Friday, June 19, 2015

Greatest Generation Dads: Remembering Their Legacies

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Legacies are often unwittingly fashioned through life choices and actions. Most families recognize the importance of preserving the stories of their heritage. Moment by moment, for generations, photographers were engaged, or personal-use cameras set up to record that piece of history. In my years of funeral service, visitations and memorial gatherings were enriched by the poster board collages on display. Their assembly was often a therapeutic task: browsing photo albums to select images which could tell the life story--one legacy moment at a time.

The exodus of a great generation

Men and women born in the first third of the 20th century did not spend much time contemplating their legacies. They worked hard--often with their hands and backs, and often under the duress of worldwide upheaval:  the Great Depression, World War II, Booms and Busts and yes, Bubbles. The goodbyes are coming fast: about 600 World War II veterans die each day. 
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As the Condolence Coach, I encourage everyone to observe, remember, and share. The result--when stories are retold, provides tremendous comfort and insight to persons who grieve. Father's Day nears, and I decided to gather legacy stories of "great generation" Dads. Listening for  legacies will be helpful when the time comes to write a condolence note.

Some legacies hold admiration for a character quality 

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“The memory of my dad’s love for my mother, is a legacy I cherish,” Lyn shared. Though that love was evidenced throughout her life, Lyn remembers her father, Ellis, during his home hospice care: “Even when he was sick and in bed, he wanted to be sitting up, out of the bed, ready to greet his wife when she came home.”  The memory is bittersweet for Lyn, long-divorced, but she believes in the ‘gold standard’ for all marriages.

“Daddy was a giving person,” Libby shared, and described how he was never too busy to be helpful, playful or community involved. “Chores were set aside to play a board game or croquet; to ferry me to piano lessons and recitals,” she continued. “I admired him greatly; he’d think nothing of hosting a crab feast in our yard for a big crowd of the Penn Daw Fire Dept. Auxiliary.”

Some legacies are rooted in wonderful experiences

Larry shared, “The legacies my father, Joseph, passed on to me and my seven siblings were not tangible things—like a pocket watch or money—but much more valuable: an all-encompassing value system. I grew up during the Depression, and my dad was busy keeping bread on the table, but found time to nurture our imaginations, our skills, our characters, and our spirits. To me, these legacies never tarnish, never depreciate, never decay throughout life.”

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“When I was a boy, I was my dad’s “tag-along” buddy,” remembered Ray. “We’d go to places like the VFW Post, the Knights of Columbus Hall, the barbershop, and bricklaying side jobs at the homes of his friends. I enjoyed being a part of ‘Alfie’s’ world, listening to conversations while having some pop and chips. Dad’s legacy was showing me how to be a good buddy.”  Friendship and helping go together, in Ray’s view: “When I help a friend cut down a dead tree or fix a plumbing problem, I know my dad is smiling down on me.”

Old-fashioned, practical advice is a common legacy 

 “My dad was one to share a few pearls of wisdom,” Christine chuckled. “My favorites are:
1. Honesty is the best policy.
2. Don't leave for tomorrow what you can do today.
3. If you don't have to stand---sit. If you don't have to sit---lie down.”

Bev grew up in a family business where everyone was involved. “My parents gave me so many life tips, like:  
Take pride in your work and, finish what you start.
If you can't pay for it with one week’s pay you can't afford it (except for a house and a car.)
Try to accept others for who they are and remember, we are all different."

There are legacies that read like an eHow page

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Christine continued: “My dad, who was raised on a sugar beet farm, told us that the WHOLE apple is good, and sure enough he would eat the whole thing. And now, I do too.” She recently learned that the apple seeds are very nutritious. “People give me surprised looks, and I explain,’that’s what my dad taught me.’”  
Beverly, just shy of 60, has never been in an accident, thanks to her dad’s bald instruction: “Drive like everyone is out to kill you.”

Combing legacies for condolence cues

These most-prized legacies are weightless yet fill the heart. In writing a condolence note when a friend has lost a father (in this example,) recognize something you perceive to be a legacy. It may be an first-hand observation of the man, or a quality of character adopted by the child.
Here are some suggestions:

“I could sit for hours listening to your Dad's stories about ____. He will be greatly missed.”
“Your father’s carpentry tools will never grow rusty. Like him, you’re ready to help …”
"Your dad greeted everyone at the church door with a cheery ‘_______’’”
“I remember watching you work on that Camaro, with your Pop …"
"Your father inspired me to volunteer at _____ by his work with ______, "

For more insights about writing a condolence for the death of a greatest generation mother or father, read:

Death Over 85
Curb Your Enthusiasm? Not in my condolence!

Thank you for caring!

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