Blogging has almost become a thing of the past for me. I’m not sure why, but I just began to lose interest some months back … until today. Fourteen years ago today, while speaking in Sparta, Illinois for my pastor friend Bill Herald, I received the phone call from daughter-in-law Patty, breaking the news to me that her husband, our oldest son Justin (JDP2), had been killed in Iraq that morning.
Needless to say, with yesterday being his birthday, and today being the anniversary of his death, all-things-Justin are on my mind. I will spare any readers from having to read thousands of things that have crossed my mind, but there is something about which I would like to write that might be important for you—memories.
After posting on Face Book a photo of Justin and his oldest son Jared (JDP5), I have received hundreds of responses from friends, acquaintances, and friends of friends. Many comments involved something about “remembering,” in one form or another.
Of all the things that might concern me about Justin’s death and absence from all of us is that he might be forgotten. However, I assure you, there are many people who will never forget. With that backdrop, let me encourage you to consider taking three, deliberate steps of action with the people in your life.
First, from one voice of experience (and by no means the only one), determine to cherish the memories. Perhaps it’s an age-related factor—I am not sure—but the longer I live, the larger the memory bank becomes!
Someone commented that “Justin lived life to the fullest”—and he did! And because he did, he not only build a great memory bank for himself, but for those around him. One of Justin’s elementary school teachers (Dee Rothrock Pantana) shared her memory of him being “full of life and energy!” (She also commented that she was young back then and could handle it!) 😊
Many memories of Justin either cause those who knew him to smile, roll their eyes, or just laugh out loud! The memories of our lives make us better people if we will cherish them and use them wisely—even the hurtful and sad ones.
Then, my experiences in life lead me to say, cherish the relationships that you currently have. You will not always have them.
While no one really enjoys thinking about negative things, some are inevitable—like death. The Good Book reminds us that “ … it is appointed for man to die …” (Heb 9:27 ESV). Personally, I think that as we realize that everyone in our lives will die at some point, we would cherish all the more every relationship in our lives!
Sadly, we seem to subconsciously pretend that we’re all going to be here forever, avoid life-changing accidents, injuries, and diseases, and never grow old. However, the realities of life have a way of overtaking us. We awaken before the mirror and discover that the old person looking back is US! We finally make time to visit parents only to discover that the young or middle-aged father or mother became elderly and feeble—and we missed it!
If the important people of your life will always be there, perhaps the most reasonable, smartest, and most compassionate action to take is to love them while they are here. Build memories with them today that will bring a smile to your face and a warmth of gratitude to your heart when they are gone.
Lastly, let me encourage you to cherish today as an opportunity to make new, or renew old, commitments to the important people in your life. The greatest temptation (and gravest danger) is to wait, only to awaken one day to the sudden reality—that person is no longer here. Regret will speak loudly in your heart in that moment—“Oh, how I wish that I had …”
Above I used the word “experience” for a reason. One bitter-sweet memory comes to mind. While I do not recall what had upset then-teenage Justin, I remember vividly his tears and one comment. Referring to the times when I would be walking home for dinner and stop to shoot baskets with him, he said, “Dad, that was one of my favorite memories!”
Shooting a few hoops before our second (or third) call to come to dinner—such a small thing! But little things have a way of building big memories! Do the small things!
As a USMC Captain, Justin put his troops before himself, so whenever he called me from Iraq, it was usually some weird time of night/morning, so that other Marines could have time with their families by phone. I remember telling him more than once that he needed to save his telephone time for his wife Patty and the children—that he and I could email when it was convenient to his schedule. But oh, the memories of brief sat-phone conversations from Iraq—such a small thing! But small things have a way of building big, lasting memories! Do the small things!
BTW, do you pray? If so, would you pray for the family and friends of Justin today as we remember? It may be a small thing, but the impact will be big for us.
Thank you, Lord, for 32 years with “my boy!”
Beautiful reflections Dale. Wonderful words to live by too. My boys always laughed at me for telling them, “I love you!…just in case.” They thought that was silly but I’d seen it happen, that loss in an instant. I’ll bet both of them do that now with those they love. 😏 I love that we get to stay in touch better! I love you, and am thinking of you during this time.