I have lots of happy memories of San Diego. Not the least of which are the times we went there to visit Dan's aunt and uncle. They lived in a little town about 30 miles east of San Diego called Alpine. They lived up on a hill that overlooked some beautiful pasture lands right across the I-8 highway. Dan's uncle built the house himself. They were life long residents of Chicago who had had enough of snowy winters and when Dan's uncle retired from the Chicago fire department, they moved to Alpine. Lucky for us. We spent some wonderful weekends there listening to Uncle Lyle's stories and eating Aunt Jackie's spectacular food. After we had kids we would stay with them and take trips into San Diego to take the kids to Sea World and the zoo. Aunt Jackie was the one who introduced me to Point Loma. She took us there to show us the lighthouse, she loved lighthouses. Little did she know that she was helping me create a life long love affair with the Pacific Ocean. I will always be grateful to her for that.
Jackie and Lyle were typical salt of the earth, hard working Midwesterners. They worked hard all of their life, even in retirement. They were never idle. They raised seven sons who all live their lives pretty much the same way. They are a perfect example of how to live life well.
Aunt Jackie passed away about 10 years ago after a long illness. Uncle Lyle continued to live in their house in Alpine until just a few years ago. Most recently he was living in Colorado near one of his sons. We knew his health was declining so it wasn't a huge shock when we got the call that he had passed away, but it was sad news indeed. So this past weekend we traveled to Alpine to attend his memorial service.
I have to be honest and tell you that I really wasn't looking forward to going. I've been to many funerals for the people in the generation previous to mine. Every single one has been someone we've lost way to early. Either to illness or tragedy. It wears on you. Of course you always celebrate their life, but it's tinged with this overlaying sadness of what might have been and the loss of a life cut way too short. So this was the experience I was taking with me to say goodbye to Uncle Lyle. Thankfully it was not the experience I left with.
We gathered in the cemetery on Saturday afternoon. Many of us had driven from Phoenix to be there. Many had come from all over the country. We stood in the beautiful California sunshine, with a cool breeze blowing, to listen to the testimonials of the people who loved Lyle. And as I listened to sons, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, neighbors, friends and in-laws talk about Lyle, I got such a sense of peace. Of course there was some sadness as there always is when a loved one leaves us. But this service was much more about celebrating a life than mourning a death. We had all gathered in this place to pay respects to a man we all loved. We payed respects to a life lived with purpose, hard work, family, faith and service to others. A life very well lived. And as with every experience I have, I tried to figure out the lesson I would take away from this one. I listened well to the stories shared. I shared my own. I came away with this one singular thought:
There is nothing better that you can give your loved ones than a life well lived.
This thought was reinforced as we later gathered at the hotel to eat and visit and tell more "Lyle" stories. So much happiness and joy on a day that would have typically been sad and gloomy. I was so grateful for this experience. I was so happy to reconnect with people I had not seen in years, people whom I think about with fondness and that make me so happy that I married into this amazing family. I was so honored to help celebrate Lyle's life.
On Sunday, Dan, Sarah and I drove out to Point Loma. We walked up to the lighthouse and out to the whale lookout. As I stood there looking out over the ocean, with a beautiful breeze blowing and the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore, I said a prayer of thanksgiving for having had the chance to know Lyle and Jackie. I said a prayer of thanksgiving that they were now together again for all eternity. And I said a prayer of thanksgiving for the lesson of a life well lived.