year or so via this blog about the importance of getting your affairs in order including your personal funeral plan.  Determining funeral costs, funeral expenses, and general funeral needs are important and making sure that ensuring the presentation both by the funeral clergy and by the eulogy writer are also important in leaving the memory of you for your loved ones in a tasteful and memorable way.  Your loved ones will look back often at the memory of your last rights as they think back about what you mean to them.

But there is one other aspect of the memories that you leave behind that are so much more important than the presentation that represented you.  It’s the reality of how you lived your life before you died, because those precious memories of the “real” you, witnessed by family and friends in the flesh, that really drive your legacy for the living.  For this reason, it is very important that you evaluate yourself honestly and use what you learn from this exercise to guide the remainder of your life.  It is never too late to change the way you are for the better, after all, as Jesus taught us we are all sinners no matter how hard we try for perfection.

So how do you go about this self-evaluation?  Well, there are many ways, but might I suggest a few questions as a starting point.  These are questions that we can apply to ourselves under any circumstances and they will open you up to many more questions.  Believe me, there is probably no limit to the number of questions that this first set of questions opens, and that is one of the most important features of self-evaluation.  It should be ongoing and regularly used as a refresher course to insure you are sticking with it throughout your life.  As mentioned earlier, it is never too late to change our course for the better.

Here are some questions and a little guidance to get you started:

1.      Are you at peace with yourself and do you have love in your heart?  Now since I am a Christian, I think you probably know where I am headed with this but, even if you aren’t, peace and love are two wonderful terms to describe how we should focus our lives.  If we are caught up in envy or hate we spend our time wasting our energy while also accomplishing nothing positive in life.  For life to be meaningful you need peace and love, and by love I mean love of all of mankind, those who are friend and foe alike.  This is truly critical if we are going to serve as an example to others of good living and what is expected of all of us.  If you don’t feel this way, take a good inward look and determine what it will take to get rid of the hate, jealousy or whatever else keeps you from being happy.

 

2.      If married, do you and your wife (or husband) consider yourself to be as one?  While those of you who have never married might not understand the point here, it is a simple one.  When you make a commitment to a spouse through Holy Matrimony, you are saying that you are each a part of the other.  You are a team in life and you work in tandem, not keeping secrets from one another and enjoying the time, the joy and the counsel that you receive from one another.  If you don’t look at your marriage this way, you are missing something precious and wonderful.  And even if you are not married, I think the idea of this commitment is indicative of how you should approach your life as well.

 

3.      What about your children?  So what do your children really think about you?  Do you spend time with them and encourage their schoolwork and their extra interests or are you overly demanding and hard hearted?  Children need nurture and encouragement to do their best, but they also need rules to live by and consequences for their actions.  And since there is no text book to follow, it is a work in progress.  If you are too rough on them, they don’t like but if you are too soft, you are not helping them to learn about how life operates.  Take time to clearly think about these things and how you respond.

 

4.      When you make commitments to others, do you honor them and follow through?  Many of the same type of thought processes as discussed above also apply here but in a different context.   Be a person of your word and honor your commitments.  Just like promising a child a baseball game, if cancelled, is a huge disappointment, the impact here can be losing your good name as an honest and reliable person.  You can lose your reputation in mere moments but rebuilding it can take a lifetime.  Don’t take this lightly.

 

5.      Do you feel that the successes you have had in life have come honestly?  Deep down inside you know what you had to do to get where you are.  Was it based on good moral values and principles or did you allow things to slide?  Did you justify your shortfall as being a means to the end and nothing more?  This one can lead into a very insightful but also painful process or recollection, but if it does it means it is needed.

 

6.      Are there things in your life that you feel ashamed of and have you tried to mend the errors of your ways?  Here you are looking for those things that you consciously know you have done in the past that were wrong and that continue to bother you.  Probably first and foremost as a result should be coming clean with your God on this one.  He will forgive you and allow you to forgive yourself and, where possible, try to make amends with the person you hurt.  It’s tough, I know, but you’ll be surprised at how accepting people are when they know you are sincere.

 

7.      What do you expect to be your future when this life is done?  Here’s where you look at your future and whether or not you believe in salvation and continued life in another place.  If you believe, as I do, that God awaits those who love Him, it is easy to identify with what you generally expect.  If you don’t believe this, ponder it for a while.  I mean, really, what was the purpose of your life on earth, with all of its trials and tribulation as well as its joys if there is a vast nothingness when it ends.  I just have problems grasping with that possibility.

As suggested, these are just a few questions to get your thinking going.  They merely serve to open the door to your heart and your soul.  But they do hopefully make you focus on your life and how it has impacted others and what that means for your legacy when your time is over. The entire point is to sit down, candidly look at yourself privately and by yourself, and come to an honest assessment of your life so far. You can use it to make any changes necessary to help you take your human self in the direction it needs to go.

Open your heart and your soul and really take the time to look inside yourself.  The reality of the real you as you have been and as you would like to be will surface if you give it a chance.  Won’t it be nice to continue your personal growth into being and living that person you want to be.  Trust me, it will be good for you and it will make your family love you even more.

God bless you and have another wonderful week.  Spring is here in its full glory and it offers us a wonderful sign of the New Life that we all have available to us.  Let’s take advantage of it.

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Book site: www.amazon.com/author/jamesdick

Author of Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark, selected a 2014 Best Read by American Pet Magazine