Today is a hard day. A very dear friend of mine is being buried today. He should not be. He was still young. He retired after 20+ years as a peace officer. He has 11 children and 2 grandchildren. His youngest child is 8 years old. We have know him for over 20 years, as he was just starting the academy when we met him. I am in shock. I find it so hard to believe this man, who was larger than life, is gone. He was funny. He was so well informed. He told the most amazing stories. We laughed and laughed with him. We camped with them. We went hunting. We ran our English Springers together. We traveled up and down California with our kids and dogs crammed into our SUVs. We shared the same wedding anniversary. We attended Church together. We broke bread countless times together. We prayed together. He and his wife honored us when they asked us to be godparents to lucky #7.
There are so many wonderful stories I could share with you. So much fun designing ideas for the yard and the house. He was so creative and he would come up with these zany ideas. He’d rush out and get all the stuff for it, start it, and say, “That’s gonna look great!” and he’d have satisfied his creativity! LOL! Drove me nuts. One day I came over and he yells, “Jan – Jan, you have to come look at the bathroom! It’s DONE!” He was so proud! LOL. I just hugged him and we both laughed. It looked, of course, amazing.
One time we went dove hunting and Chris decided to make “chicken nuggets” out of the doves. He was an amazing cook. So he’s cooking these little doves and placing them on a platter on the picnic table. We adults were sitting around watching, having an adult beverage, and chatting. The kids kept running through the camp and each time, they’d grab a “nugget.” Chris couldn’t figure out where they were all going, because each time he’d turn around to place more completed nuggets on the table, the platter would be empty. Then he yells at the kids, “Those are the most expensive nuggets you will ever eat. Slow down!” Then he goes on to give us calculations of all the costs – hunting license, guns, ammo, gas to get there, hunting dogs and all their gear, camping gear costs, our SUVs and tents, etc, etc, etc. He surmised that driving through McDonald’s would have been far more cost effective, even with all those kids to feed – his and ours. LOL. He was so fun. We have some hilarious memories of hunting and running our dogs. Our eldest son had two funny episodes where in one, he shot the backside off a pheasant. So funny. Another one where he asked if this snake was poisonous and before Chris could finish telling him it was a harmless king snake, it was blown to bits. My son still recalls those times with fondness.
Chris taught our youngest son to drive a stick shift in his old army jeep. My son treasures that memory. He said Chris was so patient – each time he’d stall out, he would just explain what happened, and they’d start again. He never got mad, but would laugh. Our son and godson learned together and that was so cool.
We homeschooled our kids and we spent many an evening over long dinners and barbecues, discussing curriculum, our faith, and what we were doing with all these children the Lord blessed us with. He was a strong Catholic and would not waiver one iota from his faith. He was one of the most honest men I have known. When Chris told you something, you could take it to the bank. I trusted him with my life, and the life of my children. If I was in danger and my husband was not around, I could call Chris and he’d be there in a minute. He was one of the good guys. He and Pam had an amazing life together, accomplishing more than most couples do. Chris had a small plane and they would offer to fly us wherever we wanted to go. My kids took him up on it, but I am a big chicken. I do not like to fly, let alone in a little plane. I trusted Chris as a pilot, implicitly, but my unease is the whole height thing. I even hate driving up into mountains (I know – irony, since I live in amongst them here in Alaska). Chris and Pam were going to come up this summer and he wanted to see Alaska by air. Another dear friend, who was a pilot, relocated to Idaho last summer. As I was helping them pack, I saw stacks of flight maps and books on flying in Alaska. I immediately thought of Chris. I asked if I could take them for my friend and they gave me the entire box. One of the biggest regrets I have in life is that box is still in my garage. I had kept it because they were coming up and I was just going to give them to him. And now he will never see them. And it breaks my heart when I walk into the garage and see those books and maps. Don’t put things off. You simply never know what tomorrow will hold.
The family will never be the same. Chris has left a gigantic hole in their hearts. It is hitting me like a ton of bricks and we were just friends. I cannot imagine what they are going through. I would not want to be in their shoes. But Chris planted strong seeds in his children, imbuing them with character and a love for family, and for others. They are good people because their father was present and he cared and he shared his thoughts, his morals, and his faith with each of them. It will be hard, but their mom is a resilient woman, one of the strongest ones I know, and she will carry on their legacy for Chris. She has a beautiful heart and her kids and grandkids will know it even more in the days and years ahead.
I was supposed to fly down there for the funeral today. And honestly, I just could not do it. I don’t do well at funerals. I have been known to pass out and actually throw up. I spent the funeral of my husband’s grandfather laying on a pew in the Church hall, throwing up in a trash can. My mother-in-law was not happy with me. My sons were the altar boys. My husband served on the altar. And I was not able to do it. I attended the burial, where I bawled like a baby, because I loved that man. And I was completely fine by the reception. But for Chris, I just could not walk into that Church and see him like that. I feel like I am letting down my friend, but my heart is honestly broken. A total blessing is that Pam and most of the kids are coming up here this summer, just like we had talked about, to get some stress relief, change of scenery, and to visit one of God’s greatest creations – Alaska. The chaos of the kids will accompany Pam; it’s a part of being a mother to 11 kids and grandma to 2 (and counting). But I think the act of getting away will be good for them – and for us. She and I can sit and gab for hours. The last time she and I went to lunch, just the two of us, we sat and gabbed for over 5 hours. My son actually called me and asked if I was coming home for dinner. Ha-Ha-Ha, how the tables have turned!
And today I am really a wreck. Crying off and on, thinking of the steps Pam and the kids are walking right now. Feeling like I should be there and I am not. My heart breaking for the loss of a really good man, and dear friend of more than two decades. I think he will leave a hole in my heart forever. Chris occupied a special place in the hearts of all who knew him, most especially his wife and children.
In the eastern Church, we like to say, “May your memory be eternal, and your name among the angels.” It is such a beautiful tradition. It comes from the fact that in pre-Christian, Old Testament times, the Jewish people would shun those who had done wrong. They would remove their names from histories and landmarks. The person would be removed from memory. And in contrast, the early Christian communities would celebrate the life of those who had passed away and were a part of their community. They would invoke passages from the Psalms and the promises of Christ. And one tradition is that they believed the angels themselves would whisper the name of the loved one around the throne of God, and that their memory would never fade. And that is what I wish for my friend – that his memory will stay alive and his name be on the tongues of the angels, themselves. So Chris, may your memory be eternal and your name among the angels. God speed, my friend. You are loved and you are missed.