by Connie S. Woods
“When parents die, they take with them a large portion of the past. When children die, they take away the future”. ~~ from Rev William Sloane Coffin’s Eulogy for his son, Alex
I, who am seldom at a loss for words, started and restarted this article countless times. There are so many things that I wish to say and didn’t know where to begin. What to include and how to organize my thoughts.
So, here I am today, in a place I am not comfortable to salute Rhien for 32 years of interesting, and at times, difficult years. I am so grateful to have my granddaughters, Ahlerim, Asharin & Valeri, to carry on my son’s legacy.
What is that legacy? I guess that’s why I am writing this article to share my conception of whom Rhien was and what he stood for.
A death of one of my children never occurred to me. I gave birth to him and had to bury him. It was foreign to me. That was something that happened to other people. Not me. As Rhien’s mother, I was always there to defend him against teachers and administrators, police and prosecutors and judges, and doubters. I believed in him and knew he was a treasured son. Many times I took that for granted. I will forever be there for his children, trying to instill in his girls the values most important to their dad.
As a father, Rhien’s strongest wishes for his girls were to be happy, share his love of music, and to always know the only teams to root for are the Kansas City Chiefs and the University of Texas. I will forever be there for his daughters to instill the values important to their dad and his memory.
Rhien was so proud of his sister, the first in our family to graduate from college. He even forgave his sister for graduating from Texas A & M; his least preferred college. Rhien’s wishes for his girls were to go to college but, more importantly, to learn compassion, maintain strong family ties, and to be loyal to all the friends the girls meet now and in the future. Rhien’s strong belief is for his girls to have greater opportunities than he and to have happy, fulfilled lives. Rhien, your family will continue your dreams for your daughters on your behalf.
Rhien had a dry wit that made everyone burst out laughing. For example, one day several years ago, I was complaining about my job to some friends and family and I asked if anyone knew of job openings as I was considering a job change. Several friends offered suggestions of companies to explore. My quiet, reserved Rhien being Rhien told me I needed to become a “Ninja”. Leave it to Rhien to come up with a comment like this out of the blue. He made me laugh out loud and realize becoming a “Ninja” was not exactly a career change I had in mind especially for a Grandmother.
On another occasion, our oldest daughter, Christina, had finally obtained her driver’s license (our first licensed driver of our children) and no longer had to ride the big yellow banana to school. Her brothers, Rhien, Andrew, and Robert, were also excited because they now had their sister to chauffeur them to high school each day. Rhien, as the oldest brother and ringleader, decided to tie their sister’s undergarments on the antenna of our black Astro van. Rhien parked the van in the high school parking lot for the entire world to see… her undergarments. It took Chris two days before she realized what her had brothers had done. Needless to say once their step-father, Dave, and I found out; Dave had the three boys sit on the couch and gave them a stern talking to about how they should treat their sister with more respect. After his talk with the boys, Dave and I proceeded to go to our bedroom, close the door, and covered our mouths with pillows so the boys and Chris would not hear how hard we were laughing. Only Rhien would think to do that to the person who was at her mercy to transport him where he needed go.
As mothers, we become anxious with two milestones in our children lives. When they begin to walk and when they begin to drive. When Rhien turned 16 and obtained his driver’s license, I decided to let him run an errand for me solo. I asked him to go to the grocery store and fill our five gallon water bottle for the water cooler in our house and to come straight home. Rhien did fill the five gallon water bottle and put it in the backseat of our cloth seat of our Chevy Celebrity.
Rhien being Rhien decided to make an additional stop by one of his buddy’s house to show his friend his new-found freedom of driving solo. As Rhien turned right on Favel Road, the five gallon water bottle tipped over, the lid fell off, and water starting gushing out all over the back seat and floor boards. Instead of pulling over, he continued driving all the while trying to reach into the back seat to upright the five gallon water bottle. Needless to say, Rhien had yet to master the art of multitasking while driving. He drove down into a ditch, drove back out of the ditch, and took out an entire residential fence. Rhien came out unhurt, car intact, and managed to save two gallons of water in the five gallon water bottle.
Moral of the story: Parents, sign up with a water delivery service. It keeps your car dry, fences intact, and your car insurance rates down.
Yes, Rhien will appear suddenly and unannounced, as he often did, and I will be there for him, whenever, wherever it may be. I owe it to my son to honor his life on earth. We were all lucky and blessed to have you for 32 years.
As I write this, I want to remember the importance of memories of our lost loved ones. In my darkest times, when I feel I cannot go on, I remember Rhien’s life and it helps me to move a little further in my grief. Memories are all we have left.
About the Author: Connie Woods is an ordinary person, mother to five adult children-Christina, Rhien, Sheri, Andrew, Robert-and “MeMe” to 12 grandchildren. Connie has been married to David for 24 years. In her spare time, her interests include reading, sewing, and spending time with her family. On August 1, 2011, her oldest son, Rhien, died by suicide at the young age of 32. Connie founded Rhien’s Legacy in his memory.