Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tribute to My Father-In-Law


After a 25 year long struggle with Parkinson's, my father-in-law passed away.  Written below is the eulogy I wrote for my husband to read today at his service held at Heritage Methodist Church.  Prayers for the repose of his soul and for the comfort of all who grieve our loss are cherished.

Rest in peace, Ken.  You are so deeply loved and will be missed.

On April 28, 1944, Kenneth Dale Poppe was born unto the world.  What difference could such a tiny child make in the lives of others? What impact would he have upon the world around him?  Would anyone even know who Kenneth Dale Poppe was, 25, 50, 100 years after his birth?  If you base notoriety on what you read in the papers and in history books, then perhaps it could be said that my father’s life was nothing more than a brief, flickering flame among so many others, indistinguishable from others at a distance.

But let us take a closer look at this flame – this single light. 

Before he was even born, he let his presence be known with the typical kicks and wiggles beneath the safety of his mother’s heart, as he prepared himself for the outside world.  Youngest of 3 and their only son, he was the pride of his father and adored by his sisters and mother.  This tiny infant quickly grew into a strong and stocky child, ready to take on the world – whether it be mastering the art of fishing, chasing imaginary bank robbers on his bike, helping his father on the farm, or wooing the much older ladies in his life with his cowboy hat and holster, a perfectly practiced Roy Rogers swagger and impish grin.

While it was rumored that his mother was his first love during those first few years, by the age of 14 he had set his sights on pursuing the other lovely ladies in town.  Finding it far easier to capture a young girl’s attention with his natural musical talents, he gave up his cowboyish dreams, hung up his holster, and replaced it with a guitar.  His melodious voice and talented strumming served him well during his teen years.

He attended Southern Illinois University, majoring in Agricultural Economics, hoping to branch out into the wider world around him while still honoring his family’s farming roots.  As fate would have it, he was attending a fraternity hayride with a blind date but all his attention was focused on another petite young lady a few feet away – my mother, Alta.

One week after graduation she took his name as her own and this flickering flame grew in brightness and in purpose.  One month later, he was drafted.  He trained at Fort Knox which was then called Fort Lewis, and because of his college degree and test scores, was invited to attend Officer Candidate School at Aberdeen Proving Ground.  The combination of his strong work ethic and likeable nature not only won him a position as a Military Intelligence Officer in the Foreign Developments Division in Washington, DC but eventually earned him an Army Commendation Letter from his commanding officer during his time of service.

His contributions as a Jaycee, Sunday School teacher and member of the Parkinson’s support group in Colorado Springs helped to light the paths of many souls whose lives are now a little brighter for having known him.  A loyal and faithful friend, he forged deep bonds with others and stayed in contact with them throughout the years, always happy to share his light with others.

For my mother he was her one true love.  Her anchor, provider, her best friend.  The light of her life. The 2 of them were a perfect pair, enjoying a highly social life and their involvement in church and civic groups.   And while my father’s light shone brightly at work and among friends, his light shone its brightest while at home.

I was born about 3 years after they married,  Kathy followed 2 and a half years later.  He blessed my sister with a beautiful singing voice and instilled in her a great love of music.  His skillful coaching helped develop her singing talents and brought to her a love of performing.  Our Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog skits would send Dad into peals of laughter – the Muppet Show had nothing on us!

He was a great floor wrestler and ‘Gotcha Bird” tickler.  And being a man with the ability to see the humor in the everyday sorts of things, he could frequently get our entire family into fits of giggles because of his contagious laughter.

He was my first coach in sports and my biggest fan.  And while that was important to me as I grew, I see now that it was the small, subtle lessons he taught me when he didn’t know I was looking that turned out to be the most important. 

A little boy sitting in the dark, listening to a discussion and witnessing his father’s love and conviction to his marriage has shown me how to love and honor my own wife, no matter what the cost.

Watching my father go off to work each day, even on days he would have rather have slept in or played golf, taught me what it means to take responsibility and be the provider for my family.

Later, I learned perseverance as I watched him accept God’s will for his life as he suffered with Parkinson’s.
And I learned unselfishness, realizing how no matter how much he suffered, he never demanded anything of us.

I witnessed, time and again, true hospitality and charity, never complaining when my children got a little too rambunctious in his home, or staying as long as he could to visit with us before he had to quietly retire to his room.  His home was always open to us, even if he himself could not participate.

And I learned humility born of great love, as he allowed my heroic mother to be his strength and the rock he once was for her.

And finally, in feeling those waning trembles in his feverish hand those last few days on earth has proven to me what a man of great dignity he always was.  Until his dying breath.

No - My father’s light has not been extinguished. I see it in my home, filled with love and laughter, his jokes and sense of humor alive and well in the joyful, teasing nature of my children.   I hear it every time I hear my sister sing.  Or catch an expression or movement that either my nephews or my own children make.  I pass these lights on to my own children and see them grow brighter each day.  And their lights shine forth and ignite a love of life and inspiration to those with whom they come into contact.  And I see his light all around this room, glistening in your eyes. 

I see now how far that little light has thrown its beams and I realize, indeed, what a tremendous difference one tiny light, born to us in 1944, has made upon us all!  

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