“The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.” - Ayn Rand
The day after we got home from Seattle we jumped on a plane and headed to Denver to say our final goodbyes to my stepmom Sandy who lost her battle with ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease in June. Sandy didn’t really want any type of service but for those of us left behind I think we needed it. We needed to say goodbye to her and honor her life so we could have some closure. I was dreading our trip to Denver. I just didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to say goodbye and I didn’t want to think about it. But I’m not 5 anymore so stomping my feet and pouting while yelling “I don’t want to!” just doesn’t work for me anymore. I had to get on that plane. So off we flew back to my home state of Colorado. We had a very nice service for her and I was able to deliver a eulogy. The next day my family and I headed back to my hometown of Grand Lake, Colorado to spread her ashes. Now that all is said and done I am glad we did it. I finally feel like I have said goodbye to Sandy and that I can move on living my life in a world without any parents. I am glad she is no longer suffering in the shell of a body she couldn’t control. I feel a sense of peace when I think of her and Dad being reunited. I miss her, I miss my Dad and I miss my Mom. I think we all know that at some point in our lives we will lose our parents, it’s supposed to be the natural order of things. But I don’t think we are ever really ready for it when it happens. I feel too young to have lost all my parents. I feel robbed of about 20 years. I feel a huge emptiness in my world now. I am sure it will always be like that. Goodbyes are never easy, but whether we like it or not, sometimes our best relationships end with a goodbye.
Here is the text of my eulogy to Sandy:
I was 12 when my Dad married Sandy. The truth was I was not too happy about having a step-mom. My Dad and I had been on our own for 5 years and as far as I was concerned, we were just fine. But Sandy didn’t seem so bad, and it made my Dad happy to have a wife.
Last summer one of Sandy’s sisters commented to Sandy and I about how close we had always been. Sandy and I turned to each other and laughed. It wasn’t always that way. We had a tough time getting along. I was jealous of her, she was jealous of me. Dad was stuck between two fighting girls. Somehow we managed through and in the end Sandy and I were close. She was my Mom.
When I think back to my nearly 30 year relationship with Sandy I realize she gave me a lot of things. There’s not enough time to talk about all of them but I want to mention a couple.
The best thing Sandy gave me was a family. Even though my Dad and I were just fine on our own, we were lonely. It’s hard to celebrate major holidays when it is just two of you. There wasn’t a lot of celebration. Then Dad married Sandy and we inherited the Leonard clan. The crazy pyramid building Leonard clan. I’ll never forget my first Thanksgiving down in Monte Vista with Sandy’s family. To go from 2 people to like 20 was quite a welcome change. There was lots of laughter, love and liquor. It made me so happy, and I know it made Dad happy too, to finally have a family. The Leonard family became my family thanks to Sandy. For that, I will be forever grateful to her.
Another thing Sandy gave me was food. Yes I said food. No one will ever understand the horror of my Dad’s cooking. I was so happy to finally have food that didn’t come in an aluminum tray or from a restaurant. Sandy was a great cook. My Dad and I were in food heaven every time we sat down at the table. I can only remember one time that Sandy made something that wasn’t edible. She used to make these wonderful chewy, chocolate brownies. I would always ask her to make them for any gathering we had. This one particular time my sister was having a party and Sandy made her famous brownies. I of course had to cut the brownies and have one right away. I took a bite and nearly threw up. Turns out Sandy used salt instead of sugar! How you get those two mixed up I don’t know. Sandy in her typical fashion threw her hands up in the air, shrugged her shoulders and laughed.
Perhaps the most important thing Sandy gave me was a Mom. She was there every day for me. She cooked for me. She shopped for me. She gave me advice. She encouraged me. Sandy did all those “mom” things for me. I didn’t realize until I left home for college how important Sandy had been in raising me. Who I am today is a reflection of not only my Dad, but Sandy. The day Jackson was born Dad and Sandy were there in the hospital. They were there when we brought Jackson home from the hospital. And they both never faltered when we got the horrible news that Jackson wasn’t going to be who we thought he would be. Sandy said to me afterward that it didn’t matter, that she would still love Jackson with all her heart. And she did. Just like a supportive Mom and Grandma would.
If you knew my Dad and Sandy you knew that their MO was arguing and bantering back and forth. When Sandy started showing signs of slurring her words we were all concerned. My Dad kept telling her there was something wrong with her and Sandy would yell at him that she was fine. They were quite entertaining right before my Dad died because my Dad couldn’t hear and Sandy couldn’t speak clearly. My Dad would yell “I can’t understand a damn thing you are saying woman” and Sandy would yell back “You would if you would wear your hearing aids we spent a fortune on”. Then Sandy would break out in her repeated and memorized lecture about how much money they spent on the hearing aids and how Dad wouldn’t even wear the damn things. When Mike called to tell me Sandy was gone I cried for a long time. But then I had this vision of them reuniting in heaven, or wherever it is we go when we die. It goes like this: Dad’s standing there waiting for her, Sandy arrives, they hug and Dad says “I’ve missed you Honey”, Sandy says “I’ve missed you too”. He puts his arm around her and they start to walk. Then Dad in his insatiable desire to be right all the time says in his Mr. Know it all voice “I told you something was wrong with you.” Sandy stops and hits him on the arm and says “Oh shut up Darwin!” And just like that things are right back to the way they should be.