It's hard to believe that it was four years ago today that my father passed away. December 27, 2007 was a tough day for all of us in the Mena and Jaramillo families and the vast network of friends who knew my parents. I've often thought back to that date and replayed over and over, the final words I spoke to my father. He was breathing through an oxygen mask and earlier the doctors had come in and given us the grim news...there was nothing else they could do for him, it was now only a matter of time. Being faced with the mortality of your own parent is just about the toughest thing we ever face in life. In a sense, it is also a reminder that we too are mortal and shall one day die as well. I've often wondered, when attending funerals and wakes, if some of the grieving that takes place is also for our own deaths that must inevitably arrive. I think it is, but then that's my own personal belief.
That's me in front of my Dad!
My father was awake and aware. He wasn't able to speak, due to the oxygen mask, but he nodded his head and smiled and acknowledged our last thoughts and messages to him. All his sons and daughters, grandchildren, brothers & sisters, and finally our Mom, each took a private moment to thank him for everything he had done for us, and to express our love to him as well. I remember when it came my turn to say goodbye. We just looked into each other's eyes for the longest of times. I smiled at him and he smiled back. It was a moment of complete and total communion. I saw in his eyes love, understanding, compassion and forgiveness. I gripped his hand and remarkably, his grip was strong in return. I thanked him for being the best role model a man could ever want, he nodded his head in return. That famous nod, the slight acknowledgement that he understood you completely. Over the course of my father's 84 years, he had the ability to convey so much with a slight nod of his head or a cryptic smile. So it was at this final parting. All too quickly, our personal congress came to an end. My sister came up and took her turn, and that was that. Simple and yet so profound. An hour later perhaps, or maybe two (who keeps count at these times?) and he was gone.
All too often, when we remember a loved one, we remember them in the final context of their death. When they stopped being a part of this life as we know it. So it was with my own father, at least for the first few years after his death. But I have come to realize, as I'm sure so many of you do as well, that eventually, you do remember the life of the person. The moments you shared, all through that long journey we call living. I can recall so many moments from my past with my father, (and not all of them were pleasant!) and still chuckle and laugh at those too. We remember the person who was so many things to so many people. Husband. Father. Brother. Uncle. Grandfather. Great-Grandfather. FRIEND to so many, it is truly countless. My favorite phrase that I remember my father telling me, (and he repeated it many times to me over the years), "Alex, you can never have too many friends", and so I have adopted my father's philosophy as my own. I make friends quickly. Enemies? I don't think I really have any, though there are a few folks who somehow manage to not get on the extensive, ever expanding A. Mena Christmas Card list, year in and year out. Oh well...I'm sure my Pop had a few of those as well. A few. For the most part, I am blessed with so many friends and so many family members, (most of whom, I'm actually on speaking terms with!!). It is a lasting legacy to what my father taught me about trust and friendship.
Four years is a long time. At trying times over these last four years, I have often found myself asking questions to an empty room. In the quiet stillness of the room, I will hear my father's voice answering and giving me advice. Yeah, it's probably my own conscience replying with my own counsel, but then again...the romantic in me wants to think its the former.
Briefly, a lot has happened in the last month or so concerning the production for CREW 713. We finally interviewed Mr. Robert Cash, 492nd BG veteran who had a most vivid story to tell about his crew's final mission on the Politz raid of June 20, 1944-the darkest day in the short history of the 492nd BG. We also toured the hangar facilities in Addison, TX where the Commemorative Air Force has the oldest flying B-24 liberator bomber hangared. We plan on shooting there in January of 2012. I think my Dad would approve.
Until next time, live long and prosper!