I never really had a father.
Biologically I did and now my father is a distant childhood memory, but after having children of my own I understand what it actually means to be a parent. In my childhood, I really never experienced what a true father represents.
I know now what a father’s love means to a child. I understand deeply the hurt that its absence leaves behind and how it shapes who you become as an adult.
When I met my husband Stan in 2004, I remember being struck by his sincerity and integrity, after of course noticing his full-faced smile and how tall and handsome he was. He was so different from any other man from my past. His strong values and unwavering faith called to me like a beacon of hope that I was not meant to be alone and that it would be possible to trust again. There were certainly challenges in our relationship that came from our diverse backgrounds and I often joke that he grew up on Little House on the Prairie. Humor aside, there was clearly a foundation built in his past that supported the man he was today. There was evidence of so much love and truth that circulated through the veins of his family.
And then I met his father.
This gentle giant radiated warmth and kindness like no one I had ever encountered. He would hold you in a strong embrace with only his eyes. The room was consumed with love when you shared it with him. He received me into his family as if I had always been a part of it and told me he loved me from that first day we met. There are many people who profess love only to be kind and not with the backing of their whole heart. But his words were genuine — you just knew.
This man loved each and every person he met with all of his heart. He saw the good in everyone, even those that may not have earned or deserved it and those who had lost their good somewhere along the way. He was unconditional love personified.
Last weekend I attended a summit and among several speakers and epiphanies that resulted from their words, there was one that has been running through my mental reel since Thursday evening. Karen Kenney reminded us many times that we are not alone in this life because we are all children of God or some higher power. She painted a picture with her words saying,
We are not the water; we are the faucet.
We are the conduit for His love and purpose to flow through and be received by those around us. Regardless of your beliefs and your faith, there is something extremely freeing in this statement. If we were not so afraid, imagine how much love we would share with those who need it.
A true miracle is when our minds shift from fear to love.
Anthony Stanley Jurkoic I (Auntie) was not afraid. He was the epitome of what Karen Kenney was describing to me that day. He lived his life channeling God’s love and his purpose through every interaction he had.
- When he bought a meal for a complete stranger in a local restaurant
- Every time he mowed the lawn at the cemetery
- Those nights years ago when he would bring Stan Chinese takeout at Fall Mountain
- Each Christmas when he delivered countless boxes of chocolates to remind us all how much he loved to give
- How he accepted my two older boys as his grandchildren as soon as he met them and always made us feel home with him
Auntie’s innocence and pride were endearing even when he was stubbornly protesting help from any of us or upset that we had bought him a gift. His sense of humor and unique interpretation of punch lines made the wait worth it every time — even when you had heard the joke many, many times before. His sweet nature and unnecessary apologies for the use of profanity as he told a joke or a story always made me chuckle since the words he chose were neither dirty nor vulgar in any way. His devout faith was admirable, but more so was how his generous love allowed him to accept each of us and our choices especially when they were so different than his own beliefs.
When we found out we were expecting a child, we were not yet married. For me, this was status quo, but this was not the case for Stan and so I remember him going to talk to his dad about it. He had to explain that we were getting married, but this child wanted in on life before we got there. Auntie never made us feel like we were doing anything wrong. He never showed disapproval for the path we had chose. During the pregnancy, like most do, we discussed baby names for both genders. When Stan expressed interest in naming the baby after his father if it were a boy, it just felt right. And so it was done. When Anthony Stanley Jurkoic II was born, he looked exactly like his grandfather. There was no denying this child was a Jurkoic and there was divine confirmation that the name we had chosen was meant to be his. Stan cried that day as he held his first child, his son and his father’s legacy.
I am writing this blog on a plane to Chicago holding back tears and feeling physical tension on my heart as I get farther away from my husband during this time of grief. I am scheduled to speak tomorrow at ACT-W Chicago on a women in technology career panel. When I was planning to cancel this trip after the news, I combed through my emails to find the contact information for the conference organizer. This has been an especially busy season in our lives and I hadn’t caught up with preparation for this event. I found many emails I had yet to read on the panel discussion and that’s when I read the theme of the panel — How to Build a Legacy. The tears began to hit my keyboard as I read more and realized this was no coincidence. This amazing man with an endless appetite, kind heart and enormous hands had left behind the most incredible legacy of all.
If not for him, I would not have my husband and we would not have our son, his namesake. He built a legacy with his family and all those he touched in his life. I am honored to be Anthony II’s mother and raise him to carry on what his grandfather brought to this world.
Anthony asked us yesterday if he was the same as Dziadziu (polish for grandpa). What an interesting question. His question was likely motivated by the fact that they share a name, but I feel called to find a deeper meaning here. This sweet boy with such a big and sensitive heart and enormous hands can hug you with just his eyes. This child in his innocence can make you laugh with the simplest jokes and stories. He proclaims his love for us repeatedly throughout each day without prompting. He is a faucet for love and purpose to flow through to us and those around us.
Yes, I see it now Anthony. You are the same as Dziadziu. He loved you so much and his love pours through you now that he is in heaven. We will feel him in your smiling eyes, your stubbornness and the way you make us laugh. With you, we have built the legacy of Anthony Stanley Jurkoic I.
The world has felt your love Auntie. You have done great things for so many. You can rest now — we got this.