Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the outpouring of condolences last week while I was away for my father’s funeral. It will take me a while to respond to everyone but I’m working on it. I wanted to share the last week with you because it was so not what I ever expected it to be…..it is always more than anyone wants to know but it’s how I remember. A special thank you to my friend Janice who took photos from this last week.
Our week started off with the kind of sadness and grief that makes you physically ill. One of the hardest parts of the whole trip was the night we went through all of my father’s luggage as my mother looked on. It was so painful to pull out each item he had taken on the trip….we analyzed how it was packed, we had excitement at the recognition of a favorite vest or sweater, and we were devastated to unpack the last outfit he wore. We passed things around, smelled his shirts to see if his smell lingered, looked at all the souvenirs he had brought back …..everything in threes…..he always brought back three of everything for my brother, sister and I to share one day. My sister pulled out a pair of his golf pants…..his pockets were still full of golf tees, phone numbers from new friends, change…….and a little metal heart trinket that my mother had given him months ago inscribed “with god, all things are possible”. We cried as we realized he was thinking of my mother as he put that in his pocket each day in Korea……what a gift to discover that he had packed it in the first place for such a long trip.
We went up to my parents’ mountain house for a night. My father had moved up there 2 weeks ago before leaving for Korea and my mother was going to follow this last Monday with the rest of their things. As soon as we got there my mother opened the sliding glass doors on the porch that overlooks the 1st hole of the Linville Ridge and we began going through my father’s things so we could bring them all down for his service.
I hope this doesn’t freak anyone out but I think a turning point in our grief and sadness came when Boo made it clear that my dad was with us. We were so busy and Boo started yelling to the room:
Boo: Talk to Norman, Grandma!
Perry (my sister): What did you say about Norman?
Boo: Talk to Norman!
Perry: What do you mean “talk to Norman”? Where is he?
Boo pointed outside to the porch where there was a strong breeze stirring.
My mother and sister just looked at each other with shock. I walked out of the office and into the den…..
Me: What are you talking about?
Boo: Grandpa wants Grandma to talk to him….out on the porch.
(Let me just note here that we never refer to my dad as “Norman” around Boo….it’s always “Dad” or “Grandpa”…….so after that we just knew that my dad was there with us.)
Obviously he wasn’t there physically…..but Boo wanted us to talk to him. Children are closer to God right?
That night we all stayed up until about 1am in my mother’s bed telling stories and giggling. It felt really good and I know my dad would have been so happy. The next few days we spent collecting all of my dad’s golf memorabilia and our favorite photos. We wanted his visitation to be a celebration of his life…..to share what a full life he had lived. My brother set up a website to try and collect some stories from his friends (www.normanswenson.com) and the comments and reflections have just filled our hearts more than anyone will ever know. We read and reread them over and over and over again. One comment was from a man that had just met him in line at the airport getting on the plane just hours before he died…..I cry every time I read it because I can just picture my dad starting up a conversation:
I had the privilege of meeting a very nice man as we were boarding a plane at the Incheon Airport in Seoul, South Korea. I let him get in front of me so he could be with some of his friends he was apparently traveling with. We struck up a conversation when he told me where he was from. I knew he was my kinda’ man when he said, “where are y’all from?”. I knew he was from my area and knew he had to be a good man. On the plane, this man and his friend were seperated from the other folks in his group (who I happened to be sitting with). I was aware of something terribly going wrong but had no idea the nice man I had met in line at the airport was having trouble. I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn it was Norman Swenson. My thoughts and prayers are with both Norman and his family. I can’t explain why or how a man I only met for a few moments touched me the way he did. It must be something about him that his close family and friends already know. God Bless you all.
My dad loved meeting new people and was genuinely interested in everything they had to say.
All week we reflected on how lucky we were to have had such an amazing father and how he led us to have such full lives already…..we spent an entire day writing his obituary and picking out the perfect photo.
It might sound strange to some of you, but I was so excited about the viewing. We knew so many of his friends would be there and we wanted to focus to be my dad and memories with him. We filled the hall with his photos, golf clubs, hats, and other memorabilia. We joked that it was the “Norman Swenson Museum.”
We set up a table with his green Pine Valley jacket, shoes, and trophies.
We displayed a case with ACC rings, medals and even a scorecard he’d kept from a round he played with Arnold Palmer.
Mementos from past tournaments:
My brother, sister and I enlarged over 90 photos and articles to 8×10 size to line the hall with our favorite pictures of our dad. The church said they’d never seen anything like it for a funeral. We’d even enlarged “love” telegrams my father had sent my mother years ago and the checks he’d kept from their first date and when he bought her engagement ring.
The whole family spent the entire night prior to the viewing laughing and reflecting on the funny things my dad said over and over to people. We typed them up and filled a bowl with slips of paper with “Normisms” that visitors could grab as his last advice to them:
My mother insisted on speaking at the funeral. She was a pillar of strength for everyone. She told how he always called her “sweetheart” and recently they had been swimming one night in their pool in Florida listening to their favorite ballad “Time to Say Goodbye” and she had a feeling it might be their last swim together.
My dad’s friends Tom and Kevin gave reflections. Tom told of my father’s faith and shared a hilarious email that my dad had written to one of their friends. Kevin shared how happy my dad had been the week before in Korea and how he was so endearing to the caddies and kept them laughing. All three of us kids spoke too. When my sister finished speaking she held up 2 airplane sick bags that my dad had written a long list of potential job contacts on for her….and told everyone that if they were “lucky (or unlucky) enough” to have been included on the list, they would be getting a call from her soon. My dad would have loved that.
We buried him in his Pine Valley tie, with his long putter, his Bushnell range finder, countless golf balls, a cell phone, camera and many notes. A bagpiper played as he was taken to his final resting place.
I was the last of our family and friends to speak at my father’s funeral:
There was one common thread in all the stories and condolences my family received in the past week:
My dad was always happy.
He was always whistling.
He always had a grin on his face.
He was always teasing and making light of something.
While looking through his office for items to bring down for the service I found a devotional page on top of his papers that he’d torn out……it was titled “Choose Joy.”
That’s my dad in a nutshell……he had an overwhelming zest for life and he chose joy every morning he woke up.
Nothing bad or regrettable ever happened to him….it was all just part of living life.
He spent 64 years preparing for this day.
He prepared his wife and kids as well as he could.
He never left anything unsaid.
He told us he loved us every day.
He gave us more advice and direction than any of us will ever need.
He created an example we want to follow.
He created a network of wonderful, loyal friends that will keep his memory alive.
He treasured each and every one of you and he told story after story of your adventures.
He wouldn’t want us to be sad.
He would want us to tell all his stories.
His life was short but it was full.
One last thing…..we’re pretty sure that he started his bucket list when he was 5 years old and he came pretty darn close to ticking everything off.
I think he would want me to tell you:
“he who dies with the most stories wins……so you better get to work.”
Boo at her “old Grandpa’s” final resting place…..the “new Grandpa” is in heaven.
Amazingly, we laughed and smiled more than we cried this past week. It gets easier and then harder. I’m at peace that it was his time. I miss him more than ever but it’s always hardest for those of us left behind. I know if he had the choice he wouldn’t come back…..I’m know the other side is too wonderful…..he’ll just wait patiently for us. I’m not sure how the next few weeks will be. I’ll worry about my mother the most….but I know she’s the strongest of all of us. My father traveled a lot so it feels like he’s just on a long trip and maybe he’ll walk back through the door one day. It was amazing to see all his “lists” he kept and see what he was thinking about and planning. I think that was a gift from him to friends and family. It was really hard going through some of his things and seeing what he held onto…..and realizing that it’s all just stuff. When we got home tonight from the airport I viewed my belongings a little differently…..I feel like purging every little thing I’ve ever held onto that doesn’t have any value…..and writing a note to store with the things I do decide to keep on why they are important to me. There are things my father kept that we will never know why he kept them. It’s just another reminder that we can’t take anything with us when we are gone.
This is one of my favorite photos of my father. It’s his “farewell” wave.
And then in the midst of all the candid photographs taken at the World Club Championship last week….there is this one of my father….in the same pose. It’s so typical that he would pull a photographer away from his job to have him take a photo like this….makes me laugh that he’s so predictable. He looks so happy…..just a little tired. He told Kevin this would be his last trip to Korea. It makes me wonder if he knew something we didn’t.
Before we left Charlotte today, my mother gave me a copy of “Heaven is for Real” and inscribed the front with an encouraging note.
I read the entire book on the airplane as we headed back today. We landed and waited to catch the parking shuttle. I was frustrated with Brett because he had us waiting at the wrong stop for 15 minutes. As we finally got on the airport bus to get our car, I sat across from a young woman wearing a t-shirt with a young man’s photo on it. I asked her about him. The man on her shirt was Jason Reeves, her brother. He was killed in Afghanistan December 5, 2010 by a suicide bomber. He was 32 years old….half the age of my dad. He was born on my parents’ anniversary and my husband’s birthday. Moved to tears as she told us about him, I gave her my book that I had just read hoping it would bring her comfort. As we got off the second bus, Brett said “you know, if we hadn’t missed the bus, we wouldn’t have met her.”
Please go and read about Jason Reeves if you have a moment tonight. I’d love to honor his memory as well.
A few things written about my Dad that I wanted to link here so I don’t forget about them:
In Memoriam: Norm Swenson, Amateur Golf Champion and Bill Charest, Champion Nice Guy
Former Demon Deacon Golfer Norman Swenson Passes Away At The Age Of 64
Golf, Charlotte Lose A Friend In Norman Swenson
Norman Swenson, senior amateur golf standout, dies of heart attack at 64
Norman Swenson, Legacy.com
Norman V. Swenson, Jr. – World Club Championship
Norman Swenson Loved Golf – Global Golf Post
Farewell to an Old Friend