News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A life well lived

The grief over losing a loved one is the price we pay for the joy of having them in our lives. The most unfortunate souls are those with no one to mourn. My father-in-law left the world this week, grieved by many. This was a testament to the life he led.  

John G. Haller, Jr. will not be remembered in history books. But his family and friends know he left the world around him a better place than he found it. There is nothing more important any of us can do.

One of six siblings raised in a small Ohio town during the Great Depression, John’s parents welcomed their children’s many friends and shared whatever they had. When World War II came, John answered the call of duty and joined the Marines. After the war, like so many others, John began his own family. He and his wife Dorothy Lee had three children within six years.

It’s hard for us today to realize what it meant to be a parent in the days before credit cards. John worked a second job as a school bus driver during the holidays to have enough money for the kids’ Christmas gifts. When he lost his wife to a sudden illness at 37, John took on the burden of being a single parent without complaint. He would wait until his youngest child was out of high school before he remarried. Throughout his life, John’s children and extended family were always at the center of his life. Decades after the passing of his wife, Dorothy Lee, John’s in-laws still included him in their family gatherings.

Along with family, John also valued friends. He retired from GM after more than twenty years and joined many of his fellow workers in a Florida community where they continued their friendship. For many years, this group maintained the ties formed on the job into retirement – and made new friends along the way.   

John came from a generation whose motto seemed to be: “don’t complain and don’t explain.” He embraced life with vigor, joy, humor and love. Intellectualizing and gushy words were not his style. His deeds spoke much more eloquently than words.

Although hampered by severe arthritis, John improvised ways to get on with life and lived independently until his last days. At the end of his life, John continued to show his resolve and strength. To spare others from worry, John did not tell his children and grandchildren how ill he had become until it was unavoidable. John donated his body to Wright State School of Medicine, sparing the family the expense of a burial – and giving tomorrow’s physicians a chance to learn something that could help others.  

John G. Haller, Jr. would have been 90 in August of this year, a long life that saw many changes in the world. But John’s character never changed. He led a selfless life, devoted to family and friends. To all of us who knew him, John leaves a priceless legacy: an example of a life well lived. 

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