This is a farewell letter to a lovely, devoted wife from her adoring husband.
My Dear Terri:
I saw this little anecdote recently in the July 2006 issue of American Legion Magazine, and somehow, Terri, it made me think of how we would have been if we could have gotten old together: While on a car trip, an old couple stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch. The old woman left her glasses on the table but didn’t miss them until they were back on the highway. The old man fussed and complained as he drove all the way back to the restaurant. When they finally arrived, and the old woman got out of the car to retrieve her glasses, he said “while you’re in there, you may as well get my hat, too.”
Or perhaps, Terri, I would have forgotten both my hat and my glasses, and you would have to turn the car around to
take me back to get them!
And that beauty you extolled on the outside was simply a reflection of the beauty you had on the inside. A beauty that was your God-given-talent of smiling, saying a kind word, and making people feel better about themselves, or better about the day they were having, no matter how good or how bad, or better about what ever situation or problem they may be experiencing or facing. That was you, Terri.
In fact, Terri’s existence has always been about living the Bible, at least as long as I have known her. I remember the time I asked her if she minded moving away from her family in Tennessee and living in Connecticut. She pulled out her Bible and showed me the passage where the good wife will leave the house of her father to go live with her husband and live in his father’s house, and that her husband’s family must treat her as one of their own. So Terri couldn’t be happier in her new home. I believe that Terri’s easy demeanor is derived from her undying faith in Christ and living the Bible daily. Indeed, her pleasant personality has made her so much a part of my family that the line distinguishing between daughter and daughter-in-law or sister and sister-in-law has become blurred.
I’ll never forget that first summer I stopped in to visit you and your family in Tennessee. I was traveling from Atlanta on my way home to Connecticut, so I took the scenic route through the mountains of East Tennessee. I couldn’t wait to see your grandmother’s farm, and you were especially excited for me to see it as well. We stopped at the farm and went looking for your grandmother, affectionately called Bo by everyone, throughout the house, and in the kitchen she had a live 350-pound-sow with ten baby sucklings. You were thrilled to see the momma pig with her babies, and I was so enthralled by the whole idea. Growing up I had squirrels, skunks, raccoons, guinea pigs, etc. as pets living in the house (including the usual assortment of dogs and cats, considered “normal” household pets), but never had I seen a full grown hog. Some how when I did get to meet Bo out in her garden, with her soft spoken voice and kind demeanor, she was so much more endearing knowing she kept that “howg”, as she referred to it, in the kitchen, “with her youngin’s,” as she said. There was that innate kindness and tenderness, yet that streak of adventure to allow the hog to live in the house, protected from the elements and predators. The notion that you were so comfortable with Bo having the hog in the kitchen, which I thought was great, to me said a lot about your character and your ease in seemingly strange situations. I liked and appreciated that in you.
It was curious how we would compare the similarities that we brought to our relationship. We both had brothers named David; your sister had married a Ron and now you were dating a Ron; the coincidence that my grandmother was called “Ba”, and your grandmother was called “Bo”; your father had contemplated a move to Hawaii, and I had been accepted to the University of Hawaii and had contemplated going there; but then we both ended up in school in Atlanta. Your sister’s name is Ann and my brother had married an Ann; many, many coincidences it would seem.
Please understand that Terri, at five foot three inches tall and 103 pounds in her twenties and early thirties, was a very shy, diminutive person. Terri would rather be lost in a crowd then noticed at all. Yet her sense of adventure was fantastic.
She has been in every one of the US contiguous 48 states, mostly by driving cross country in a van with four small children and a husband; she was a true adventuress. She has also been to Canada, Mexico, and traveled throughout all of Europe, Scandinavia, Africa, and parts of the Near and Middle East. Terri has challenged Class 5 rapids while white water rafting on the New River in West Virginia; escaped from northern Spain, literally walking out of the riot torn country under a barrage of rocks and bottles thrown by rioting Basque Separatists wanting to split up Spain; and retreated from Turkey as Muslim Fundamentalists started to flex their muscles in Istanbul after toppling the Shah of Iran, to mention a few of her adventures.
Yet Terri was a farm girl at heart. She loved to tell the story about the time one of her grandmother’s goats got out and ended up in a neighbor’s yard several miles away. Terri jumped into her old car (a 1962 Chevy Impala), picked up her grandmother Bo, and went to the neighbor’s to get the goat. They put the goat into the back seat of the car and drove it home. Next day rumors started around town that Bo and her granddaughter loved her animals so much they would take them for rides around town in the back seat of her car.
When we were living in rural Ohio along the Ohio River on the border with West Virginia, I wanted to enter a chicken into a chicken flying contest held on the farm of local icon Bob Evans at the Bob Evans’ Farm – the chicken that flew the furthest won. After work one day, I went into the back hills of West Virginia, bought a live chicken, and brought it home to surprise Terri. She was as excited as I was to have an entrant for the contest, and she did not mind having the chicken stay in our living room about a week until the contest; not in a cage, but with newspapers on the floor. We named it Frances in honor of my gallivanting mother, hoping it would travel far. As it turned out, Frances didn’t do too well in the contest. She laid an egg on the launch pad, and got disqualified for excess load lightening. But we certainly were proud of her nonetheless, and allowed her to stay on Bob Evans’ farm with the other chickens as her reward.
As a youngster in 4-H, Terri was a poultry judge. There probably aren’t too many people here today who know that Terri was an expert on measuring the size of a chicken pubic bone to determine how good an egg layer the chicken would be. But Terri was the expert. In fact, when we first got our chicken Frances, Terri gave her a once over physical and knew she was a good layer, she just wasn’t sure about her flight worthiness. For chickens, Terri claimed, flying was not typically discussed at 4-H meetings.
Probably Terri’s two greatest attributes, besides her pleasant looks, were her intelligence and her sense of humor. I know she had a great sense of humor because she always laughed at my jokes!
But her intelligence…I remember the time she was working for Professor Dr. Jerry Ginsberg, renowned Georgia Tech researcher in dynamics, vibrations, and acoustics. Terri was working as a temporary secretary, and was assigned to Dr. Ginsberg through a local Atlanta employment agency. Her first day on the job she was typing a technical paper on damped vibrations of a plate in an incompressible fluid. Typing large equations in the 1980s was a long, tedious process that required serious, heavy duty concentration, going from equation to equation, in a lengthy formulation. Terri noticed that the Greek letter “zeta”, the damping factor, did not carry through one of the equations, and asked Dr. Ginsberg if it should be added. Well she was correct, and he was so impressed that she could follow the logic of the equation which no other secretary had ever been able to do before, that he wanted to hire her full time on the spot. But Terri wanted to remain a temporary, secretly knowing that Katie was already on her way, and she did not want to make any fulltime commitments, so she politely declined the offer.
Probably more telling examples of her intelligence were the many IQ tests she enjoyed taking over the years that were found in the periodicals she read. Typically the results would be scored based upon a length of time to take the test and an error count. For example, complete the test in fifteen minutes with three or less mistakes, call Mensa International, the high IQ organization; complete the test in twenty minutes with five mistakes, sorry, try again, etc. But for Terri, she would complete the test in well under ten minutes, and have a perfect score. And that was not unusual, it was typical for her! She always amazed me with the way she could tear through those tests with speed and no mistakes! I truly believe her IQ was well above 200 and perhaps not even measurable!
And yet, if anyone asked Terri what was the greatest accomplishment in her life, I know without a doubt she would say she is proudest of her children.
How lucky our children were to have you as their mother in their formative years. You always proved to be a strong, hearty woman. Helping shovel the driveway, carry wood, rake leaves and bring them into the woods, dig the garden, or clean the gutters, you were always in the middle of the mix. You always set the precedence doing, by example.
Dear Katie, Tommy and Robbie, one of the most difficult experiences in life is loosing a parent, especially a mother. I am very fortunate, my parents recently celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary, so it is hard for me to imagine. Yet we all know that God gives us only one mother. So to lose her is traumatic for any one at any age. I recall when a big, burly colleague, in his early fifties, came to me in tears to tell me his mother had passed on unexpectedly. His mother was in her early seventies, and had had a good, prosperous life. Yet the loss was difficult with the realization that he no longer had a mother there for advice, consultation, comfort, or just someone to bug a little because he knew mom would always love him.
But I know that you can honor your mother every day by living the virtues she espoused and lived by every day: honesty, loyalty, devotion, dedication, hard work, humiliation and reverence to our Creator. I am not sure there could be a person more honest than your mother. As you all well know, not even a “little white lie” was part of her character. And her devotion and dedication have been played out over the years many times. Hard work and loyalty had been demonstrated almost on a daily basis in the way she ran the house, tended to the bills, worked around the house, and was always there for all of us whenever we needed her. With all the wonderful positive attributes that your mother possessed, humility and reverence for the Lord kept her arrogance in check. In fact, arrogance was never, ever a word that could be used with your mother; humble and loving yes, but never arrogant.
Not to say that your mother was a perfect person, she would be the first to tell you so. But she was the perfect mother to raise four great children, and you three can certainly carry on her legacy and be the reflection of her nurturing by your continued successes.
Two words that describe Terri are refined and class. And that is part of the interesting dichotomy that is Terri. Brought up in the mountains of East Tennessee primarily on her grandmother’s farm, Terri would just as soon walk around all day with no shoes and go swimming in the creek on her grandmother’s property where the cows also cooled themselves, drank and bathed. Yet Terri had the class and refinement of someone who was taught and raised all her life from The Book of Etiquette by Amy Vanderbilt. I cannot ever remember, no matter what the circumstances, when Terri did not sit up straight, back and shoulders square, left hand on her lap, proper dining etiquette – that was Terri at her finest and at her worst. Always prim and proper, always polite and very ladylike, always the model of etiquette.
Oh, Terri, we have been through so much together; only God knows. The many years before when we took our marriage vows, and the many times since those vows, we have openly said, in jest or in true seriousness, that we have each other, “for better or for worse!” Well I know now I am going into the worst part of the “for worse”. Being without you is the “worser” of the worse, to misquote the Mad Hatter. At least before we had each other for support for whatever challenges came along. Now I must go it alone with the support of family, friends and the guidance of our Lord.
Our family is a follower of Christ. And our faith typically would say that Terri has now moved on to a better place, seated with the Almighty. But for me, that faith became a reality in 1996 when I had my automobile accident and was taken to the hospital with two blown pupils. I had a near death experience, and was not only treated to the presence of my deceased brother Tommy and Aunt Bronia, but the beauty, glory and peace of the presence of Christ.
In 2001 in the hospital in Philadelphia where a critically ill Joey, our oldest son, described to me the near death experience he had when his heart stopped and he had to be revived with the paddles of a defibrillator, the reality of an afterlife with Christ was again confirmed.
Prior to his near death experience, Joey was a true skeptic of an afterlife, or a downright atheist, if one could be a true atheist at the early age of 14. But after that experience, Joey was so visibly shaken from what he saw, that I offered him the comfort of the blessed Rosary Beads that I had with me. He latched on to the beads with his enormous hands such that they were almost lost from site in his grip – a grip that never ended until his passing four months later. But the enthusiasm with which he took the Rosary Beads and the obvious comfort and relief expressed in his eyes I knew that right then and there he accepted and became a follower of Christ. No longer based on faith, but based on reality, and the knowledge gained from his near death experience. Terri and I were elated that Joey had now accepted Jesus Christ as the Savior.
I always knew that Terri had an undying faith in Christ. But I learned recently from her brother that Terri had read the complete Bible while in high school in a year, and had started to read it again. There was never a time as long as we were married that she did not read the Bible for at least a few minutes almost every day. Terri lived that life she read about in the Bible daily, and I believe that is why she was always such a comfort to be around. Her unwavering faith in Christ made her last days peaceful and calm.
Often times I am reminded by those around me, whether friend, neighbor, relative or colleague, that the Good Lord in His infinite wisdom gives us only the challenges He knows we can bear. The stress of the situation over these past few months has been tremendous. Yet the peace and confidence with which Terri has approached them has been strengthening for me, and hopefully our children. I know that Terri is now being rewarded for her faith in God.
After being with Terri for thirty-seven years, there are parts of her existence that are still an enigma to me. This is a mystery now that will never be solved in this life time. But I can say with full certainty that Terri will want to be remembered by the following: first and foremost she is proudest of her children and wants to be remembered through them and that they will always reflect and live her standards. Second, she would want to be remembered by her friendly smile and the kind word she would always have for anyone and everyone. In her mind, Terri never had or knew an enemy. And last, she would want to be remembered as the devout Catholic, Good Christian, and follower of Christ that she was. I know, as Joey found out and now knows, not by faith but by experience, and she knows now by experience, the existence of an ever-after-life. She is now reaping the rewards of an ever loving God.
After all the trials and tribulations over the past several months with doctors appointments, scheduled and unscheduled trips to the hospital, my hand-lifting Terri from the wheelchair into and out of the car because she could no longer help herself, and the hand feeding of Terri on a daily basis because of her diminished capabilities, the thing I will remember most forever and always from this ordeal, is what occurred on August 10th at 6:50 in the evening. The date is significant because my parents were celebrating their sixty-fourth wedding anniversary. The time is important because we were sitting together as a family talking, something we always did after dinner, sometimes for hours. I was looking very sad, trying to push from my head thoughts of what was to be. Terri looked at me with her now crooked smile due to the tumor affecting her facial muscles, and she said, “Don’t be sad, just be happy that we met. Be happy we met, but then I got sick. Don’t be sad.” That I will treasure the rest of my life! And six days later she passed away.
I will also remember how the community and our family have come together to help in our time of need. To quote Elwood
Blues in Blues Brothers 2000, “The Good Lord works in mysterious ways:” the bringing of our family into this loving community
was the Lord’s way of helping us cope. It is very difficult for me to accept Terri’s passing, as it was for me to accept Joey’s
passing. But knowing that the two of them are now frolicking in their field of dreams together provides some solace to me on
this unhappy day. Hopefully one day we will have some understanding of the Lord’s workings in His infinite wisdom. And I pray
that the Lord gives my family and me the strength to carry on, one day at a time. We all love you, Terri, and we will miss you
dearly until we have the opportunity to catch up with you and Joey on the other side in all of God’s glory.
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