Death is an illusion

It’s my dad’s birthday today.

tom scout

Tom Meis, Boy Scout

Thomas Patrick Meis was born Dec. 9, 1925 in the upstairs bedroom of a little white house on Court Street in Marengo, Iowa.

The title of my blog might suggest that I don’t believe in death. That’s not the case.

I know death is inevitable. But most people think that death is the end of person who has passed away. To me, that’s just not true.

Memories keep those we love alive.

My dad lived a pretty good life. He had good parents who taught him well. His dad, Herman, was a grocer, and his mother, Margaret, stayed home and took care of nine children they procreated.

Tom had an older sister, Mary Margaret, and in time, they greeted seven other siblings; Bertha, Francis, Herman, Jr., Therese, John, Otto, and Virginia.

The family moved to Beloit, Wisc. when Dad was 2, and then to Cedar Rapids a year later.

Tom attended Immaculate Conception Catholic School until he graduated and made plans to attend Loras College in Dubuque. The US Armed Forces had other plans for him and he joined the US Navy.

He was lucky; World War II had just ended and he and his fellow sailors toured the Pacific in peacetime, and made their presence known, just in case there were enemy stragglers who didn’t know the war was over.

Dad returned home and attended college, majoring in English, with a minor in journalism. He married Gloria and they had two children; Tim and Robert.

Tom and Gloria had a tumultuous marriage and it ended after only a few years. They decided to split the two boys up, so Dad took Tim, and Gloria took Robert, the baby.

Dad and Tim moved in with his folks and got a job as a copywriter at Ambro Ad Agency in Cedar Rapids. That’s where he met a pretty, young, single mother named Betty Myers. Betty was a receptionist and Tom was smitten with her right away.

Betty was divorced, with three children, (Stephen, Patrick, and Susan) and lived with her mom and dad on Daniels Street.

Dad’s most famous pickup line?

“Do you like music? If you have a record player, I could bring over my Jackie Gleason records.”

It must have worked, because he and Betty were married five years later.

Tom and Betty went on to have five more children; James, Julia, Kristine, Cynthia and Thomas Michael. With nine children to feed, Tom worked a couple jobs, while Betty took a job at Collins Radio.

The growing family blended well together, until Tom was in a horrible accident in 1967 that nearly claimed his life. He hit a truck head-on and took the steering wheel in his chest, breaking all his ribs. He broke his leg and it was so damaged, he walked with a limp the rest of his life.

Tom was off work for a year and had a hard time finding a job when he was finally able. He took a job as a meat cutter at Daniel Food, where he stayed for a number of years. The family struggled financially until Tom got his big break and was hired at Quaker Oats as a security guard.

Tom retired from Quaker in 1988, the same year his mother went to join his dad, who died in 1970. (And the same year Betty’s son, Pat died in a car accident in California.)

Tom enjoyed retirement, but enjoyed it even more when Betty retired. The couple took trips they had always dreamed of; a cruise to the Bahamas and a trip to Hawaii with their friends, trips to see their many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Tom’s health began to fade after the death of his son, Tim, in 2004. He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and had to be on oxygen. He passed away at home Sept. 6, 2008.

His death was hard on the entire family, but particularly Betty, who commented they would have celebrated their 50 year anniversary in 2009.

It’s hard to describe my dad because I didn’t get to know him until after he died. I found the life story he wrote a few years after he died, in a box in Mom’s storage room, and as I read it, I realized that he may have been my dad, but I never got to know the man.

He was kind and caring and generous, to a fault. He taught me that kindness matters, and to take pride in everything I do.

He wasn’t perfect, though I think I expected him to be. It took me a long time to see that he was only human.

Could I have seen that while he was alive? Probably not. Everything happens for a reason. I’m just glad I was able to finally get to know him.

Happy Birthday, Dad.