Happy 50th

Posted: November 3, 2015 in Uncategorized

Ten years ago, I pulled off a surprise 40th birthday party for Patrick. It was a great night of celebrating his life with lots of friends. I think his favorite part was that I still put him in charge of the grilling; I can vividly picture him standing by the grill, talking and laughing as he worked his magic on the meat. Later that week, his mom and sister made a surprise visit and took us out to a unique all-you-can-eat seafood restaurant. It seems like we celebrated for over a week.

Behind the scenes, I threw together a small scrapbook of “Patrick’s Top 40 rules for life.” Inside the front cover, I wrote these words:

“Happy Birthday, Honey! Since 40 is a memorable birthday, but certainly not the end of the road, I wanted to celebrate you by sharing 40 of your life habits that we know and love about you.”

Some of the items in the scrapbook represented his funny quirks:

  • patrick40#8 Running out of milk is a sin
  • #16 Spend more time blowing than mowing
  • #22 Eat French fries with a fork
  • #26 Make your own guacamole
  • #28 The golf channel is the only one you need
  • #31 Always find the shade
  • #34 Don’t trip on my feet, just rub my feet

Others illustrated his practical side:

  • #7 Call your mom once a week
  • #13 Shake hands with a firm grip
  • #14 Never pay full price
  • #17 On time means 5 minutes early
  • #33 Laugh often

Several others demonstrated his character:

  • #12 Trust in God and follow His word
  • #20 Don’t stay angry for more than five minutes
  • #29 Be an involved father
  • #30 Lead by example
  • #32 Stay Faithful to your bride
  • #35 Accountability counts
  • #38 Be loyal to your friends

I’m sure that however you knew Patrick, you can smile and agree as you read one of the above points. You could probably add your own from your memories of him.

Did any of us imagine that Patrick wouldn’t live to see 50? Nope. But God knew. Maybe He had me make a big deal out of his 40th because we wouldn’t have a 50th party. I don’t know.

Patrick looked forward to a long life, yet he always had a feeling he would die young. There were a few occasions when he mentioned that thought to me. Of course I would argue and say “you have no way of knowing” or “don’t say that!” Now I joke that I should have said “then go buy more life insurance.” You’ll have to excuse me if that sounds sick, but I have to find bits of humor where I can in the midst of the tragedy of losing my husband so young.

When Patrick was diagnosed with ALS right after his 46th birthday, he knew he was going to die and it was going to be quick. He thought less than two years; it was barely over one. He did not pray for healing; he prayed for grace to die well. As his muscles deteriorated and he suffered greatly, he would sometimes ask me if I thought he was complaining. I honestly can’t remember a time when he complained or was negative about the course God had set his life on. He would communicate his needs as they arose because he couldn’t help himself, but there were no signs of bitterness or anger.

He wanted us to keep living; he never once asked the kids to not go somewhere or do something to stay with him. In fact, if there was any way to bring him along, we did. Looking back now, I realize how much internal strength it must have taken to not care about his appearance and helplessness, but instead he let the desire to be with his family and partake in a part of our lives override any insecurities of people staring. What a man he was! The only time he sobbed was a few months before his death when he couldn’t keep going out and he knew his kids were going to have to through life without him. He didn’t weep for himself, but for us.

Barely eight weeks after his 47th birthday, God took Patrick home. If he were still on earth, today would be his 50th birthday. Somehow we would have made it a big deal…with family, friends, laughter and food. He probably would have endured the jokes about being old with his standard response of “bite me.”

Instead, I am left alone with just the memories of the love of my life. No doubt it will be a hard day. I will do what I can to keep busy, but the pain is always there. The tears are ever ready to burst out when I give them the chance. The last couple of months, the loneliness has been intense. Like a heavy, damp blanket that I can’t get out from underneath. Sometimes I just want to be free of the grief, yet it’s still a journey through which I am walking.

I know Patrick wouldn’t want me to mope around on his birthday, or on any other day in fact. So I will choose to focus on the good times, shed my tears and keep going. I know that each birthday is a gift from God. Aging is a privilege; there are no guarantees. I am thankful for my health, my family, my job, and for the ability to run. I am so grateful for my church and the freedom to worship God and the many provisions He continues to demonstrate to me daily. While this may sound like a trite list that anyone could spout off, I truly mean it from the bottom of my heart. Without God’s grace and His word, I could not face each day.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:21

  1. Tim Vermilyea says:

    Dena… Thank you, as always, for taking the time to rummage through your treasure of memories and organizing some of them into such compelling narrative! I was recently back at BBC (Summit U) and listened to some of your friends reflecting on their appreciation of your life and courage.

    I am praying for you today… among other things, I pray that such a wealth of wonderful memories will always provide solace, even in the loneliest moments. Praise God that Patrick was such a godly man who DID leave you and your kids sweet reminders.

  2. laurieeller says:

    This was so sweet. My birthday is November 2nd and I always stop and think of Patrick and your family. I hope today is sunny and beautiful for you Dena. You deserve to have warmth in your face and to know you’re being held in the palm of His hands. ❤️

  3. David Whiting says:

    I miss Patrick. Thanks for sharing this. We love you!


  4. Noelle says:

    Dena, thank you for your words of encouragement, humor, and wisdom. As always, it is a blessing and inspiration to read your blog. We miss Patrick, too! Praying for you (and the kids) as you continue to press forward in faith, day-by-day, moment by moment. The Lord’s strength and love WILL continue to sustain you and bring you closer to Him. Blessings, Noelle

  5. Shirley Piatek says:

    Dena, you continue to bless me with your strength, words and life. I can only imagine what life would be like without my husband. I have not lived through the grief that you endure, daily. God gave you to Patrick, and God gave Patrick to you. He knew that you were going to be each other’s help mate. He knew that Patrick’s life would not be long. And yet, He gave you both a gift ~ the gift of ministering to youth! You both did your job well. Just look around and see the outcome of the work that God gave you to do. Individuals who have been influenced by the ministry that Patrick and you, together, had with them. Yes, Patrick died, in our opinion, way too soon, but in God’s perfect plan, Patrick’s work was done, and it was time to bring him home to his eternal reward A life well lived/spent doing what God had ordained for him, and you. You are strong, and in your weakness, you cry out to the Father. God’s plan for your life is still working. Every time you write a new post, you are ministering to so many. But for the Grace of God, I don’t know how you go on without your husband, your help mate, the gift that God gave you in Patrick. God Bless You, Dena, you are loved and admired for your strength, and example of leaning on the Lord to get you through. As always, I have been blessed with your new post about Patrick.

  6. You never cease to amaze me. Patrick was very blessed to have you by his side for so many years. God is good

  7. Kerry Weishaupt says:

    Dena, I remember it like it was yesterday. I miss him and his MOM. praying for you to enjoy your day and the Memories. Birthday gifts for Pat……..Rick would be his favorite cookie and cereal. Kerry

  8. Leni Young says:

    This is beautiful:) I still remember you telling me when I met Parker that he commented , “she’s got a firm handshake!” Patrick taught him well:)

  9. Carl & Lori Reichanadter says:

    Dena, thank you for your transparency, your sense of humor, your great memories of Patrick, and on and on. Each time we read your comments (btw, you have an amazing way with words!) we are both challenged and encouraged. Thanks for posting friend. Love, Carl and Lori

  10. Melody Perrin says:

    Dena thank you for all your support and encouragement to me. Just want you to know I continue to lift you in prayer. I ask that God will wrap his arms around you today.

  11. Dena, You are a great encouragement to us as we read your “Patrick’s Story”. You mentioned your blanket of tears you have some day’s and nights when you have Patrick on your mind. Dena, God has you covered with His warm blanket of promising words of love and hope that He will care for you and your siblings. We also love you and pray for you always,and we miss Patrick too. Go Notre Dame!!!!!

  12. Amy Ayers says:

    Hugs to you, my dear. I think of you often. How was the missions trip?

  13. Kellie Benge says:

    Dena, thank you for being willing to share such special, inspiring thoughts about Patrick. I know it helps you amidst the pain to honor the amazing work that God did in and through Patrick. You challenge me as I see you making God’s name great as you once again show me how he has given you his abundant grace and strength. What pleasure you must bring to Him!! Sending my love and prayers. Kellie

  14. Judy Stafne says:

    GOD BLESS YOU. I just had my birthday and I still remember saying to my son (who died at 40 from ALS) that I am getting old and he would say—be greatful mom that you had another birthday—-as he knew he would not—I am thankful to God that my son is in heaven but I cry and miss him everyday. The only peace I have about it all as that he is not suffering—
    I like reading your blog and I pray that God give us peace about losing our loved ones to this horrible disease and hope that there is a cure for it someday!!
    Prayers to you—

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