Honestly, I wasn't sure it could get worse than the schedule of insanity that I've kept the last three months. Oh, how wrong I was. I have never been so utterly exhausted. And I'd probably be insane by now, were it not for my folks (and not in the parental sense). To have Vin and Tanya rearrange their lives, just drop everything, is amazing to me (the boy, for example, had to be at the church yesterday at 9:30 - call time for the pallbearers - then drive out to Rockford for the burial - well over an hour each way - be a big manly rock while my father and uncle cried on each side of him, then go straight to work and put in a full day.) To get a message from Lisa not five minutes after I posted that I wouldn't be around, and an email from Stac knowing how busy she is, and an hour of escapism with K when it was needed most... all things I leaned on. And then there was Q, who'd call with so much caring and concern and perfectly-placed "I love you to bits" - I've been carrying your card around in my purse, babes. Just because.
I really wish all of you could have known Poppa, just because he was the single most amazing man I knew (I may be biased, but everyone else seems to agree - there were more eulogy offers than we could possibly handle, and we finally had to narrow it down to nine, for time consideration. Nine.)
Speaking of... remind me never to write an obituary again. Ever. It was the single most difficult two pages I've ever written. At the same time, though, it was intensely surreal to see his whole life laid out in black and white, and hear all of these accomplishments and anecdotes from an entire lifetime he lived before my generation. I knew things, but in bullet points - the Cliff's Notes. I knew, but I didn't know. Awareness just doesn't equal understanding, I suppose. I knew he'd served in the Army - non-commissioned officer, Ordinance Division. I hadn't known that he organized the welcoming party for the first group of Tuskegee Airmen. I knew that he'd worked for the USPS for thirty-two years, that the giant ruby ring he wore was a souvenir from his days in professional football. I had no idea that he was the first minority in USPS management in the state of Illinois, and I didn't grasp that the ring came from two seasons of standing on the sidelines at Soldier Field, barking out orders beside Jim Morel. I knew that he had history with some powerful people, that he'd been active in the civil rights movement. Hell, I'd seen the pictures. But I didn't know that marching with Dr. King meant marching with Dr. King. That Jesse Jackson called him "The Colonel" because his advice ranked that highly. That he'd been in the thick of it for countless markers and milestones.
I did know that he loved with everything he had. That he pledged his heart to my grandmother 64 years ago, and kept his vow. That whatever he did, family was first. That when it comes to men, he set the bar high. That he had a special smile for all of us, and kept them all straight. That he could find the most creative ways to say I love you. That he was my first hero, and that had nothing to do with what he'd done, and everything to do with who he was.
Benjamin Lites, July 29, 1918 - June 7, 2007. It goes both ways.