While this is a lengthy tale (hey, it’s hard to sum-up 55 years in a couple of paragraphs) and the writing is most-likely mediocre, I can promise you that the life story told is exceptional (in my eyes) and the wish I am writing about: one of my LARGEST and most important dreams in life.  While the two main characters in this story are still alive and in fairly good health, this tale is about life, loss, family, and LOVE.

After all, we are talking about two-thousand eight hundred weeks of 2 lives.  Yes, that is over half of a century.  Two-thousand eight hundred sixty weeks
to be precise and I won’t even tell you how many seconds that is.  I can tell you for certain that MANY things have changed in the past 50+ years.

For example: In 1965, the average household income was $6,900.  In 2017, it is just about $70,000.  I think we can all agree that politics today have changed drastically compared to that of 1965.

… and Life Expectancy:  The average human life expectancy in 1965 was approximately 70 years of age: 74 years for females and 67 for males. In 2017, the average human life expectancy is approximately 79 years: 82 years for females and 76 for males.

That is one certain thing in this awe-inspiring thing we humans call “LIFE” … times change, the world changes and so do the people along with it.

What hasn’t changed?  Unconditional Love.  From many people, in many forms.

And that is where this story begins …

This tale begins in 1944 when a couple near Minneapolis, Minnesota welcomed a baby boy into the world, as the 3rd child, to what would become a family of 5 children.  My father (Nick) grew up in a very rural area after his family moved back to the VERY small town in Northern Minnesota where his parents had come from and being such, earning possibilities for his parents became increasingly difficult.  My dad and all of his siblings had to work hard from a very young age to help their family make ends meet (I think that is where his future children would come to have the same work-ethic).  Times being as they were, the family was never able to travel far from home or experience (what we today would consider) family vacations.  It wasn’t until 1963 when with my grandfather’s approval, my dad joined the U.S. Army and was able to leave Minnesota for larger parts of the world … which would eventually lead him to his tour of duty in Vietnam.  Dad graduated from High School and, due to cost, did not attend college.

I’ll leave my dad’s story here for now, and introduce you to my mom.

Fast-forward to 1947, when a baby girl was born near St. Paul, Minnesota, as the 3rd child to a single mother, who decided she could not care for the new arrival, and thankfully the tale turns to the Blessing of adoption.  In October of 1948, a wonderfully loving couple who had endured great strife, loss, and hardship of their own earlier in their lives (both parents had each lost both legs in several incidents (my grandfather in a farming accident and my grandmother, after being struck by a drunk driver) and who had already rescued one little girl from the system (my Aunt and Godmother), decided that God urged them that they needed another little girl to fill out their family, and thus the adoption of my mother, MaryJo occurred.  Dissimilar to my father’s childhood, my mother’s family had a humble, meager upbringing, but were able to travel within Minnesota, Wisconsin and occasionally to Canada to visit family there.  On September 27th, 1963 (When my mom was 14 years old) my grandma suffered a fatal cardiac arrhythmia during a family dinner at their Crystal, MN home and died as a result.

This is where the stories begin to intertwine …

In 1963, while attending high school, my mom met and befriended a classmate.  That classmate would eventually come to stay with my mom’s family when her family moves back to northern Minnesota, but not before meeting her handsome older brother, Nick. (Yes, the same man that would become my father.) Mom graduated from High School and also due to cost, never attend college.

In 1965, in Phoenix City, Alabama, while my dad was stationed at Fort Benning Georgia, my mom and dad made the best decision of their lives (other than having children, of course) and were married on the 14th of July.

I wish I could tell you that my parents have lived the textbook American Dream and have never wanted for anything … but, that would be far from the truth.

They struggled financially for many, many years after my dad got out of the Army.  They moved to several states, each working odd jobs, never making enough to settle down.

The Plot Thickens …

1972 – Long Beach, California: MaryJo and Nick give birth to a 3 lb. 12oz. baby girl which they named Michele (My BIG sister).

(Mother’s Day 1973, my mom’s father died of an aneurysm in Robbinsdale, Minnesota.)

1978 – Mesa, Arizona: MaryJo and Nick give birth to a 6 lb. 6oz. baby boy which they named Stephen (That’s ME!)

(In 1980, my dad’s father died of a massive heart attack.)

1981 – Phoenix, Arizona: MaryJo and Nick give birth to a 6 lb. 3 oz. baby boy which they name Robert (My little brother).

(In 1984, my dad’s mother died from a very large brain bleed.)

**Since 1993, my parents have been blessed with 6 grandchildren (Matheau (24), Alexis (17), KaitLynn (13), Huntur (11), Chloe (4) and Levi (3) and 1 grand-kitty, Bella (5).)

Now, looking back on my childhood … all the way through my 9th or 10th-grade year … I would not have told you that my family was by any means poor.  My siblings and I never wanted for anything.  We always had food to eat, a place to live, needed school clothes and supplies, bikes, and everything that makes a childhood, a childhood and MOST important, we have always had parents that loved us exceptionally and unconditionally.  Granted we didn’t travel the country or the world, but we were happy.  What I did not realize in those years was my mom was caring for 3 children, my father was working 2,3 sometimes 4 jobs, just to maintain life as we knew it.

Okay, on to the Meat-and-Potatoes of while I am really writing:

Christmas Eve morning of 1995 (I was 17 and remember every vivid detail of the day’s events) 0450am, my father awakes to have a massive cardiac event, which requires he be airlifted to a Minneapolis Heart Hospital, where suffering 2 cardiac arrests, he undergoes quadruple bypass surgery and spent the next  2 weeks in the hospital.

I remember my siblings and I (all working at this time to help the family) trying to work as much as we could to assist with bills and day-to-day expenses.  It was the first time in my life I really felt the stresses of finance.

Fast-forward to 1999, after undergoing routine hernia repair surgery at the local hospital, dad contracted a horrible hospital-bourne antibiotic resistant infection, which landed him in the ICU for a week.   Having an impossible time controlling the infection, the surgeons make the decision to go in and remove the hernia repair mesh (this would turn out to be a horrific decision, which my father still contends with to this very moment).

It would lead to December of 2005, when my father was transferred to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he would undergo 11 consecutive surgical procedures, to remove the infected tissue, and try to heal the open abdominal would he had been dealing with since the original surgery.  My father was at the Mayo Clinic for 53 excruciating days.

This was the second time in my life that I remember my siblings and I try to work as much as we could to assist with bills and day-to-day expenses, as well as keep my mom close by, as we lived 150 miles north of where Dad was.  I remember family friends helping us pay for overdue bills and driving mom and family back-and-forth.

When this event occurred, the company dad had been with for 8 years, let him go due to his extended absence.  This devastated my parents and my family financially.

It is 2017, and as I write this we have just passed 55 years of my parent’s meeting and starting to date. My father is preparing to turn 73-years-old in November and my mother just turned 70-years-old in April.

My plan as we celebrated their 25th anniversary, was to plan an extravagant and jet-setting tour of their most desired locations on the planet.  What could go wrong?  I had 20+ years to save up, right? Then, life happened.

My plan as we celebrated their 30th anniversary, was to plan an extravagant and jet-setting tour of their most desired locations on the planet. What could go wrong? I had 15+ years to save up, right?  Then, thankfully … life continued to happen.

My plan as we celebrated their 45th anniversary, was to plan an extravagant and jet-setting tour of their most desired locations on the planet. What could go wrong? I had 10 years to save up, right?  Again, thankfully … life continued to happen.

My plan as we celebrated their 50th anniversary, was to plan an extravagant and jet-setting tour of their most desired locations on the planet. What could go wrong? I now only had several years to save up and again, thankfully … life continued to happen … but it needed to SLOW DOWN!

Unfortunately, I, nor anyone else in my immediate family is in any financial position to assist in making the “Dream Trip” become a reality for the two most important, deserving, loving people in the life of my family and while I am extremely grateful to still have them both to kiss and hug and get advice from and laugh with and cry with … time is NOT slowing down, and human mortality is a topic of conversation.

My parents have never been financially able to travel together on any vacation throughout their entire lives, to any “vacation destination” within or outside of these United States.  Throughout my life, I have heard their travel dreams, their “when we win the lottery” moments … and as they continue to age, I fear they will die not having seen any of our beautiful planet that they spent 70+ years a part of.

Where have they expressed delight in visiting, you might ask?

Domestically: San Francisco, Niagra Falls, New York City, Washington D.C., Florida, Alaska, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands

Internationally: Ireland, Scotland, England, The Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand, the Carribean, Tahiti, Fiji, the Galapogos Islands

I have been lucky enough to travel to many, many places inside of the U.S. and internationally, either as part of a job I had at the time, an educational experience I was able to take part in, or travel I took as a guest of friends.

I have seen the beauty in the world.  I have seen the magnificence of the planet, and it saddens me to think the two most beautiful and magnificent people in my life may never live to see any of it.

That is my wish for them, and I think it safe to say, my siblings as well.

… and so I say to all whom may grace these words with the gift of THEIR time … I hope, if nothing else, I was able to share the story of my two most important, favorite, loving people.  Whether you know my parents or not, I thank you for reading this far and for the pleasure of your time.

If you are interested in learning more about the story or if you are interested in possibly contributing to this endeavor, please click here: https://www.gofundme.com/maryjoandnick

Mom & Dad: Thank you so much for showing Michele, Robert and I, and the rest of world that love can endure all of the struggles, great hardships and sometimes, immense pain and the great emptiness of loss and the grief that follows it.  Great love like that is NOT a faded thing of the past and no matter what, if you stick together, anything is possible! (Keep working on winning the lottery!)

I love you both more than words can properly describe.

You mean the world to all of us, and I am truly grateful to God that I have had the honor of loving you both for as long as I have been Blessed.