When loved ones die, I’ve learned from working with hospice patients and their family members, dying teens and having experienced the death of my father, other close relatives and friends, the sense of loss and void. I and those around me know that we will have their companionship no longer. It’s so easy to feel that their special qualities—their smile, sense of humor, positive attitude, wisdom, kindness, unconditional love, compassion, their sacrifice—have vanished forever with them.
Yet, every so often, memory can bring those qualities of their being back, in unusual and unexpected ways.
In February, 2005, while re-arranging my private in-home library, I came across more of my high school class notes, senior year student directory, newspaper clippings of our graduation and the year’s sporting events. With the help of a member of our senior class, Donna Jones-Monaghan, I learned that two of our classmates had died. David O’Connor in the war in Vietnam and Colleen Mangold of breast cancer just before our thirty-fifth class re-union.
David O’Connor, I did not know very well. Yet, just by the mere fact that he sacrificed his life for the preservation of freedom and liberty for Vietnamese and Americans, saddened me. I will never be able to tell him how much I appreciate his service to this nation. Nor will I be able to thank him for allowing me to know life, liberty and prosperity in this land of opportunity.
Colleen Mangold, I remembered because she and I were in many of the same classes. She was also the Vice-President of the Father Tom Club, a reporter of the Crusader (the school newspaper), a very good student and wise beyond her years for being under 20 years old.
Everyone, at points in their lives, has been treated unfairly. Someone, in the final weeks of our senior year, had written Colleen an unsavory note. Although I did not see the contents of the note, her emotional response and tears indicated that she was paid no compliment. Asking if there was anything I or someone could do to help, Colleen responded, “I’m deeply hurt and angered by this hateful note. However, I try to remind myself that a few people, no matter what I do, will not like who I am, what I am or what I stand for. I also try to remind myself that continuous happiness is not the sum total of living in this life. There are other important things and one of these, I believe, is bearing pain in all their forms, bravely as Jesus Christ did. I know that will experience more challenges and pain in my life. Yet I will be able to face them if I have faith, hope and love in my heart.” I was amazed and did not understand the impact of her comments until now.
Years later, there it is! The living essence of these two former classmates revealed in the displays of David O’Connor’s bravery and Colleen Mangold’s fortitude. I will attempt to remember the sacrifice of David and the power of Colleen’s words as I grow older. And try also to pass along some of their bravery and fortitude to my children, grandchildren and those I interact with before, during and after Memorial Day. A day we remember the gifts given by those who made our presents.
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Your work is so NOT in vain, Brother! These powerful words that impacted you, have impacted me in a most extraordinary way. I NEEDED them. Thank you for obediently sharing them! Be blessed in His glorious presence.