I remember years ago, Kennedy family members stating that they prefer to commemorate JFK’s birthday and not grieve the day of his death. We don’t really study our leaders’ births as much as we do their deaths; Kennedy, btw, was born May 29, 1917.
I really liked this idea - focus on the positive, rather than wallow in the loss. To celebrate life, at its beginning, not at its conclusion.
This isn’t always easy to do. Society and the aforementioned history books seems to enjoy the negative - misery loves company and all. Frankly, it’s a lot easier to feel sad about having lost a loved one than it is to go through the trouble of picking out happy memories, and not letting those make you sad too.
But despite my efforts, and lectures to family and friends that we need to remember the good times and be thankful that we had them, I, secretly (not any more!), can’t help but revel in the sadness now and then - it can be comforting, and familiar, and sometimes, just feel right.
I know what shirt I was wearing when I heard the announcement that Joe Paterno had died. Now every time I put it on I think “I know what happened when I was wearing this shirt.” But I still wear it.
My dad died 13 years ago today. It was a Tuesday - I was at work - and I got a call during lunch. I don’t remember what I was wearing - but I remember a lot about that day. And I remember so many wonderful things that people said and did for Mom and me. Mommy, Daddy, and I were a small nuclear family, but I realized that day, and since then, that family isn’t really defined or limited by households or even bloodlines.
So let me bring this back to football (it all comes back to football). Not too shockingly, I was really sad when Daddy died - but one of the most poignant events came 2 months after he passed away - it was the first game of the football season. I had been given Dad’s seat (by his friend, who “owned” the seats) and was determined to get to as many games as I possibly could. It was a hot, late August, day as I approached the tailgating spot, with more than a little trepidation. I’d never been to a tailgate without my dad - and I was scared. It was almost like I could rationalize why Dad wasn’t around while I was home in Philadelphia - but being at the stadium, at the tailgate, I couldn’t escape the fact that if Daddy were alive, he’d be there, and he wasn’t. I walked up Porter Road and turned toward Gate A (this area is now the site of Paternoville). As I approached the group - standing there as they had for so many years, I cried. It was the deep bellowing kinda cry that you never intend to share in public, and then I was, almost immediately, enveloped by hugs and tears from these people, who I really only saw one season out of the year. It was just a short moment, but one of the most meaningful of my life.
Since then, many of his old cronies have also left us, and we’ve created our own tailgating and football fan traditions. Being a Penn Stater, and being a fan, is so much more than Ws and Ls or this guy or that guy. For years I said I was a Penn State fan, regardless of any player, coach, or administration. I did, eventually, temper that by admitting that I never knew PSU without Coach Paterno, so *if* he ever did leave, I would have to see just of what I was a fan. We’re facing that right now and we’ll continue to face it as PSU football evolves. I don’t think that any of us would have predicted that we’d be going through this under these circumstances, but none the less, that’s where we are.
Nora Ephram passed away this week - and there is a line in one of her wonderfully sappy movies that wasn’t really a big part of the movie, but it has stuck with me. In “You’ve Got Mail,” Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen, states, at the closing of her store “...and my mother has died all over again, and no one can ever make it right.” Well, that just about sums up the last 7 months (some more than others) for me. Things in the movie get better, and she even forgives the guy who ultimately causes her the heartache, and things will get better for us as well. We’ll forge new memories and, someday, learn to recall the old ones, for what they meant to us, without qualification. It’s just going to take time.
And as far as that whole “celebrating this or that” idea goes - in reality, I celebrate my dad every day - miss him too.