Sunday, June 12, 2011

Returning with Honor

Dearest Tom,
Seems silly to write you a letter since you have passed away and it might be a while until you can read this, but I have been known to talk to things that don' t talk back.  My animals (including the two cats you so nicely donated to the mix), the plants, a gold statue on the top of the Temple, and my dead ancestors who are still actively eluding my rescue work of them in the Czech Republic.   That said, I want to remember every detail of this week.  This year.  This relationship with you and us, and the blog is the best permanent place to do that.  Get ready.  I have a few things to say.
Tom's beloved Camaro made the funeral
Thanks Tallants

Dear Tom (again),
Remember when we went to Utah some ago or I was there.  You know since the epilepsy has come along, my recall of more recent information isn't what it used to be.  However, that said, I remember giving you the "Return with Honor" sign that you had on your front door.  I got the idea from a family that we love in Utah, who raised 19 children.  They had it engraved on a sign (it is still there even though they are all grown) on the inside of the front door.   It was to remind them of who they were when they went out and to live the best they could.  I have always loved seeing it.  However, being the cheapwad that I am (sort of cheapwad, since I have so many pencils in Africa to buy), you got a paper version.  I have always loved that you loved it.

That sign on your front door was referenced more than once during this funeral week.  It is my humble opinion that you have done just that...Returned with honor.  I know I don't have much pull in the afterlife, but I would be the first in line to vouch for you, be "your second" as they say in the movie "Grease", or your "wingman" as they say in "Top Gun."  You know Andersonville....all of the great lessons in life come with their own movie quote.  :)

Here is basically my serious declaration.  I know you love yourself a lot of "Law and Order" (not), but I have learned a few things when presenting a case to a jury.  Clear.  Serious.  Concise.  Try not to cry.

If I had to present a case for you in Heaven, I think I would start my story with this talk I gave at the funeral.  If you remember, we had such a blast at the Celebration of Life and that I gave the fun part of the funeral talk there.  But you were more serious that not, and it seemed that I was specifically led to these words.  The day before, I dreamt over and over the exact words and phrases to use.  I hope that I honor you my friend with it.  I wrote it with you, your parents, your brother and your children in mind.
My name is Valerie Anderson, and I am one of Tom’s best friends.

As you look around, you can see there are many people here who feel that very same way.

I wanted to say thank you for taking time out of your life to come and honor Tom.  It would be humbling for him to see this and the effort made in his behalf.
I would like to get what I believe to be the most emotionally difficult part of my talk out of the way first.  My apologies for reading this portion.

Joey, Jonny and Jennifer.

When your father put together his funeral, he had one very specific instruction for me as a speaker.

He asked me to publically say that you mean the world to him.  He loves you more than anything.  He is proud of you and did the best he could for you as your father.

He asked me to recognize the quality about each of you that he felt most connected to you, as individuals. 

He also wanted me to share a special moment that he shared with you in your personal relationship with him that made him feel so happy.

He said if we shared these things here today, there would be a room full of people that could help you remember a teeny tiny piece of how he felt about you.

Joey:  your father felt most connected to your spontaneous personality and risk-taking.  One of his favorite moments was when he found out that you loved flashlights, too.

Jonny:  your father felt most connected to your logical side.  One of his favorite moments was when your report card grades would come out and he could see how terrific you were doing in school.

Jennifer:  your father felt most connected to your heart of love and service.  One of his favorite moments was when you asked him if you guys could go serve in the Bishop’s storehouse, preparing food orders for the poor.

Dear children, there are many people that love and care about you.  Your father wanted to let you and your families know, both your mother’s side and his side, that if any of you need a friend, there are a world full of them you can call on.

It is true what your Uncle Mike said.  Tom did fight to live as long as he did for you.

I have one last piece of advice:  Please always remember that your father loves you with all of his heart.

Whew.  Deep breath Val.

There is a story from Mormon Church history that was Tom’s most favorite.  There was a group of pioneers in November 1856 traveling west towards Utah that who were stranded out on the frozen plains of Wyoming.  Brigham Young, president of Mormon Church at the time, heard of their peril and dispatched a rescue team to go and save them.  During the rescue, they had come to the banks of the Sweetwater River and here is what was written of the scene:

“The river was about one hundred feet wide and almost waist deep in places. To make it worse, big chunks of ice were floating in the water. Men who had once been strong sat on the frozen ground and cried along with their wives and children. They did not know how they would cross that icy river.

Then 3 eighteen year old young men from the rescue party stepped forward and carried almost every member of the company across the river. 'The strain was so terrible, and the exposure so great, that in later years all 3 of these young men died from the physical effects of what they did that day.

It is said that President Brigham Young cried like a child when he heard what they had done. Later he said, ‘That act alone will ensure them an everlasting celestial salvation in the Kingdom of God.’"

Tom used that story of service as the benchmark example of the kind of servant to his God and his fellow men that he wanted to be.  He called it being “that guy.”

These last several years have proven he is just that. 

Despite what it may look like from the outside today, he had so much joy these past years. 

He got to do everything on his “bucket list.” 

He lived to see his sons become Eagle Scouts and his daughter become a young woman, his two greatest desires. 

He travelled. 

He laughed. 

He got to eat all the Hawaiian haystacks and rocky road ice cream he wanted. 

Looking through the photographs out in the church hall, he was happy.  You could see the smile in his eyes.

He would have loved last night.  All these people in his life coming together, enjoying each other.  And of course, having a cookie snack in the meantime.

The last several years have also been filled with experiences of “weightier matters” for Tom as well, naturally including his health.

He endured much suffering and years of endless pain.

He lost much.  His job that made his money and made him feel good.  Some friends who didn’t know how to handle his illness.  His camaro.  His privacy, which was most precious to him.

But he never gave up. He was never angry.  Never complained. He never asked “why me?”  And he was kind to the end.  Gracious. And full of love.

That is what makes him “that guy.”

He will always been known for his kind and quiet service to so many of who he considered to be his heavenly brothers and sisters.

People like his his family.  His congregation.  His church.  Other churches.  His friends.  People he didn’t know.  The aged.  The homeless.  The starving.  And people who had lost everything.

He felt that his ability to work hard was his gift to use in service, and he worked endlessly. 

In Ephesians 4: 28 it says:
Let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.

Tom never stopped looking for the need.

For example, not too many days ago, Linda and I were talking about the destruction of Joplin.  It looked as though he were sleeping.  But no.  He lifted the pillow and blanket off his lap and started to stand up. Linda asked him if he needed to go to the restroom. He said "No, we are going to Joplin. There is work." The only way we could settle him was to convince him they weren't ready for us yet.

That is what makes him “that guy.”

I know people use the word “exceptional” in every day conversation about every day things.

But regarding Tom, it truly fits. 

He was “exceptional.”

He was diagnosed with a year.  He lived almost five.

His chemo was to last a year.  He survived three.

He drifted on the edge of death several times and several times he came back.  His hospice experience was so exceptional, they said over and over that threw the book out when it came to Tom Allison.

Referring to Tom’s wrestling background:  “He just won’t be pinned.”

 One of the things that was most exceptional about that guy was he was never afraid.  He wasn’t afraid of anyone.  And he wasn’t afraid of anything.  Not even of death.

In Alma 27:28 there are those guys who believed just like Tom:
They never did look upon death with any degree of terror, for because of their hope and views of Christ and the resurrection; therefore death was swallowed up to them by the victory of Christ over it.

Not long after Tom’s diagnosis, there was much despair and heartache among so many who cared about him.  But it was one sweet, inspired sister in our congregation that too believes that Christ has the victory over death.

She said with such a tender voice and smile, “The great blessing of his death is that he will be Tom Allison again.”

The Allisons don’t know this, but in the beginning the reason why Tom came to Matt and I and asked us to help him with his cancer journey was because he knew there would be great suffering.  He said he did not want his parents and brother to see him suffer like that.  He thought it would be easier for Matt and I because we were not family and more objective.  I believe that he was right.

Several short months ago, while Tom was beginning to seriously decline, a mutual friend of our lost their young son in an accident.  Tom was close to the boy’s father, having served along side him in church work for years. 

After the passing their boy, Tom wrote the father a note which he sent to me for my opinion.  “What do you think?” he asked me.

This is what the note said:

“At this time, I have no words to describe my sorrow for you and your family.  I am thankful you have the gospel in your life to comfort you in these trying times.  I often think of how it will be when I pass away.  I personally will be so happy.  I will have no more pain or distress.  But I also think of how it will affect those who are left behind.  Even with all the time I have right not there is no way to prepare them or make it any easier for them.  The only hope I have for those left behind is that they will remembers the gospel principles and understand that I will be happy and in a better place.  This is a difficult time but remember God knows that you and your family will have the strength to move forward and continue to have a blessed life.” Tom Allison

 Tom Allison, what do I think of your inspired message of love and kindness?  A message that applies to us right here and right now?

 I think it is this kind of love of your fellow men that makes you “that guy.”

Tom, we love you.  Thank you for the cherished opportunity to get to know you, work with you, talk with you, to love and be served by you. 

God be with you til we meet again.  We will see you at the Eastern Gate.

In the name of Jesus Christ