The Next Big Adventure

Several years ago I attended the funeral of my wife’s Uncle Joe. This week I have had the pleasure of getting to know Joe’s oldest son and his family. We have talked a lot about life and family, some of it included parenting. Joe and his wife Kathy are raising 3 fine young children. The oldest, Cort turned 16 yesterday. Spending time with their family has me reflecting on my own parenting experiences. My children are a decade ahead in development than Joe’s, off on their own adventures that make me very proud.

Last night I remembered that I had written my thoughts after Uncle Joe’s funeral. Getting to know his son this week made me go dig it out of my archives so I could share it with him. Here it is as written then:

I attended the funeral of my wife’s Uncle Joe yesterday. He was her father’s older brother. Sadly, he was diagnosed with lymphoma in late October and failed quickly, he died late last week. I didn’t have the pleasure to know Uncle Joe all that well, but I did know he was an avid boater, fisherman and diver. He left behind four grown children, two daughters and two sons, and a second wife of 25 years.

My father in law and his wife are devout Catholics, and live their lives based upon their deep faith in God and the belief that God’s grace is the deciding influence in the lives of the living. It became apparent to me at the funeral and the gathering afterwards, that Uncle Joe had not lived his life that way. An engineer by trade and adventurer by nature, Joe had lived his life in a hard charging manner, always challenging him to achieve in business, and to challenge himself in his recreational pursuits, often to the neglect of family and relationships. It was this self centric pursuit of adventure that left Joe’s survivors feeling a loss, not from his death, but from what he didn’t give them during his life.

In the brief conversations that I had with Joe over the course of the last ten years, we shared a kinship in the love of the sea. I admired him for the gusto he displayed in the way he lived his life. Joe moved to Big Pine Key after retiring from his career as an engineer and later executive in the telecommunications industry. His days were filled with fishing, diving and boating, his wife by his side. When the weather kept him in port, he loved to tinker with his boats, reveling in his ability to fix problems and make improvements in existing ship’s systems. At sunset when the day was over, Joe never missed his evening libation. Joe was my kind of man, a real man’s man.

The alter was adorned with Joe’s ashes, a folded American flag and a picture of him at the helm of his boat. As the Priest performed the ceremony, I listened with close attention, his words beginning to sound as if he was giving my eulogy. Joe loved his family, but he also loved his own life, sometimes to the point of neglecting their needs. Joe, the engineer, had very high expectations, “exact standards” if you will, for the way things should be done, holding the ones he loved to those standards. Joe’s self reliance led him away from his faith, believing he was responsible for his own destiny. It wasn’t until Joe met cancer, that he was faced with a challenge he could not overcome.

Whether it is reality, or contrived for the sake of the surviving family and friends, the Priest asserted that in Joe’s final hours, he opened his heart to the God he had once forsaken, was forgiven for his shortcomings, and was accepted into everlasting life in the company of his maker. Joe was off to his “Next Big Adventure”.

Funerals, as a ritual, are designed to mourn those who have passed, to celebrate the life that they lived and the people that they touched. As with every life, it is not all good; there are just differing ratios of positive to negative in each person’s life. In Joe’s case, I choose to believe the scale tipped positive. Even though he may have neglected his family in the pursuit of his own endeavors, he also taught them through example, that life as an adventure is worth living, and there is no problem that cannot be solved.

Another positive effect of a funeral is it forces the attendee to take a moment to reflect on their own life in the same way that a wedding will force a couple to reflect on their own vows.

I admire the way Joe lived his life, it is the way I see myself, always looking for the next adventure that will pump adrenaline into my veins. But as a result of this reflection, I am also going to make more of an attempt to insure the pursuit of those adventures doesn’t have an adverse effect on those I love, or somehow inhibit them from finding their own adventures. Because in the end, when everything is said and done, life is really just about the relationships you build along the way and the ones you leave behind.

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