14: An Eight-Hour Drive

14: An Eight-Hour Drive

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

An Eight-Hour Drive

Simplicity is making the journey of this life with just baggage enough.

~Author Unknown

One would think it impossible to eventually derive happiness from a death… especially a death of catastrophic proportions. I will never forget the Thursday night I received a call saying that my dad had committed suicide.

I was devastated. Evidently, the man who had labored for forty-one years to overcome so many obstacles had finally admitted defeat.

Early the next morning, I left my home in Virginia for the eight-hour drive back to my boyhood home in Ohio. During such a mind-numbing trip, the brain screams through a roller coaster of emotions. Of all those differing lows, I felt anger the most. Part of me was so mad at Dad for just tossing in the towel like that. Was this the same former Marine who had taught me to never quit? Secondly, part of me was so angry at Dad for the way that his selfish suicide had wronged my mom. She had given my dad too many loving, devoted, and submissive years to deserve such a tragedy. She was far too young to spend the rest of her life alone.

As I continued the drive, I began adjusting my attitude about my own life. As a boy, I had watched my dad build a successful heating and air conditioning business completely from scratch. His persistent drive, stubborn ambition, and tireless work ethic were truly exemplary to me. Thus, I embraced those traits and went into the Marine Corps. But now as a man, I doubted if those attributes really paid off.

By the time I hit West Virginia, I began seeing my life in a whole new light. I had always seen so much of myself in Dad — and now that scared me. Was my own relentless drive and blind ambition leading me down the same path? I needed to step back, take a breath, and pursue a simpler lifestyle.

Thus, as I crossed the Ohio River, I experienced an epiphany about my own life. I had always thought that — in five years — I would retire from the Marine Corps, return to Ohio, and run for Congress. From there I was going to be a one-man dynamo and climb the political ladder to eventually become a Senator. But now I was saying, “Why bother?” Dad’s suicide had completely taken the wind out of my sails.

Later that day, I arrived home to the hugs and kisses of my family.

That Saturday the first viewing of my dad’s body was held at a local funeral home. The number of people who attended that viewing was a real testament to the caliber of man that my dad was. The line stretched out the front door of the funeral home and all the way down the block to the corner.

At that viewing, I was proudly decked out in my Marine Corps Dress Blues uniform. I wanted to look like the pillar of strength that I felt my family needed. When it was my turn to view the body, I stood over the casket and stared down at my dad. I stroked his cheek and rubbed his shoulder — after saying a silent prayer that begged the question “Why?”

Then I answered my own question. I honestly believed that Dad had driven himself to death. I vowed to be happy and not let that happen to me.

My family held two more viewings on Sunday. Again wearing my Dress Blues, I was the next-to-last person to view Dad’s body at the end of the second viewing. Obviously, Mom was last.

Before allowing Mom to step to the coffin, I placed my head upon my dad’s chest and cried, praying to God that He forgive my dad for taking his own life. Dad really was a great man, and didn’t deserve to rot in Hell for one mistake.

Then I replaced the prayer with yesterday’s promise. Again I vowed to be happy, and not make the same mistake.

After Mom viewed the body, they closed the coffin.

Dad’s funeral Mass was held at ten o’clock on Monday morning. After his burial, a luncheon was held at the local Knights of Columbus hall, where my dad had been a loyal, dutiful member.

Then my family returned home and went mushroom hunting in the woods — because that’s what Dad would’ve done on such a gorgeous spring afternoon. That night, we sat around a fire in our backyard and simply talked. Dad loved fires too.

I returned to Virginia that Wednesday and resumed my life.

Fifteen years later, I retired from the Marine Corps in Beaufort, South Carolina. But I didn’t return to Ohio and pursue a career in politics. Instead, I remained on Hilton Head Island and took up a writer’s simpler lifestyle.

I’m happy.

~John M. Scanlan

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