The Man I Knew

The Man I Knew

 When my husband died suddenly, I must admit it took my breath away for some time. The planning of his funeral service was overwhelming until the Lord gave me some insight.

My friend Leah and I had to drive 4 hours to the efficiency apartment Greg had rented just the week before. Greg had just finished week two of a new job in southern Indiana. It was 2 days after his death.

I can’t explain it other than God’s grace, but I was able to enter that apartment where he died without emotion.  There were remnants of medical equipment that had been used to resuscitate lying on the floor, package wrappings and such that as a nurse, I recognized. (Later, Leah mentioned to me that she had worried how I would react to this place.)

We loaded Greg’s truck and my car then went to the hospital to pick up his personal effects. The nursing supervisor gave more details of that day.

It was on the drive back home where I was completely alone for the first time in 3 days.  The grief and pain was overwhelming. I missed my exit on the interstate.

I was lost for about an hour backtracking then second guessing myself when I got to the exit I needed to take. I had no roadmaps and a terrible sense of direction.

I stopped to check out a map at a Pilot station.  This time I drove with confidence that I was finally headed in the right direction. 

The gas station name reminded me of that bumper sticker, “Jesus is my co-pilot.”  I prayed that I would allow Him to be the pilot of my life rather than the co-pilot. 

It was on the rest of that drive God gave me the outline of the memorial I wrote for Greg’s funeral. 

Thanks to my computer journaling habit I realized months later that the time spent driving was the start of a consistent daily personal time with the Lord.

l’m posting Greg’s memorial to honor him today. I’d love to introduce you to ‘The Man I Knew.’

The Man I Knew

Greg’s life as I saw it—(written by Sue, but read by our nephew, Caleb at Greg’s funeral)

Most of you here today may remember Greg as the boy you saw growing up or the young man that entered your life in his late teens.  Today is all about honoring and appreciating the man he became.

Greg graduated from Batesville High School at age 16.  He  entered Ole Miss majoring in Math with a long term goal of serving in the United States Air Force. 

When I met him, he had just finished his sophomore year of college with the aid of an ROTC scholarship and working full time as an orderly at the hospital in Oxford, MS.

Sometime in his 16th year, Greg attended a movie sponsored by the Billy Graham Crusade.  His heart was stirred by the salvation message of the production and Greg realized that he was a sinner and deserved an eternity in Hell.  He learned that Jesus willingly paid that penalty for his sins and died in his place on the cross. An invitation to accept Christ as his Savior and Lord became the defining moment in his life.  It was evident in the years that followed that this decision was not made with empty impulsive emotion, but with a sincere faith that he would someday live in Heaven with his Lord.

On August 1st, 1976 as he was clocking in for the 4-12PM shift, he took notice of this blue-eyed brunette nursing student who was starting her new summer job.  

I had just completed my 1st year of nursing school and was chatting with my sister-in-law, Wanda, an LPN who also worked at the facility.

Greg wasted no time pumping Wanda for information about me.  He made sure he noted my work floor assignment every day. 

The orderlies had no specific floor duty, but were paged when needed to help.  I was told later in the relationship, that when my unit called for help, Greg would race up the stairs to where I was, and then casually saunter onto the unit as if he was conveniently close by.

His efforts were rewarded by a first date on August 5th. Before the month had ended, it was apparent that love had blossomed.

This nursing student had many opportunities in the days ahead to observe the tender-hearted, but fun-loving young man in action.  One incident I recall is that Greg had a particularly soft spot in his heart for an elderly Alzheimers patient named Hiram Goforth.

Hiram was often confused and thought he was still on his farm and that the chores needed to be done.  He could not rest until his mules were fed and watered.  Greg would assure the anxious gentleman that he would take care of all the work and he would leave the room briefly, and then return to announce that all the animals had been settled in for the night.

Poor Hiram had no teeth and the pureed hospital food was often rejected by this man who seemed to be wasting away.  Knowing that his meager paycheck sometimes left him eating popcorn for supper, it was especially heartwarming to see Greg buy the Mallo-mars Hiram loved and enjoyed in spite of his toothlessness.

His mischievous and humorous side was also observed that summer when he and the orderlies he worked with planned and implemented several elaborate, though harmless, pranks on unsuspecting victims.

One scheme involved 2 orderlies pushing a sheet covered supposedly-deceased person through a crowded emergency waiting room and accidently tipping the guy playing the corpse onto the floor.  Nary a sound was heard in the room as the two pushing the cart reloaded the unfortunate deceased back onto it and cheerfully left the room whistling the tune, “Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to work we go.” :-)

Greg and I became engaged just 7 weeks after meeting in September of 1976.  We both knew that finishing our education was a priority so while I continued her studies at Baptist Hospital in Memphis TN, Greg remained in Oxford at Ole Miss.

He shared an apartment with another college attending orderly, but when the fellow decided to move on, Greg found he was unable to afford the rent by himself.  He visited his future in-laws over the Christmas holidays and when I returned to Memphis in January, Greg simply stayed on, living with her parents, helping out wherever he was needed, and winning their trust that their daughter was going to be in good hands when they married.

He knew he was accepted as a member of the family the morning he awoke to the sounds of Sue’s Dad retching in the bathroom next door after his kidney dialysis treatment.  As he lay there, he realized that he also was sick to his stomach and urgently needed to use the facilities himself.  The only option was to race across the house to the other restroom and try to avoid the carpeted areas ahead of him. 

Mrs. Cook (my mother) was making breakfast in the vinyl floored kitchen when Greg suddenly rounded the corner and could no longer hold his illness back.  His future mother in law looked up from her skillet and said wryly, “You DO realize that you’re going to have to clean that up!!” LOL

Greg had a romantic nature toward his bride-to-be.  He was the sentimental one in the relationship.  He brought me flowers often, but though I appreciated the thought, it went against my thrifty nature to see money spent on something that was so short-lived. They decided together that if he felt the need, he should buy only 3 flowers-one for each word in the phase, “I LOVE YOU.”  Needless to say, I received 3 flowers often and for no special reason.  I carried 3 pink roses atop a Bride’s Bible on my wedding day.

In May of 1978, 19 months after his proposal, Greg and I were married at the Baptist church in Paris, MS.  I was now a registered nurse and he would be commissioned into the Air Force within months. 

He cherished this young bride and felt helpless and guilty as they drove away from her childhood home in December of 1978 to begin their new life together.  They were headed across country to Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento, California.

This wife of 31 ½ years recalls his unfailing tenderness and patience as I cried from Paris, MS almost non-stop to Texarkana, TX.  Because of this, I was able to eventually overcome my homesickness and happily transition to 7 different bases in 20 years and 3 subsequent moves after his retirement from the Air Force.

Greg loved kids and made a special effort almost every Sunday to drop by the church nursery to make faces at the toddlers and try to get them to laugh. 

One especially successful trick was to teach them to “give him five.”  As they slapped his hand, he would pull his hand away and pretend that he was in extreme pain.  This always made the kids laugh and over time he would reach across the Dutch door of the nursery and the entire room of toddlers would run toward him so they could be the first one to make Mr. Greg feel some pain.  They loved him!!!

In November of 1988, we welcomed a baby daughter into the family.  As this new mother lay exhausted in her bed, I watched as the very first diaper was changed by the new Dad.  The hands that had ministered with confidence to so many elderly patients now trembled as he took gentle care of his baby girl.

Two and a half years later, this exhausted and very sore wife would again observe him holding their 10 lb. 4 oz. newborn baby boy.  This time he said with a twinkle in his eye, “Honey, I think this might be it…I don’t know if I can go through this again.”

Greg’s military career progressed as he reached one goal after another.  He began as a 2nd Lt. who trained as navigator in an RC-135.  His missions were of a highly confidential nature.  His commanding officers commended his leadership, cool-headedness to perform in an emergency, and his ability to teach other young navigators without insulting their intelligence or undermining their confidence.

Greg ascended in the ranks until he reached the position of Major and was stationed at the Pentagon.  His devotion and time commitment to his family, his work ethic, and his service at his local church left him little free time.  Because he was not willing to devote less time to any of these endeavors, he missed the deadline for a class essential to his making the rank of Lt. Colonel.  He was very disappointed that he was passed over for promotion.  His commanding officers were stunned and not a little upset that a flyer as fine as Greg did not make rank when in their opinion less talented individuals were promoted.

This career setback was lessened when he received a personal request to come work for a well respected division of the military located at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, OH called Big Safari.  It was to be the best experience of his military career. He gained knowledge and made friends and business contacts that were invaluable to him in his future business executive positions.  He often said that if he had made rank, his job post retirement would have had a very different and less satisfying outcome.

Psalms chapter 75:6- “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. “   Since God is as far North as you can get, Greg accepted with a grateful heart that God did not give him what he WANTED, God gave him something much, much better.

The transition to civilian life was hard for Greg. The “dog eat dog” mentality of the business world, and the stepping on someone else to climb your way to the “top of the heap” was foreign to him. He had spent 20 years working with a group of men and women who had a common goal to serve and protect.  He was a team player in every sense of the word and would far rather see success given to the group as a whole than to be the “top dog.”

If I could pinpoint one flaw in Greg I noticed early in our relationship, it was his personal lack of self-confidence.  I believe he overcame this by working hard to do his best at whatever task he was given.  He had an analytical mind and anything he did whether it was preparing a briefing for work or packing a car for a trip was done with great thought and preparation.  He love to make lists when working on a project and I teased him about this at times, but I have learned the value this habit.  I never do anything without making one.  I also saw that as he matured and grew more confident, he remained a very humble man.

I also admired his ability to do math in his head.  He could calculate to the penny the total amount of the cost of the groceries in our shopping cart.  I will miss my human calculator in more ways than one.

Greg always put my needs and those of our kids above his.  He never made a purchase above $50, especially on himself, without checking in with me first.  It wasn’t asking my permission either.  He was making sure that everyone else got what they needed and wanted first and that there were no unexpected expenses he was not aware of.

We were involved in many churches over our 31 years and frequent moves.  They became an extended family and support system to us as we lived so far from our own folks in   Mississippi. Greg loved being an usher greeting people, but he would do anything asked of him.  He had an amazing ability to see what needed to be done and just did it.

We both enjoyed entertaining guests in our home and we often invited people we just met over for a meal.  The military lifestyle calls for making friends quickly because you are never in one place for very long.  Of course we did not become good friends with everyone we met, but we enjoyed meeting new people even if we didn’t have a lot in common with them. We had a standing joke that said, “All our guests bring joy…  Some by coming, others by leaving.”

I also enjoyed writing humorous skits that featured a married couple.  Though he usually did not want to be the center of attention, he would dress up in any goofy costume I designed if he thought someone would get a laugh out of it.  It always did.  

He was always supportive of the things I love to do. I enjoyed cooking and decorating for weddings and other events and Greg cheerfully loaded, unloaded, and was always willing to retrieve something I.  He brought me cookbooks often from the places he traveled to and encouraged me in my goal of someday writing one myself.

I finished it in December of 2008 and sent it to the printer in January ‘09.  I wrote it for our children, Emily and Andrew, but the dedication was “ to the most wonderful husband and sweetheart any woman could be blessed with.  It is he who has given me the freedom to be the person that I am (flawed as that is)-to love me even when I am cranky, help me when I am overwhelmed, to listen when I need to vent, be my “go-fer” when I am catering and make my coffee every morning.” (He didn’t even drink coffee).

We were preparing for that stage of life where it was going to be all about us.  The children were grown and in college, and he had already left an extremely stressful job that required him to travel almost weekly.

He had accepted a position at a company whose work focused on supporting military issues involving the Navy.  His high security clearances and previous background was tailor made for this job. The travel was minimal. I can visualize him walking to our car after the interview.  He was trying to repress the excitement he felt over the job and said to me, “I think I could really enjoy working with these folks.”

He had been employed with this company for 2 weeks when the unexpected happened.

Greg told me many, many times that all he ever wanted to do was make me happy.  I guess except for that final act he had no control over, he met that life goal. 

He truly lived the verse that was his favorite.  Galations 2:20 “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I ,but Christ liveth in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”

At the posting of this memorial, he has been gone almost 8 years.  Some days are harder than others.  Grief rears its head when one least expects it.  Caring friends help, but the ‘One who never leaves or forsakes’ is always who I go running to for Comfort.  Weeping may last for the night, but joy DOES come.

Oddly enough, one of the hardest tasks for me was to purchase the double headstone.  It took me a year to face up to this task.  I prefer to defer the ‘unpleasant,’I guess.

Since Greg and I never really talked about this particular subject, it was left to me to decide.  His birth & death date are there, and my birthday with a dash beside.  I chose the scripture, “Looking unto Jesus, the author & finisher of our faith” to be inscribed on the black granite slab.  In death we look to Him, and in my continuing this life, my “dash” so to speak, I have learned to rely on Christ as never before.  His grace IS sufficient.  I have hope that I too, will finish well.

Confectionately Yours,

Sue