2:30 in the afternoon Friday, June 17, Thai time – 14 hours ahead of CA, I was skyped by my cousin Judy. She said Karen Jo I have very sad news, your dad died. I thought to myself, Judy that is not a very nice thing to say. I slowly absorbed that what Judy was telling me, that my dad died, had really happened. I was half way around the world and had never felt so far away.
By chance my daughter, Kayley, was with me. Thank goodness. We had each other to hug and to share the enormous impact of how we felt. My Thai friends and the Peace Corps kicked into high gear and 3 plane rides later, had us home the next day.
When my dear husband died, I had many conversations with my kids about how family and friends get us through the tough times. When Doug was sick, my dad was always there, taking care of business, doing what needed to be done. No complaints and no questions asked (how many times did he put together and take apart that hospital bed!) – with my dad it just got taken care of. I know for him it was how he knew how to support those he loved. Under his tough German exterior was a very emotional man, a side of himself he was not completely comfortable with. So he did what he knew, he fixed, he organized, he managed, he loved.
My earliest memories of my mom and dad are all about community – family gatherings, scouts, sports, school. Mom ran the PTA and dad was in charge of the carnival. They led the scout meetings and were on a first name basis with all our teachers. When applying to the PC, I wrote several essays about why I was joining. I said I grew up with service as my model – grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles – it was what my family did. My dad continued that legacy in Big Bear joining the Elks and becoming a valued member always lending a hand and taking charge, doing what needed to be done. At my work in Orange County, Share Our Selves, everyone knew my dad. He lived 2 hours away, but whenever he was in town, he came and helped. I think he loved my work.
He wasn’t all about work and service. We had fun growing up. Our friends were always welcome at our house and went on our many camping trips – always on the water. The Colorado River, Lake Isabella, Lake Nacimiento, Kings River, house boating on Powell, Shasta, and Trinity Lakes. We had a blast. It always involved lots of friends, water skiing, and games. It was all about fun and doing it the right way. Countless friends know how to water ski because my dad taught them. He also taught how to throw a ski line and be a safe observer. You learned – it was never the driver’s fault!
Their motorhomes took them around the country, visiting grandkids and friends. My last trip in the motorhome was to our friend Andrew Evan’s wedding in Telluride, Colorado and on to visit cousins in Prineville, Oregon, and my brother and sister-in-law and their clan in Reno, Nevada – we had so much fun playing cards every night.
Over the last couple of weeks, through phone calls, visits, emails and cards, I have learned that many knew my dad – they mentioned his generosity, loyalty, work ethic, love of travel, love of family, and how much fun he was to be with. I hope I have learned at least a little of his tremendous qualities. His generosity is legendary wherever he lived – La Crescenta, Georgia, Big Bear. If Don could help, Don helped, you didn’t need to ask. He could fix anything. And when he said he would do something, he did it. Did he ever tell a lie, not follow through – I don’t think so.
We are all in a state of shock, not ready to lose this vibrant man so full of life. I am thankful he was my dad, loved me and took care of me. I am thankful; he and mom took the time to Skype me every week while I have been in Thailand. I loved those conversations. He missed me but I think was proud of me stepping out and looking for my personal answers.
Moving forward, living our lives, will be difficult – we will miss him. I am grateful my mom has so many close friends and family who will look after her and continue to share their lives with her. I am grateful he was my dad, my children’s Papa, and for the many memories I have growing up. And I encourage you, to take a minute today, every day, to say I love you to those you care about and take a minute to build those special memories.