Truck's leaving

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I have no words, yet feel compelled to write. My sister called with the news in the late evening of Thursday, Aug. 19. My heart sank with the ring of the phone. My husband Jason had already gone to bed. I don't recall the exact words she used that ushered me into my new reality. There was an accident. It's Dad. He didn't make it. Something ... something ... boat in Maine.

With heavy heart and disbelief I went to Jason. He'd awakened with the call. While I received the tragic news, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" began playing on the iPod in our room.

My only thought at that moment was to get to my mother, alone two hours away, innocent and unaware of the policeman en route to her doorstep. Every other immediate family member was in a different state at the time of the accident, and I was closest.

No one slept that first night. Jason, the boys and I arrived at 2 a.m. to a house full of loving friends and neighbors comforting my mother. My siblings and their families arrived throughout the morning. The next day was a blur of calls, sympathetic e-mails, thick tears tinged with half-smiles or near laughter and an armada of food and visitors.

One year ago I struggled to accept my mother's mortality as she fought and won the battle against breast cancer. I recall my parents returning from my mother's surgery to two perfect pink rose blooms in my mother's garden. Yesterday the five of us went out to the cemetery to see about a mausoleum site. When we returned a single pink perfect rose had bloomed. Where there were two now there is one.

The single rose is the hardest part. It is the natural order that parents die before their children. It is a loss we can expect. We marry till death do us part but shove the potential from our minds as we traverse through daily life. Death has parted my parents. Though her children, family and friends are there for her, there is no substitute for my mom's best friend.

As my siblings shared our memories, we were struck by the realization that our father had sought each of us out earlier in the week to tell us we were so blessed. It's easier to feel cursed in moments such as these, but when we look harder we can see the blessings. We're blessed to have each other. We're blessed to have no one to blame. We're blessed with our faith. We're blessed to have known him.

His imprint surrounds us: the book he was reading, his shoes by the door, his empty chair, the car retrieved from the airport containing his ball caps and glasses. I try to etch his picture in my mind and the sound of his voice so that I won't forget.

Wally had a passion for his job. We knew he'd never really be able to retire, and as it turns out he never had to. He adored his purple martins. None of us know how to make them return. He was crazy for his Cardinals baseball. My son wants to know if we can still watch them play. Wally loved his family. He was so pleased we'd be 20 at our reunion next year, 10 adults, 10 kids. But as of the 19th, we'll be 19. That number is not so perfect.

Dad was a great Papa to his eight-going-on-10 grandchildren. My siblings and I remember our father being a strict disciplinarian, but by the time the first grandchild came along he was a big softy. Every grandchild has been tickled with a "Here comes the bumblebee out of the barn with a bag of honey under his arm."

My dad had his own funny little ways of speaking. He answered the phone with "Yellow?" All flowers were hollyhocks. Casual shoes were clodhoppers. A gazebo or any outdoor seating area was a gazzabow. When something wasn't right or someone crossed a line he'd remark, "Throw the flag" or "That's a flag." He loved the word "multisyllabic" and used it to describe anything that was complicated. Other common phrases include "It'll put hair on your chest," "Look both ways," "Figure it out," "Down the hatch," "You'll wake the baby" (when no baby was around) and "We don't need to call anybody" (in the midst of a home project). Whenever Dad was ready to leave he gave no warnings. He simply stated, "Truck's leaving," and we'd scurry to comply. It's fitting that he left us without warning. He wasn't one for long good-byes.

Wally was full of wisdom and loved giving advice. Many people have used the word mentor when describing him. We remember him telling us, "Success is having the problems you want," "That's a good problem to have" and "Learn to love the things you have to do." He often remarked, "Now that's funny, I don't care who you are." "Everybody has a cross" is a phrase we all well know.

We have learned this week that Dad was emphatically wrong about this phrase: "You can count your true friends on one hand." Each of us have been enveloped in a flood of warmth and love from a sea of true friends. We are in awe of all the people who have told us how important he was to them even before the visitation has begun. I hope that he knows better now.

Jenny Shaffer of Kirkwood, Mo., wrote this tribute to her father, Wally Lage, earlier this week. The funeral for Lage, who died last week in Maine, is today. Lage was vice president and chief operating officer of Rust Communications.

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