Hi All. I just wanted to let you know that a Memorial Mass was held for Jeff today at 7:30 a.m. at the Pius X High School Chapel in Lincoln, Nebraska. I don't know if they planned it this way--but the mass was held almost three weeks to the minute since Jeff died. Father Jim Meysenburg, Superintendent of Pius, and Monsignor Liam Barr, Pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church presided over the mass. Monsignor Barr is a long-time family friend of Jeff's and is one of the priests that married us and that also concelebrated at his funeral. But, his greatest contribution to Jeff's life was that he unwittingly played match-maker in Jeff's love affair with Irish tea when Monsignor Barr's mother taught Jeff how to make a perfect pot of Bewley's in the true Irish tradition!
Now, back to the business at hand: Over 60 of Jeff’s classmates, past teachers, and family attended the memorial and breakfast reception this morning. Fresh fruit, coffee cake and breads were served; lots of memories were shared; and I hear that stories from the blog were shared too. Thanks to everyone who planned and executed the event and an even bigger Thanks to everyone who attended to honor Jeff.
In other news, I am beginning to get a handle on the magnitude of the memorials people gave in response to Jeff's last wishes. I will be forwarding your generous donations to St. Jude the Apostle Parish, the Wilson PTSA, and the Notre Dame Club of Milwaukee next week. In the meantime, I am most astounded at the memorials donated to our family and designated for the benefit of our children--in all, nearly $4,000.
Before Jeff died, he said that he was "afraid someone might try to set up a scholarship fund for the kids" as a result of his death. This may strike you as odd given that most parents would HOPE someone would establish an educational fund for their children's benefit. But, not Jeff. He was strongly opinionated and felt that because he had to always work as a teenager and pay not only for college but for his own high school tuition and for all of his other personal expenses (gas, dates, entertainment, etc.) that our children should, likewise, pay their own way through college via summer jobs, work study opportunities, scholarships and student loans. Jeff's rationale was that anything you earn yourself, you will truly appreciate. Anything given to you for nothing will be taken for granted.
This is where our opinions diverged. I, too, have had a job since I was fourteen years old--more often than not, I had more than one job at a time. However, this was not imposed upon me by my parents as a means of fostering responsibility or maturity. It was not intended as an example for my younger siblings or as goodly use of talents to benefit my character and my community. For me, hard work was something else.
I was raised by a single mother who, throughout most of my childhood, worked as a waitress. I only dreamed that someone would throw me a bone so I wouldn't have to work so hard. I saw my mother work, and work, and work, and work with no reward other than bad knees and discounted meals from her employer. I saw my two brothers suffer through six years in the Marine Corps because it was the best way for them to get money for college. I was a smart and talented kid: I got good grades, I was a asset to my employers, I was a responsible and popular babysitter. But, I'm 35 years old and I'm still paying off student loans. I think this is the essence of where Jeff and I had different perspectives on hard-work and paying your own way: he saw it as a virtue and I saw it as an inescapable, sometimes painful, necessity.
In fact, one of the saddest realizations for me during Jeff's illness was that I was going to be a single mother and not because it meant I would have to work hard for the rest of my life, but because I knew that my kids would now have to work hard too--and not the virtuous character-building hard work that Jeff had envisioned for them, but rather the kind that makes you tired--the kind that makes you also work hard against bitterness and jealousy.
But, even Jeff, at the end of his life, began to understand my perspective. One of the greatest gifts of his illness was the empathy he developed. He said that although he achieved everything he had on his own, he felt that he did it at the expense of getting to know Michael and Michelle (his youngest siblings) better. He said that when he wasn't at school or a related activity, he was working and as a result, he feels like he lost out on a lot with Michael and Michelle.
And, so, what I'm getting at here through all this long-winded family history and disclosure is that I've decided to divide the $4,000 in family memorials among our four children to be used for their educations. I don't know if Jeff would approve of this decision, but Jeff was analytical and logical and objective, so here is my argument: If our children are able to earn even $8.00 per hour as high school students, and work approximately 15 hours per week while still engaged in school and activities, then $1,000 will amount to nearly two months of gross wages. This will give them some latitude in the employment they pursue (for half of one summer, anyway) and may even give them the opportunity to spend two months volunteering--which is an absolute condition precedent nowadays to getting scholarships and university acceptance letters. It will relieve their burdens ever so slightly, yet hopefully be something that will give them some breathing room if they ever feel overwhelmed by the piling-on of educational costs or the expense of "just one more thing" (like several application fees to various colleges). And, Jeff can be reassured, $1,000 per child is not enough to spare any one of them the necessity of hard work, summer jobs, scholarship applications, and student loans. And, in my opinion, it's not getting "something for nothing" that they, therefore, won't appreciate. Their father died. They will "earn" that money every time they give Finn a bath or fold a basket of laundry or rake the leaves because Jeff is not here to help me with those things.
So, I like to think Jeff would agree with my executive decision. If not, I hope he'll let me know . . .I'm still waiting for my "sign."