There’s no way to prepare for it.
No matter how long you expect it, or how certain you are that it’s coming, when it happens it always comes as a shock.
On June 21st, my father, Ermil Stohler, went home to Heaven.
I knew it was going to happen.
On some level, you know that you, your parents, your spouse, your kids, and every other person in the world, are going to die. Yet, when it happens, there is a flood of every emotion you could ever feel. It knocks the wind out of you. It puts everything in your life in a new perspective. It can even shipwreck your faith in God, if you have any.
There is no other experience in life like the death of a loved one, especially someone as close to you as a parent. It still hurts to say it. I’m not entirely sure how long it will take me to get this written, but there are some things I really want to share with you that I have learned from saying goodbye.
A Life of Legacy
My father lived a good, long life. He was 83 years old when he passed, and every one of those years counted for something. He made sure of it.
He was a teacher, and not just a teacher. He was an educator. Everyone who crossed his path learned something. Some teachers punch a clock and go home at the end of the day. My dad lived to pour knowledge into the people around him. He caused people to think about things in a new way. Even as an administrator, a lobbyist, and a sponsor of the National Honor Society, dad didn’t just participate, he used his platforms to make people’s lives better. He invested in individuals. He recognized people’s potential. He saw what people could be.
He was a good member of his community, whether here in Naples, or back in Indiana. He poured himself into his church, his neighborhood, and the schools he served. Everywhere he went, he was mindful to leave it better than he found it. I loved that about him. I have always wanted to be like that.
Maybe the biggest mark he made on the world is that he loved one woman for over 60 years, and poured himself into serving her every day. It brings me more tears just to think about how much I admire their marriage. Such a deep love. Such interpersonal sacrifice. I wish more people could experience that.
I remember observing a conversation between them and a group from church many years ago. I don’t remember what the other person said, but mom looked at dad, and cocked her eyebrow just a little bit, and he smiled back. They communicated more to each other in that three seconds of glances than I could share in a hundred of these blogs. He knew exactly what she was thinking at that moment, what she would say, and when to keep it to themselves. So much wisdom. Such a depth of communication.
My sister, Marilou and I loved him, and he loved us. I don’t think we ever really understood how much he loved us, or how much he invested in us, even when it wasn’t fun or comfortable. He always challenged me to be more than I thought I could be. He and mom knew I could things I didn’t know I could do. They invested strength and confidence in me. I could not have been who I am today without that.
My dad lived his life by principles. His character guided his every decision, even when his feelings wanted to go a different direction. Some of the best lessons I ever learned from him involved how to deal with people, how to maintain a positive attitude, and how to work hard when I didn’t want to. His character was who he was, and it shaped my life.
There is so much more I could say about him. Even two weeks after his death, I am still having a hard time wrapping my head around it. I know enough about the grieving process that I know that the next year will be speckled with moments of sudden sadness and surprising tears, but that doesn’t mean I can keep arm’s length from it. I’m sure I will never get over it, but it will get easier.
What About Your Life?
So, on this week’s “Wellness Wednesday,” I want to challenge you.
I challenge you to take a long, hard look at where you are right now. Where do you want to be? Are you there? Why aren’t you there? Spoiler Alert: it’s not because of someone else’s decisions. Lots of people did things that could have upset my dad. He was a very visible, powerful force in a very political environment. He was an agent for good and he didn’t take kindly to anyone’s lack of integrity. But he never let what others did upset him, offend him, or divert him from his goals. He made his own life his own way. This life is not a dress rehearsal. This is the big show. What are you doing with it?
In his great book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Dr. Steven Covey shares the importance of “Beginning with the End In Mind.” I have hung onto that since the day I read it. What do I want my life to mean? What do I want people to say about me after I’m gone? That’s why I picked the cemetary photo, by the way. I apologize if you found it jarring. Sometimes, I have to jar myself into awareness of my legacy.
I challenge you to take a look at the impact you are making on your community. Are you a participant, a complainer, or a spectator? What is your mark on the world? I aspire to live more impactfully, more positively, more intentionally, like my dad.
I challenge you to consider what you would want people to say at your funeral. It sounds grim, but it’s kind of a good exercise for measuring how you interacted with your world. In a way, you will shape what they say by the way you impact their lives for good. Are you investing in others? Am I?
It’s still hard to accept that dad is gone, but I know that I will see him again. I believe that he had a relationship with the God of Resurrection, and with Jesus, who sacrificed Himself to reconcile our relationship with God. I believe that death is not the end, but a graduation into life that never ends. That excites me and gives me hope. If you’d like to know more about this hope, I’d be happy to talk to you about it.
“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas