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November 3, 2005 [ More archived home pages here ]

Eleven Seconds To Live By

Today's song is That's The Way Of The World by Earth, Wind, And Fire.

On Friday November 18, 1955 my father, Russell J. Larson passed away. This year is the 50th anniversary of that event. I've waited a long time to present today's message. It is published with respect to my Dad, Mom, immediate and extended family.

Strangely enough this year, the same days of the week fall exactly as they did for the same date in 1955. So when the 18th comes around, I'll be thinking of that dreaded day so long ago more intensely. That's one of the reasons I'm publishing this message early in the month.

I was five years old when Dad passed away. At that time I didn't know anything about high-blood pressure, strokes, or the concept of death. I knew a little about love. Love abounded in our home. Full measures of love were exchanged by my Dad, Mom, and the three boys of which I am the youngest. The surviving family members changed when my Dad died. We still loved one another, but each of us had been dealt a hard blow. We each encountered our own "adjustment" as time carried on around us.

Over the decades since that time, I struggled to remember as much as I could about Dad. I am unable to remember his face. When I look at pictures of him it doesn't register in my mind. But I do remember my Dad in other important ways.

My earliest recollection of my Dad is walking down the street called Stony Island Avenue in Chicago with him and the other members of my family. I remember him picking me upside down to stop me from choking on a piece of candy on that same street near 87th Street. I remember he and I got picked up for a ride in a semi-truck from the place where he worked and he asked the driver if I could blow the truck's horn, which I was permitted to do. I was sitting right next to my Dad that day as we rode North on Stony Island Avenue.

At 95th Street, just East of Stony Island, was a small children's amusement park named, "Kiddieland". The family used to go there a lot. I remember riding with Dad on the carrousel. There is another memory of him standing nearby while I rose around in a twirling-type ride all by myself. We waved at each other as I went around each time.

My second strongest memory is when a neighbor came by our home and asked my Dad to help him get in his mobile home after he was locked out. My Dad and I went to the man's home where we did help him get in. Afterwards my Dad carried me home on his shoulders. He was a tall man, 6'2", and he held me strongly and safely. It is my best memory of him and its duration lasts only a few seconds in my mind.

Unfortunately the strongest memory is of the day he died. I remember he was lying in bed complaining of a terrible headache and that he couldn't feel his feet, then later his legs. My brothers and Mother tried to help him stand up, but it was no use. After about an hour of struggle, he suffered more frightening symptoms of his stroke before he became unconscious. I last saw my Dad alive when they put him in that condition on the stretcher into the back of the ambulance. Then the door was closed and he was driven away to Jackson Park Hospital. He died there later that night about 6:00 pm, never having regaining conciseness. He was 45 years old.

I have a couple seconds memory of the casket at the wake. The music to poem Beautiful Dreamer by Stephen Foster, played at times in the background. My Mother told me I was up there at the casket brushing Dad's hair and talking to him, but I don't remember that at all. I wish I did.

I remember when they lowered Dad's casket into the ground and everyone around me crying deeply and uncontrollably; everyone except me. I didn't know what death and burial meant. I didn't understand then that I would never see my Father again. The deficit of tears that day was reinvested for a later time in my life as I became aware of what his loss really meant to me. He was buried on November 22, 1955.

This year I took some time to consolidate all my memories of being with my Dad and to attempt to calculate their duration, to see how long they all are together. It seems to me that the total amount of time for reviewing the memories is about eleven seconds.

I wonder how many people ever developed such a strong love for another as I have for my Dad and yet only have eleven seconds of memories for that person? I never met anyone with that kind of dilemma, although I know I can't be the only one that ever encountered that circumstance.

I have fifty years of enduring his absence and only eleven seconds to hold on to his presence, eleven seconds to live by. I can tell you it's not enough, but those seconds are all I have or ever will have. On the other hand, the days, weeks, months, and years without him keep adding up. The imbalance increases continually, yet every day I think of my Dad with love.

There is enough sadness in this world to go around and it is a certainty that I have not cornered the market on tragic life experiences. This is my story and I wish I could tell it better, but I'm satisfied I am able to tell it as best I could. It helps me to express it here. Hopefully it helps someone else too.

This weekend, Sherry and I travel to the East Coast for a few days to see my niece who is terminal with cancer. It's going to be a rough trip. Instead of the youngest child losing a parent, it's parents losing their youngest child. As a father myself, I don't know how prepared I am for the visit. From past experiences I don't handle the death of children very well. I can count on my collective life experiences and hope that the Spirit of my father is with me because I surely need it.


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