Rewind 13 years
I will let the Florida clouds lift my words to tell the story of this fighter pilot and 30-year veteran’s journey from earth to sky. But why should you care to read this narrative?
I won’t be offering any blog post lessons like “Nine Ways to Say Goodbye to a Loved One.”
Instead, I want you to know my daddy. His name is Richard Lloyd Raymond.
I call him DADDY BEAR.
As you consider who to elect as our next president, our country needs to remember and appreciate “officers an gentlemen: and heroes like him to emulate.
Richard was born New Hampshire Strong–a breed of a man born in 1927 who carried the ancestral DNA of Liberty George Raymond, his 3x great uncle. Sadly Liberty’s life ended at the Battle of Fort Sumter fighting for the Union’s vision during America’s Civil War. (See the movie Glory to better understand his sacrifice.)
At 18 daddy saw the Pacific conflict of WWII as a Navy corpsman. Inspired, he became an officer to serve his country as a fighter pilot in the Korean War. Then, with the resilient, loving support of his beautiful bride, Clare Ann, he distinguished himself and rose to the rank of full Colonel in the United States Air Force. He’d later say that the most rewarding work of his career was leading a team to welcome home and transition the largest group of POW’s from Vietnam back into freedom.
He accomplished all this and more with an eighth-grade education as the class valedictorian at 14.
Imagine that my Daddy Bear served our country and survived three wars until…
|Photo: Lisa Pender|
October 1, 4:00 am
Daddy called from Florida to ask my permission to die.
His cancer had returned.
There was no parachute plan.
This was it after 20 years of remission.
I lived with my daughter on the coast of Honduras. My school year had just started as a fifth-grade teacher.
My planned life forever changed after his sunrise call.
The exquisitely painful and beautiful dance of life and death washed over me as I made plans to return to Florida.
Mom and siblings Cathy and Michael gathered on this sacred family evening around my parents’ bed where daddy laid in a coma. We circled to honor a great warrior and laughed through snot-nosed sobs to sing every song imaginable.
His heavy breathing said, “I know you are here. I am still here.” When our family choir stopped, his breath slowly quieted.
|Photo: Barbara Knowles
October 4, Sunrise
I woke to wonder why daddy had not left yet. The Whisper said to open the sliding glass doors–doors that opened to the pool patio to what we call a “birdcage” in Florida.
To my surprise, the doors were already open! Mom announced she was off to the store and would be back in a few minutes. She hoped that he might feel comfortable to now leave his earthly flight suit if she wasn’t around.
So I sat beside him and took his hand. Hearing his soft breathing, I began intuitively matching it….inhaling…exhaling.
I said in my firm school teacher and first-born voice, “You have to go now, daddy. Mom is so tired. We three kids will take care of her.”
We matched a few more breaths.
Then…I felt and heard the last breath of the man who listened to my first baby breath.
My daddy was now free to soar to new adventures!
|Photo: Jennifer Hills
October 15, Afternoon
While sitting at a stoplight in torrential rain, tearful emotions overwhelmed me. Unable to see the cars in front of me, I pulled over onto the road’s shoulder.
“What is going to happen now? What can you tell me, daddy?”
Blubbering, I looked up to see double rainbows busting out of the rain clouds. I had never seen double rainbows!
Now I knew everything would be okay. The next day I flew back to La Ceiba, Honduras with my daddy in my heart.
He was flying high above.
He was soaring.
He could now freely “zoom in the sky!”
(This is how my baby brother replied when asked what his military father did in the United States Air Force.)
How do you say goodbye to your daddy?
|“Daddy Bear,” aka USAF 2nd Lieutenant & Pilot Instructor, Webb AFB, TX, 1955|