On August 21, 2004, this man walked his daughter down the aisle. I was waiting there, in the half-light of a partially raining afternoon, scared to death. Doug put his daughter’s hand in mine, and he gave her to me to cherish, to love and to protect for the rest of my life.
I remember the talk Doug had with me before the wedding. We talked about God and the responsibility of being a good husband, and he gave me his blessing and his love. He cried. Well, to be fair, he bawled like a baby, but that was classic Doug. All raw nerves and awkward emotion. He cried when he toasted our marriage as well, but he was beaming with joy when he set his gaze upon us and lifted his glass. He came to the wedding alone, was there for every ceremony, and he was the last person to stay behind after everyone else went home.
It was a great day.
Fast forward ten years later. We’re all sitting around Doug’s hospital bed. We’ve been saying our goodbyes every time we see him because we don’t know how much longer he has, and there are so many things left unsaid. There still are.
He’s gone now. The man who gave me his daughter is gone. He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone.
And we remain.
I could tell you about the way Doug cherished his grand kids. That he was a great grandfather. I could tell you that he accepted my two older boys that day in August, accepted them as his own and never once treated them like they were outsiders. I could tell you these things, but I’m not going to. I could also tell you about the many times Doug dropped everything to come help me. Fixing the sump pump in the middle of the night while it was pouring down rain because the basement flooded. Twice. Or the many times he helped me wire electrical outlets in the shop and the house. I could talk about the fishing trips and the shooting trips and the sledding trips. The birthdays, holidays and everything in between. The times he used to come over just to wrestle with the little boys, or the way he held his granddaughter for the first time. But I’m not going to talk about those things either. Those things are mine to keep, to take out and look at like old pictures anytime I feel I need to.
What I want to talk about is the day he handed his daughter to me, and asked me to take care of his little girl. Because, in Doug’s death, I’ve been trying to find a way that would best honor him. And the only real way I know how to honor him the most is to live up to the promise I made that afternoon 13 years ago. Because I plan to see him again, and I’ll have to look him in the eye, and he’ll want to know if I did it. If I fulfilled my promise. And I’m not going to disappoint him.
There are so many things that have gone through my mind in the last several days. Regrets. Words I wish I would have said. Words I wish I hadn’t said. I wish I had more fishing trips. I wish I had more time. But one thing I can say with certainty. Doug touched my life in more ways than he ever knew while he walked this earth. His convictions and faith were unshakable, right up to the end. That will stay with me forever. I want to be a better person because of Doug. A better husband, son, father. A better man. To live with more conviction and less bitterness. To be more open and less closed off.
That, if you ask my opinion, is the true essence of a hero. To live in such a way that you inspire others, that even in your death you are creating change in the people around you.
Doug is a hero. He served his country. He served his God. He served his family.
There will come a time when I will leave this earth. Maybe I’ll find myself walking down another aisle, to another kind of wedding. No tuxedos and photographs this time. I know who will be there waiting for me. He’ll be the first one to meet me at the door, to welcome me home. He’ll ask me about his little girl, and how well the kids have grown. He’ll put his arms around me and we’ll cry, we’ll laugh, and then this distance between us will be no more.
In a little while.
Note: this was first written and published 2 years ago from Hood River, Oregon