It was something I wanted to do, and yet I knew it would not be easy.
I was invited to speak to my son Jon's class reunion about his life. Long-time readers here know we lost Jon three years ago in a traffic accident. Those who say grief gets better with time might be right, but what I have found is that it is always there, just under the surface and prone to reappearing in full force when some small thing triggers it--an offhand comment, a car like one he used to own, an expression on his granddaughter's face, or other seemingly harmless occurrences.
But when the invitation came to speak to his classmates I knew it was something I should do. Jon loved high school for probably all the wrong reasons--he liked being with his friends, cutting up, driving himself to school. He disliked it too--the authority of the administrators and teachers, the imposed discipline, the necessity to sit for long periods of time. Calls from the assistant principal were frequent, usually ending with a suspension of a day or more, which did not bother Jon at all. He just went to work at one of his many jobs; making money meant more to him then than an education. So those who knew him in school, but had not really seen him afterwards because he left this area immediately upon graduating, knew little of what he had become.
Jon was always a worker. As a little boy he couldn't wait to wash dishes, milk our cow or drive the tractor. He tired of these tasks pretty quickly, but he did them and did them well. He often held three jobs at a time while he was in high school, working at a restaurant, a tire shop, a car wash, and a movie theater, to name a few. From the time he could drive he was pretty much self-supporting. He felt like his own man, so having to obey the seemingly meaningless rules of school made him chafe at the bit. Graduation couldn't come soon enough for him--and he was already enlisted in the Army at 16, and ready to ship out immediately after graduating.
Once he was in the Army, his life continued to spiral upward. He gained promotions quickly and loved the military life because its discipline had meaning for him. He served in the White House Communications Agency and traveled often with the President and other heads of state, helping to set up secure communications networks. He married the love of his life too, who was also in the Army.
After a medical discharge from the Army (asthma and other health issues) he jumped into a new challenge, the new world of cell phones. He traveled extensively with this work, often overseas. Meantime he became the father of five lovely daughters and moved across country twice in a year. He also earned a college degree and a master's degree in business. His last major change was into a new field of work, geotech drilling, where he was the executive vp and part owner.
His hobbies were numerous too--from mountain biking to golf and skiiing, scuba diving to motorcycle racing, he tried anything that came his way. He was seldom still; if he was still he was probably asleep!
This part of Jon's life was unknown to those who remembered him in high school, and I knew that he would want them to know what he'd accomplished. I also wanted to share the legacy he left to all who knew him: to never give up, to take every challenge, to say how instead of why, and to live this life while it is ours to live.
A storyteller knows that the teller cannot break into tears; to do so makes the audience worry about the teller, and that is not good. I knew getting through my talk would be a challenge, but it was one I was willing to take. I thought about what to say, how to say it and how it make the occasion safe for all concerned, as well as inspirational and even with some humor here and there.
Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.