The Saturday before July 4th had become something of a tradition in the Reece family; the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren of Harold and Alma Reece and anyone lucky enough to be dear to them. My family had begun to convene, reunion-style, at Dad's Ellijay, Georgia heaven-on-Earth every year to celebrate "being", for lack of a better term. I think my parents dreaded the event as much as they eagerly anticipated it, since hosting 100+ can be a tall order, even in an open field beside a lovely mountain stream. But few things brought Dad the joy that this weekend did. It was an honor to be there and to share that joy.
Two years ago, on this weekend in 2012 was very different. My Dad underwent surgery to remove cancerous growth on his brain. We had every reason to believe that procedure would be the end of his life. As it turns out, it was the definitive beginning of his end.
I was able to be with him and with my family thanks to the memorable efforts of a very special Delta employee named Dora, whom I've only seen once or twice since. Dora (last name unknown) will always occupy a special place in my heart and prayers. How different things might have been without her.
Dad survived his surgery in typically jaw-dropping fashion. But he didn't escape the final few steps of his path. They were difficult for all of us, to say the least. Dad took those steps with his characteristic, uncomplaining plodding gait right to the end.
I've said it before but will do so again and again: My Dad was likely the most unexpected teacher for this student of life with a fire for learning, discovering, knowing. We were alike in many ways but different in just enough ways to make our journey together a struggle, as much for him as for me!
In the final analysis, if there ever is such a thing, Neal Reece taught me the most important lesson I'm ever likely to learn. He taught me how to face my fate with dignity and grace. It's a tough lesson to learn.
I can only imagine how difficult it was to teach.