18 July 2016

A birthday observed

The Tall Man and Grandpa in 2013, celebrating their birthdays and love for blue checkered shirts

I've always been a birthday person. Or maybe it's more accurate to say I am a birthday observer.

When I was younger, I kept mental track of my family and friends' special days and always had a card ready to hand deliver. As people dispersed -- moved away, went to college, grew up -- I started mailing them. Then life got busier, and I started sending texts and emails, or the occasional Facebook wall post if I didn't have time for a longer message. The messages shortened and became littered with emojis, but the content remained relatively the same.

For sure, birthdays are special occasions to celebrate a loved one's life. But they've also become an opportunity to acknowledge that person's significance to me, to catch a glimmer of their life. For those I don't see very often, this "hello - happy birthday - remember when? - how are you?" has become the very gateway to keeping in touch, even if our last encounter was in a distant phase of life.

Today is a different kind of birthday, though. It's Grandpa's 87th, but he passed away about three months ago. So there is no happy birthday call, or card to mail, or funny newspaper article to clip and send. There will instead be a call to Grandma. There will be thoughts filled with wistfulness, or even sorrow and regret. There will be sitting in silence with the Tall Man, who has Grandpa's chin.

There will also be other things: celebrating his legacy, sharing with others who loved as well, remembering he is now among the "great cloud of witnesses." And maybe even eating some cake and going on an adventure, which he would have most certainly encouraged.

A few family members and I collaborated on writing and editing Grandpa's obituary. I have included it below. (You can also find it online here alongside a memory wall.)

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James Alexander Abbott, age 86, of New Lenox passed away peacefully on Saturday April 23, 2016, at his home surrounded by his family while under hospice care.

He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Claire; and four children, Ken (Dorothy) Abbott, Dale (Steve) Gibson, Audrey (Jim) Murdie, and Andrew Abbott. He also leaves behind seven grandchildren, Amy, Wendy, James, Marcus, Jenna, Jason, and Jessica; as well as one great-grandchild, Jimmy.

His brother, Jack, is predeceased.

The son of John and Sarah Abbott, James was born on July 18, 1929, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He served in the US Navy from 1948 to 1953, during which time he married his bride Claire in Norfolk, Virginia. After an honorable discharge, he was a longtime employee of the Atlas Supply Company, a division of Standard Oil. He moved to the Chicago area with his family to work as a field representative for Atlas, eventually being promoted to Chicago Area Manager. James retired from Atlas in 1985, but remained tirelessly active for the remainder of his life.

In addition to his various volunteer jobs, he worked for twenty years as a courier for Saint James Hospital in Chicago Heights, Illinois. James is remembered for always standing tall, with a spring in his step, a joke to tell, and an easy laugh. He was the kind of person who you could count on. He had a generous spirit, loved to cook (and eat!), and thought of his family often - expressed through newspaper articles, notes, and crossword puzzle dates. James' indomitable outlook kept him strong and fighting the good fight to the end. Private services were held.

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P.S. His favorite hymn, a reminder that death no longer has its sting:

P.P.S. You might have noticed that the title of this post sounds familiar. In case you haven't already guessed the allusion, I riffed on a frequent muse, C.S. Lewis, and his autobiographical book A Grief Observed.

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