I suppose if you live long enough you’re going to see just about everything life has to offer. You’re going to witness births, deaths, marriages, divorces, graduations, successes and failures. You’re going to experience disappointments with relatives and friends. You’re going to get what you want, not like it and get something else and take that back, too. As old Frank Sinatra used to sing, “That’s life, that’s what all the people say, you’re ridin’ high in April, shot down in May.”
And in this case it was May 7, to be exact and my sister’s sweet boy died on a highway in Alabama, coming home to his wife and four kids. He was 42 and too young. It wasn’t his fault, rear-ended blah, blah, blah and who cares how it happened but the lawyers. All I know is -- he is gone.
His name was Rusty and he was a fine fellow. He struggled in school but made the most of opportunities, working his way into being a firefighter and working on an oil rig off the Louisiana coast. He didn’t wait for a handout, a check or a meal, he simply went to work. If he was out of work, he was looking for work.
We will remember him always for being a wonderful father, son and person. And during this same short period of time, the family saw the birth of a grandson and the UGA graduation of a son-in-law. We felt the excruciating finality of death, the exhilarating excitement of birth and the satisfaction of graduation in the short span of eight weeks.
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Oh, I know, we are not the only family to experience events such as these, but this was our experience and I know each of you has had similar experiences. Life goes on, moves, changes and twists and turns us as we go through it. And each one of us approaches life in our own way, the way we learned through family.
I was asked to speak at Rusty’s service, only because I am now the oldest surviving member next to mom, who was, of course, too distraught to speak. And I spoke of Rusty’s devotion to his family. You see, he was all about family. In a day when we see families broken over senseless quarrels, selfishness run amuck and abandoned dreams and goals set during a marriage ceremony in some distant church or secular wedding, he remained true to his vows and worked hard to make life work for his family. It wasn’t easy, but he worked at it and had a wonderful marriage.
Unfortunately, his way of life seems to be slowly slipping away. I worry about the families of today. We seem to be willing to throw them away as we would an old relic in order to find something new in which to invest our attention. We don’t seem to put the effort needed into keeping our families together and opt instead for something new. Many times that results in the same situation we found ourselves in previously.
We need to ask ourselves, “What do we have if we don’t have family?” What do our children have if they have no sense of belonging? Yes, I can belong to any number of organizations, but who shows up when I’m really in need? My family.
A sense of family brings security to young people, from birth to the time they leave the “nest.” It gives the young person confidence that if he/she goes out into the world and fails, someone will be there to pick them up and give them a second chance at life.
I see far too many young people abandoned by their parents -- required by some to work long hours to pay for college when they give them nothing monetarily or emotionally to help. I wonder where our values are heading. Will these young people have the same callous attitude toward their children?
Rusty was there for his boys and his little girl and we, as his family, will be there for them now that he’s gone. After all, that’s what a family is supposed to do. I will miss him. He was a good man.
Sonny Harmon is a professor emeritus at Georgia Military College. Visit his blog at http://sharmon09.blogspot.com.